Play is the primary means in which children learn about their body movements and capabilities. In early childhood, play is equivalent to work for a parent. Not only does play have a cognitive effect on a child’s brain, but it also helps them develop both gross and fine motor skills. Motor skills are body movements that the child is learning to control. Gross motor skills are body movements such as standing up, balancing, walking and running. Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscle movements (while using his/her fingers) and usually involves eye coordination such as writing, using scissors, or tying a shoe. When learning motor skills for a sport, such as speed, mobility, and coordination, it’s best to expose your child to learning these movements prior to puberty (especially between the ages of 7-12).
Young children are fearless when it comes to risking getting hurt while playing or engaging in physical activities. When you notice this behavior from your child, you might want to start paying extra attention to what sports your child is interested in. If the sensitive period for interest in sports and/or dance goes unnoticed, your child might have a difficult time in achieving higher levels of these skills later on in life.
Children start to develop motor skills at infancy when the gain simple control over their body movements. As children get older, between the ages of 4-7, they develop and refine their motor skills. These skills are a prerequisite for learning and mastering the movements and coordination required in sports. From the ages of 8-12, children work on complex motor skills; especially those found in sports and dance activities. After that, between the ages of 12-13, these learned motor skills are being fine tuned to specific sports that the child is interested in. However, if these skills are not fine tuned prior to puberty, they could regress and have to learn them all over again at a much slower pace and possibly not as successfully.
When I was younger, probably starting around the age of 5, my mom put me in every activity possible that my “girlie” personality might take to. I had a hand in dance, gymnastics, swimming, all simultaneously. Looking back at these activities, first of all, I wasn’t interested in any of them and, secondly, I was overwhelmed! I had three different activities going on multiple times a week and eventually dropped out of all of them since they were more like a chore to me than fun. Around the age of 9, I started playing softball since my parents insisted that I play a sport. Since my older sister was already involved in softball from an early age and my dad is a huge baseball fanatic (he currently is the head baseball coach at Union College) I figured I would enjoy this sport, too! Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. I had a great deal of difficulty learning how to catch the ball, I couldn’t throw very far, and hitting- forget it! My dad worked with me all the time to try to build up my skill level, but, to no avail. My sister, who had started playing softball at the age of 5 went on to make both junior varsity and varsity softball teams in high school and even played traveling softball.
Now, I understand that my mom was trying to expose me to a variety of activities hoping that one would stick. However, I feel as though if she had just asked me what my interests were, I would’ve been able to give her a better insight than her “guess and check” system. I loved playing in the snow and I wish I had been given the opportunity to take skiing lessons. I’ve taken a million lessons from the age of 17-25, however, I still can’t pick up the sport because I’m terrified of falling! If I had taken lessons when I was younger, though, this fear most likely wouldn’t have been in my mind yet. Learn from my childhood experience and be sure to pay close attention to your child’s interest, and, even ask him/her what sports they would like to try.
Here are some tips for exposing younger children to physical activity that will help develop their motor skills and help you to identify what skills they have that are stronger and weaker to correctly guide them towards a sport selection or activity!
*Provide a wide variety of experiences that improve object-handling skills and promote eye-hand coordination.
*Focus on gross motor skills at first (standing, balancing, walking, running, etc.) and remember that skill learning takes time, practice and repetition. Make some of these activities directed and other undirected. An example of an undirected activity would be having your child take advantage of their imagination to create their own game that involves movement. An example of a directed activity would be “Simon Says”.
*Include plenty of positive reinforcement to encourage self esteem to reduce the fear of failure in physical activities.
What kind of sports are your children involved in? Is there a sport that you wish you could have learned when you were a child?