Introducing Sports-Related Skills
by Rae Pica
Sports are a very big deal these days. We’ve come to equate sports with success, which is why many parents are enrolling their little ones in sports programs so soon after the diapers come off! It’s also why many parents are anxious to have their little ones practice such sports-related skills as throwing and catching. But these skills – called manipulative skills because they involve the manipulation of an object – are especially challenging for young children, precisely because there’s an object involved. So they really should be introduced after children are comfortable with the basic locomotor (walking, running, jumping, etc.) and nonlocomotor (bending, stretching, twisting, etc.) skills. In other words, the ability to manipulate an object should be secondary to the ability of the body to manipulate itself through space!
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not my contention that you shouldn’t roll a ball or play catch with your child until she’s achieved total mastery of the locomotor and nonlocomotor skills. Ball rolling is a great eye-hand-coordination, cause-and-effect activity that you can even do with a baby. And what dad doesn’t want to go out and throw the ball with his son or daughter? What I want to emphasize is that the manipulative skills are too often the sole focus of a child’s movement experiences. And even then the child usually isn’t taught how to perform them correctly; he’s just expected to perform them!
Stories like that of Tiger Woods, who started playing golf at age three and went on to become the world’s greatest golfer, have led some people to the fervent conviction that a child who doesn’t get the same early start will never have a chance. Nobody, it seems, stops to consider that perhaps Tiger was a rare exception. And there are certainly millions of stories – all of them unheard – of children who started before they were ready and quit out of frustration. Don’t let one of those stories be your child’s! There is no scientific evidence that getting an early start leads to improved sports performance. There is, however, research showing that children who learn skills when they’re developmentally ready learn them more easily!