2. Fitness

Sports Performance and Ability in School-Age Children

Attention spans of 6- to 9-year-olds are still short (no joke), and there is difficulty trying to process information from many sources. Most of these children still need a more in-depth form of show-and tell for instruction. Do not expect them to remember long, detailed directions and carry them out completely, or you risk an episode of brain overload.

Unrealistic expectations from instructors can lead to unpleasant situations if children are not able to complete a laundry list of plays. Visual and verbal teaching in short segments is a much more successful approach.

Instructors and children feel a sense of accomplishment when many small tasks are completed successfully rather than partially completing a large, complicated task. Remember, some of us are still memory-challenged as adults and can’t even remember a grocery list without writing it down. Thank goodness for little sticky notes.

Sports and activities with complex skills require quick assessment of a situation, rapid decision making, and mature levels of transitional skills. Examples of a few of these sports are the more advanced forms of soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, baseball, water polo, softball, lacrosse, and football. By all means, kids can be learning the basics of these sports at young ages, but do not expect high levels of performance in most kids in this age group because the development of their memory and complex thinking patterns is still limited.

As usual, there are exceptions to every rule. I know some of them personally. If your child is one of those rare cases, celebrate the fact that he is ahead of schedule, let his talent age for a while like a good wine, and be careful not to feel the need for speed or to rush him quickly forward. In general, these activities are hard to grasp beyond the basics for most young children, and the focus should be on continuing to refine basic and transitional skills, general fitness, and technique.

Previously It has been mentioned that practicing skills among toddlers does not seem to help them improve their ability later on. In contrast, there is evidence to suggest that in the 6- to 9-year-old age group, practicing some skills can produce a more positive effect on overall sports improvement, as well as an advantage of ability when compared with kids who do not practice and then attempt the same skills. This information does not apply to every sport and the research is limited, yet it is encouraging that practicing basic skills at this age can be worth the effort. Don’t blow this out of proportion and start over-practicing your child because practicing at this age seems to only benefit a few sports, not all.

2. Fitness

Sports Goals and Applications – Gradeschoolers

In this age group, focus efforts on learning new skills, refining technique, and moving on to transitional skills necessary for eventual increased training and competition. Exposure to a variety of sports activities is highly encouraged. It is a fun time to be coaching, parenting, teaching, and learning, so no emphasis should be put on actual winning. Competition should still be user-friendly with goals being teamwork, improving skills, accomplishing new ones, and making the whole experience a positive one without emphasizing the actual competition. This approach will provide opportunities to applaud for the reality success of your particular child. Children will automatically understand who had more points at the end whether someone talks about winning or losing. Understanding and dealing with wins and losses can be healthy to prepare children for future competition, for events later in life, to focus on the importance of effort, and to see how to improve for the next time. However, these youngsters need to know that the purpose of the practice or event is not who wins, but about outdoing themselves for personal improvement—a big difference. Reality success is thus achieving and accomplishing more things than last time, not necessarily more than somebody else. Swimming, running, tennis, martial arts, skating, volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, basic basketball and hockey, youth league football, and baseball continue to be good suggested choices for elementary schoolchildren, just to name a few.

Having exposure to many different sports activities during this time is important because it allows your child to learn various skills and discover which ones he enjoys doing the most. In general, encouraging exposure to many different sports is very important. Some kids want to try certain sports just because they are cool or the “in” sport at school. That’s OK. They will eventually see which activities they like and at which sports they feel they are the most successful.

So, say your child still wants to try football. Believe it or not, some youth football programs have taken parental concerns into consideration and have formed youth leagues that are matched by age, size, and physical maturity. Remember the advantage of T-ball? This is just another example of how to create a positive sports experience by making adjustments for the developmental stage of your active child.

Actually, more injuries often occur doing school recess or on jungle gyms, while lower injury rates have been seen in some studies involving youth football because of the adaptations to the general rules that help reduce the potential for injury. If Jermaine plays against Joey because they are roughly the same size, that situation is certainly more equal and fair than playing against someone twice his size. Also, it is important to remember that at younger ages, children do not usually have the strength or speed to generate forces great enough to cause the severe injuries that are seen during adolescence and early adulthood. Injuries rise with advancing age, weight, and level of competition.When parents ask, “When should my child start playing contact sports?” I will spice things up a bit and suggest that it may be more appropriate to ask, “When should my child stop playing contact sports?” It’s something to think about.

By now, I hope you can see the general ideas, patterns, and themes starting to develop as I travel with you on this incredible yellow brick road called development. Most children go through sports skill milestones in a sequence that we cannot change or speed up to the degree most of us would want. However, knowing the way things progress will allow parents, coaches, and doctors to encourage new accomplishments, celebrate little successes, be excited about the ones to come, and not expect a skill way before its time.

Sports skill development is a journey, one during which I find many parents and coaches becoming backseat children. “Are we there yet? How many more miles?” Yes, there will be steep uphill grades. Bumps and dips in the road. Dangerous curves ahead. Yet the best part will be the many times you can pull over to appreciate the scenic views. Savor them all.

2. Fitness

Promoting Physical Activity as a Way of Life

As a parent, you need to encourage healthy habits—including exercise—in your youngsters. Physical activity should become as routine a part of their lives as eating and sleeping.

Reassure them that sports such as cycling (al­ways with a helmet), swimming, basketball, jogging, walking briskly, cross country skiing, dancing, aerobics, and soccer, played regularly, are not only fun but can promote health. Some sports, like baseball, that require only spo­radic activity are beneficial in a number of ways, but they do not promote fit­ness. Physical activity can be healthful in the following ways:

Increase Cardiovascular Endurance. More Americans die from heart dis­ease than any other ailment; regular physical activity can help protect against heart problems. Exercise can improve your child’s fitness, make him feel bet­ter, and strengthen his cardiovascular system.

Aerobic activity can make the heart pump more efficiently, thus reducing the incidence of high blood pressure. It can also raise blood levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the “good” form of cholesterol that re­moves excess fats from the bloodstream. Even though most cardiovascular diseases are thought to be illnesses of adulthood, fatty deposits have been de­tected in the arteries of children as young as age three, and high blood pres­sure exists in about 5 percent of youngsters.

At least three times a week, your middle-years child needs to exercise con­tinuously for twenty to thirty minutes at a heart rate above his resting level. As a guideline, the effort involved in continuous brisk walking is adequate to maintain fitness.

Each exercise session should be preceded and followed by a gradual warm-up and cool-down period, allowing muscles, joints, and the cardiovascular sys­tem to ease into and out of vigorous activity, thus helping to guarantee a safe workout. This can be accomplished by stretching for a few minutes before and after exercise.

Improve Large Muscle Strength and Endurance. As your child’s muscles become stronger, he will be able to exercise for longer periods of time, as well as protect himself from injuries—strong muscles provide better support for the joints. Modified sit-ups (knees bent, feet on the ground) can build up ab­dominal muscles, increase lung capacity, and protect against back injuries. For upper body strength, he can perform modified pull-ups (keeping the arms flexed while hanging from a horizontal bar) and modified push-ups (position­ing the knees on the ground while extending the arms at the elbow).

Increase Flexibility. For complete physical fitness, children need to be able to twist and bend their bodies through the full range of normal motions with­out overexerting themselves or causing injury. When children are flexible like this, they are more agile.

Although most people lose flexibility as they age, this process can be retarded by stretching to maintain suppleness throughout life, beginning in childhood. Stretching exercises are the best way to maintain or improve flexibility, and they can be incorporated into your child’s warm-up and cool-down routines.

In most stretching exercises, your child should stretch to a position where he begins to feel tightness but not pain, then hold steady for twenty to thirty seconds before relaxing. He should not bounce as he stretches, since this can cause injury to the muscles or tendons.

Maintain Proper Weight. Twelve percent of children in the pre-puberty years are overweight, but few of these youngsters are physically active. Exercise can effectively burn calories and fat and reduce appetite.

Ask your pediatrician to help you determine whether your youngster has a healthy percentage of body fat for his or her age and sex.

Reduce Stress. Unmanaged stress can cause muscle tightness, which can con­tribute to headaches, stomachaches, and other types of discomfort. Your child needs to learn not only to recognize stress in his body but also to diffuse it effectively. Exercise is one of the best ways to control stress. A physically ac­tive child is less likely to experience stress-related symptoms than his more sedentary peers.

2. Fitness

Mental Capacity for Sports in the Pre-Teen Years

During the preteen years, the brain’s ability to plan a set of plays or course of action and store that plan is at a level that allows youngsters to improve in all sports, most notably in those with more complex skills and rapid decision making. These active youngsters should be able to take information input from multiple sources and process it to produce a certain desired action. They can ignore information that is not needed, focus on specific tasks, and make more appropriate decisions with the information they have been given. They become a little less concrete or black-and-white in their thinking patterns and can form a few conceptual thoughts to help build on coaching instructions from the previous months or years.

Preteens are able to respond better to verbal instructions with less show-and-tell, but we all know that at any level of sport, visual instruction and demonstration can be worth a thousand words. Selective attention is improved with less interference from distractions. Pause here for clarification…the key word is selective. Johnny may have selective attention on the field to help him perform better, yet also have selective attention and stay focused on the television when asked to take out the garbage.

By this point in development, youngsters should be able to enter basically any sport for more significant competition if they are ready from a mental and emotional standpoint. Don’t forget that physical stature is not the only ingredient necessary for successful overall participation. Their bodies may be ready for harder training and competition, but emotionally they need to know already that they are valued as your children, regardless of whether they are national, local, or backyard superstars.

2. Fitness

Hand-Eye Coordination in School Age Children

The ankle bone may be connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone connected to the hip bone, but the eyeball is not yet completely wired to the brain. By this 6- to 9-year-old age group, the eye has usually achieved its normal round shape and the muscles of the eye can now help track and follow moving objects much better. However, when the signals from the eye get to Grand Central Station in the brain, all the different parts of movement are still difficult to interpret.

What this means is that youngsters may be able to judge how fast a ball is moving, but not be able to judge its direction very well, so they will be better with catching, hitting, passing, or kicking a ball that is thrown, hit, passed, or kicked directly to them. Having to figure out where the ball is going and how fast to move to get there is often still difficult.

Other sports that don’t typically involve flying objects or hand-eye coordination will also show more improvement because of their various and different requirements. For instance, judging walls for flip turns in swimming becomes more easily accomplished because velocity of an approaching wall that is dead center will be easier to process.

Now don’t go crazy trying to figure out ways to do eyeball exercises to speed up the process—it won’t work. There are no eyeball workout videos. Even the Shopping Channel and eBay won’t have them. The maturation of visual skills is a natural developmental process that has to happen over time. Remember what your mother always taught you—a watched pot never boils.

Have the patience to allow your child maximal development of sports skills with minimal pressure.

2. Fitness


As a parent, you need to encourage healthy habits—including exercise—in your children. Physical activity should become as routine a part of their lives as eating and sleeping.