Vail Daily column: Let your children make their own path |

Vail Daily column: Let your children make their own path

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

To the parents of the Vail Valley, your children need to make their own decisions at some point in their development. As the summer season ramps up, athletic teens are participating in fitness programs to prepare for fall sports. Other young teens might engage in fitness to lose weight, build self-esteem or to improve overall wellness.

Know this: Your children will not progress with results if they don’t make their own decision to participate. From my experience, your nudging and insistence will not help them. It is futile trying to get your overweight teen involved in exercise if they’re not into it.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I was obese as a child. I understand all too well the perspective from the underperforming youth. Even though I possessed a reasonable level of athleticism, I was really held back during junior high. In elementary school, being heavy was helpful. Carrying extra weight was equivalent to carrying a 60-pound vest strapped to my torso. It helped build usable strength. But during puberty, other kids caught up in strength. It was time to make changes.

The decision to change didn’t happen until a few years later. It was very dramatic for me. It was during the end of my sophomore year of high school. My hockey coach decided for the following year to split the team into a varsity and junior varsity squad. It dawned on me the humiliation I would experience if I was left behind because of my weight. Growing up playing sports with a tight knit group of friends has been one of my fondest memories. What would they think of me if I had been cut from the team? Would they still have been my friends? What would my parents think if I had failed? Would my girlfriend have broken up with me?

The fear overwhelmed me. I had to do something about it. It was on my own terms, and I knew it was going to happen. The fear of humiliation left me without a choice. I lost 70 pounds in four months from brutal training and strict adherence to diet. Making the varsity team was an afterthought.

Parents, your children have to want it. By late adolescence, teens understand the way the world works. They will at least understand the basics of choices and consequences. Soon to be adults, whatever they decide to do, it will ultimately be up to them. I don’t have the answers on how to motivate your teen. It’s been my experience that teens attempting to acquire fitness will fall into one of two categories.

I trained a local teen some years ago who went through a lumbar spine fusion after a football collision. John’s mother was hysterical. She couldn’t bear the difficult rehab process post operation that wasn’t working and left John in debilitating pain. I knew the first moment I met John that he was a true champion; I never had to coach, motivate, or nudge. John was the easiest, and best young student I ever coached. I gave him technical advice on how to lift. He put in the work, lived pain free, and gained 50 pounds over two years and became a monster. He ultimately quit playing football and resigned on his own terms. His departure from the sport isn’t the point. He wasn’t worried about the thoughts of his coaches, teammates, or family. It was his way or the highway. Whatever John decides, he will go places in this lifetime.

On the other hand, I have trained countless youth that were never into it. Mom and Dad insist on their performance. The kid will usually present symptoms of reservation and nervousness. I trained a youth some years ago after an incessant mother refused for her son to be at the back of the pack in soccer. During six weeks of training three days per week, Jim mentioned no more than 30 words to me ever. He sounded off more words of anger to his mother as she dropped him off at the gym than he ever muttered to me. When he did articulate a sentence, it was an excuse on why he wasn’t feeling well on a given day. It took six weeks before the flame fizzled. His heart was never in it.

I’m not telling you how to raise your children. I’m not suggesting that it’s all black and white and your shining star is either a fearless competitor or a wallflower. I’m kindly asking parents to take a look at the big picture. Are you pushing them too hard? Are your expectations unreasonable? Do you truly accept them for who they are right now in their development? Are you loving unconditionally? Please consider this column today, and deliberate your options when expecting fitness results from your children.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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