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Ages & Stages

Sports Performance and Ability in School-Age Children

Attention spans of 6- to 9-year-olds are still short (no joke), and there is difficulty trying to process information from many sources. Most of these children still need a more in-depth form of show-and tell for instruction. Do not expect them to remember long, detailed directions and carry them out completely, or you risk an episode of brain overload.

Unrealistic expectations from instructors can lead to unpleasant situations if children are not able to complete a laundry list of plays. Visual and verbal teaching in short segments is a much more successful approach.

Instructors and children feel a sense of accomplishment when many small tasks are completed successfully rather than partially completing a large, complicated task. Remember, some of us are still memory-challenged as adults and can’t even remember a grocery list without writing it down. Thank goodness for little sticky notes.

Sports and activities with complex skills require quick assessment of a situation, rapid decision making, and mature levels of transitional skills. Examples of a few of these sports are the more advanced forms of soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, baseball, water polo, softball, lacrosse, and football. By all means, kids can be learning the basics of these sports at young ages, but do not expect high levels of performance in most kids in this age group because the development of their memory and complex thinking patterns is still limited.

As usual, there are exceptions to every rule. I know some of them personally. If your child is one of those rare cases, celebrate the fact that he is ahead of schedule, let his talent age for a while like a good wine, and be careful not to feel the need for speed or to rush him quickly forward. In general, these activities are hard to grasp beyond the basics for most young children, and the focus should be on continuing to refine basic and transitional skills, general fitness, and technique.

Previously It has been mentioned that practicing skills among toddlers does not seem to help them improve their ability later on. In contrast, there is evidence to suggest that in the 6- to 9-year-old age group, practicing some skills can produce a more positive effect on overall sports improvement, as well as an advantage of ability when compared with kids who do not practice and then attempt the same skills. This information does not apply to every sport and the research is limited, yet it is encouraging that practicing basic skills at this age can be worth the effort. Don’t blow this out of proportion and start over-practicing your child because practicing at this age seems to only benefit a few sports, not 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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