If you’ve ever had a team of 5, 6, or 7 year old kids you’ve seen kids that are struggling with basic body coordination. I’ve had many practices where it looks like every kid is running around with their shoelaces untied. It’s one of the challenging parts of coaching youth baseball. You’re trying to teach complex, athletic movements (i.e. throwing, hitting and fielding) to kids who haven’t figured out how to control their body yet. So how do we develop more athletic kids?
As coaches, we are really limited in what we can do. After all, we only have these kids for about 40 hours in any given season. During those 40 hours we have to teach them the skills of the game and game strategy. It’s not realistic for us to also dedicate time to developing pure athleticism. It falls on parents to help develop athletic kids.
Benefits Beyond Sport
Most parents aren’t the type that are interested in dedicating segments of family time to develop athletic skills at ages 6-9. I sure wasn’t. Enough time is taken up by practice and games. However, the benefits of having basic athletic skills go beyond the baseball diamond.
There’s a theory of human intelligence that looks at all the various factors impacting how kids learn called Structure of Intellect. In short, this theory looks at intelligence as multi-faceted and it’s impact on the learning process. It basically looks at how each individual processes information, through the senses, and is then processed by the brain.
Why do I bring this up?
Simple…helping our kids be more athletic can enhance their ability to learn.
Things such as balance, visual tracking, proprioception (a.k.a. feeling where your body is in space), and depth perception can all positively impact learning. Any of those skills seem important in baseball?
No, I’m not talking about putting your kid through two-a-days with a personal trainer. In today’s world it can start with something as simple as turning off the TV, tablet, PC, etc. and pushing kids to go play outside. Run, jump, chase, ride bikes…whatever. Just get outside and be a kid.
Another simple way to improve athletic skills is to have kids get involved in multiple sports. When I was growing up year round baseball didn’t exist. Kids played football or soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, soccer in the spring and baseball in the summer. That was it! Unfortunately now the pressure to play a single sport starts way too early.
The best athletes at young ages usually play a number of sports. Some of the best athletes that I’ve seen also take Karate or Taekwondo. The bottom line is get your kid involved in multiple physical activities. The variety in movement helps develop more athletic kids.
Training Around the House
Beyond day-to-day activities there are some simple drills that parents can do with their kids around the house. And you don’t need to go buy any equipment to do them!
Here are some items around the house and how you can incorporate them.
Sidewalk as an Agility Ladder
Agility ladders are great tools to help develop footwork. Don’t want to spend $30-$50 on an agility ladder?
I bet you have one of these somewhere near your home.
Do a YouTube search on agility ladder drills and you’ll find a ton of different drills to help develop better footwork. Footwork is the most overlooked athletic skill in youth baseball.
Basketball as a Medicine Ball
This may not work as kids get past 9-10 years old, but it’s fantastic for very young players. You can get a 4-6 lb medicine ball for about $20, but why not use something you likely already have lying around the garage?
Young kids typically don’t have enough leg and core strength to have solid mechanics. Even if they do, as their bodies grow that can change. Medicine ball drills are a great way to help kids develop core strength.
One of the most fun games I’ve played with kids is basketball where the kids have to bounce the ball into the basket. They get a kick out of it and they happen to be doing a medicine ball slam without realizing it.
Body Weight Movement
Young kids don’t need to lift weights. Studies show that it can do more harm than good. However, moving their own body weight in a variety of ways is great for them!
This could range from push ups, squats, planks, to more complex explosive movements like plyometrics. The internet is filled with options. When in doubt pick movements that use multiple joints.
Keep It In Perspective
Like everything with youth sports, keep any efforts to make your kids more athletic in perspective. It should not be about simply developing a better athlete. Focus on teaching the kids about hard work, discipline and commitment. It’s not the work that’s important. It’s the process that matters!
Question: How do you help your kids develop their athletic ability? You can leave a comment by clicking here.