Playing a good ole fashion game of Twister with your 5-year-old might be a more effective way to teach him how to hit a baseball than spending hours in the backyard pitching to him. No joke.
Just like a child has to learn to walk before running, research shows it’s important children master movements first, before skills. Translation. They need to be good at twisting before ever swinging a bat. According to “Project Play” at the Aspen Institute and a comprehensive study done by Canadian Sport For Life (CSFL) children will struggle if they try to learn fundamental sports skills before learning fundamental movement skills, and this can lead to discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, and sometimes quitting.
On the flip side, children who master fundamental movement skills are more likely to participate in physical activity, play at higher intensities, have greater cardiorespiratory fitness, have stronger muscles and bones, have higher self confidence, and are more likely to maintain good health and develop lifelong fitness.
Making your child a better athlete might not come from more practice, but instead from more play. A long-term athletic development plan as outlined by the CSFL includes regular vigorous physical activity – active play – as the first stage in athletic development for children ages 0-6. This is the time when children develop the “ABCs of movement – Agility, Balance, Coordination, and Speed” and, in turn, Fundamental Movement Skills, including:
- Body Awareness (rolling, bending, climbing, balancing, stopping, twisting, turning, landing, falling)
- Locomoter skills (running, hopping, leaping, jumping, galloping, skipping, dodging, and swimming)
- Object Control skills (throwing, catching, striking, bouncing, dribbling, and kicking)
A child who masters the fundamental movement skill of catching, for example, has the foundation for moving into sport-specific catching such as fielding a baseball, catching a basketball pass, or receiving a football. Mastering a wide range of fundamental movement skills is critical for kids who want to be competitive in sports as sports combine multiple movement skills.
Let’s imagine how this might play out. You sign your 5-year-old child up for his/ her first organized baseball team. He/ she has developed the fundamental movement skill of striking with an implement – things like striking a ball off a tee, striking a ball toward a target, striking a ball for distance, striking a ball and then running to get it. When it comes to hitting a baseball, can you imagine how your child’s confidence, ability, and starting point for progression will compare to a child who has not yet been exposed to striking?
The good news is parents can play a significant role in nurturing the critical first stages of a child’s athleticism… plenty of outdoor, unstructured play, exposing them to new fundamental movement skills, and being role models by joining them in physically active play. It just may be one of the best things we can do to prepare them for organized sports, and set the stage for a healthy, active life.
Michelle Berkley is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Youth Exercise Specialist, Youth Group Fitness Instructor, and mom of two kids who play a variety of youth sports.