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Ages & Stages

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.

Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Sports Success Rx! Your Child's Prescription for the Best Experience (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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