How can I help develop my child's sports skills?

Sports should be what kids do -- not who they are. Common pitfalls can often be averted if parents and coaches take the time to understand how kids develop their athletic abilities. Children build sports skills in a progressive sequence of stages that simply can’t be dramatically sped up, and each stage should be patiently and fully developed before moving on to the next.

When parents and coaches understand how sports skills develop, they provide the best opportunity to maximize the child’s athletic performance while minimizing pressure.

To help kids effectively gain sports skills, parents and coaches need to understand four core developmental processes -- physical, visual, chemical and emotional. To start, here’s a sampling of physical sports skill milestones that are important to keep in mind:
  • Ages 2 to 5: Most kids can’t yet effectively throw and catch (due to immature visual development); basic skills like running and hopping are acquired through unstructured play.
  • Ages 6 to 9: The brain communicates better with the body’s nerves and muscles -- as a result, a basic toss may progress to a more accurate throw, balance is improved, and running becomes more natural.
  • Preadolescence (age 10 to puberty): Control of body motions becomes more automatic; eye-to-brain pathways mature, allowing for better visual judgment of speed and location, and memory abilities allow mastering of more complex plays.
  • Puberty (usually ages 11-13 for girls; 13-15 for boys): Due to rapid physical growth, there may be a temporary decline in balance skills and body control as the body’s center of gravity changes and arm/leg lengths increase.
  • Mid to late teens: More aerobic gains are achievable with training; strength gains occur more easily, but heavy weights should be avoided until the skeleton fully matures.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.