childhood development

Movement + Young Kids = Successful Athletes

Today"s guest post is SAPT"s Mike Snowden, Intern Extraordinaire!

Today’s post carries on this month’s idea of training for youngsters.  In previous posts we’ve seen how strength training can benefit this population and now we will discuss how movement plays a critical role in a child’s development. Brain development research has shown that humans possess a “window of opportunity” where sensory and movement experiences are necessary. These experiences play a unique part in the social, emotional, spatial awareness, sensory-motor, language, and cognitive skill progress of a child. For the development of skills, this “window of opportunity” is open from before birth to around age 7 and it begins to narrow with age. Experiences during this period are vital in laying the foundation of a person’s motor control skills.

So how can you help a youngster, you might ask?

  • Give children lots of sensory-motor experiences, especially of the visual-motor variety.
    • Example: Having kids strike, kick, throw, bounce, and catch balls or soft objects of different sizes and shapes with both sides of their body.
    • Have your child perform an assortment of gross motor activities involving locomotion, postural regulation, and coordination.
      • Example: Crawling, rolling, tumbling, jumping, running, balancing games
      • Combine these movement activities with music
        • Musical chairs AKA The Best Game Ever!!
        • Encourage children to draw and scribble with markers or pencils (on paper not walls) to develop fine motor skills.
        • Allow kids to play
          • Experiences with outdoor playground equipment stimulate movement exploration (problem solving) and creative play (critical thinking)

The Science

The importance of movement and sensory experiences was found during studies (find a related article here) that compared brain structures of animals raised in environmentally normal, deprived, and enriched settings. The animals that experienced the enriched settings were given the opportunity to interact with toys, treadmills, and obstacle courses (animal playgrounds). This research led to the conclusion that stimulation is a significant factor in overall brain development. Animals placed in enriched environments had brains that were larger and contained more synaptic connections.

What does this have to do with kids?

"Though animal stand-ins don’t exactly represent the biology of the human brain, their brains have many of the same basic structures and functions," - Dr. Sharon Juliano Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Thus, we can cobble together reasonable theories that can be applied to humans. More information on it can be found here.

(Note: the following is not scientifically verified, but based on our experience over the years with our athletes.) As coaches, we can see the difference in kids who were not active as young children compared to those who were. Kids who were physically active generally have more body awareness, greater overall motor control and strength, and learn new movements relatively easily. At SAPT, let"s say we have an athlete who struggles with the aforementioned skills. We program rolls, crawls, jumps, tumbling drills, and toss-and-catch drills. Guess what? That usually produces vast improvements in their global movement patterns (like the squat or lunge pattern, for example). Not only that, but as their confidence increases as they improve, which only leads to even more improvements as they tackle new exercises and movements. Win!

What that all boils down to is: MOVEMENT! Young kids, (infants, toddlers, etc) need to move. Movement is how they explore and learn about their bodies and how to respond to their environment. Those first 7 years are critical when it comes to developing their motor map. Play on!