Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesdays with Words: A Running Start - Early Childhood and Athletics

A Running Start by Rae Pica is a thoughtful look at movement, sports and early childhood.  Her passion about movement and early childhood (0 to 8) is obvious and her discussion helped me to separate out kids' movement needs from athletics and sports.  This is difficult for me because I was on a tball team at 5 so that my 3 yo brother could play!  Everyone in my family, but me, played competitive college sports (my brother played in the College World Series - twice).  I was never athletically inclined and honestly I am not sure my boys are either.  Her discussion has helped me realize what is developmentally appropriate and how I need to help them develop in this area - without throwing them into a stressful sports experience.

She begins by emphasizing mastering the basics of movement - running, skipping, jumping, galloping.
The fact is, may children acquire the basic movement skills but only at the most rudimentary of levels.  And without sufficient instruction and practice, they remain at those levels throughout their lives.  This means they are unlikely to succeed in sports, or to be inclined toward lifelong physical activity. 
I realized that we have not really covered this well in our own home.  Her thoughts are easy to incorporate at home and I need to do it. She proposes that we tend to jump start them into sports without making sure they have mastered these simple moves first.  She also contends that many coaches don't teach the fundamentals of the sport very well either.  My parents were HUGE advocates of practicing the fundamentals (that may be why my brother faired so well) with the teams they coached - but I can see how this could easily happen.  After all, it seems so BASIC why would you need to teach it.  Currently my brother coaches a 7 and 8 year old baseball team (his kids) and he also focuses on the fundamentals and the parents love him.  So, my experience is different but I could see this not being a strength of most parent coaches.

Her statistics about when students typically are age ready to master a skill surprised me:
eye- hand or eye- foot coordination - 9 or 10 years old
distinguish an object from its surroundings - 8 to 12 years old
depth perception - around 12
understand rules, strategies and tactics - 10 years old 
Additionally, young children struggle to pay attention the whole game (witness the daisy pickers in the outfield).  Likewise, they literally can't hold many thoughts in their head at the same time (run, kick and aim while people are trying to steal the ball - that's tougher than it sounds, especially when you are 5!). They also don't understand many of the phrases we use (cover the base, choke up on the bat).  I hadn't really thought about how the things that we think are cute and funny might actually be stressful and difficult for our kids.  They want to please us so they will do their best but often what we are asking is truly outside of their physical and cognitive abilities.  The statistics above just drove that home for me!

Although these facts are interesting these were the two things that stuck out to me most:

I didn't realize they had a recommended age!  I can see why this is just from my own limited experiences with my children.  My oldest (9 yo) is able to play the game now.  The 6 yo is in sports so that we make sure he runs around on the weekend.  We play super laid back soccer here.  

She also discusses that organized sports replaces unfettered play - at least it used to. Realistically, I imagine most parents see sports as an alternative to playing video games. Sad but true. The physical activity of sports is better than sitting around but not nearly as beneficial as kids running around on their own.  This quote about the difference struck a chord with me.

I am not really sure where I land in all of this.  It is good for kids to learn rules and teamwork - but if they spend all of their week in school following rules, and then their weekends following more - when do they get to choose?  This alternative viewpoint is helpful because I have always been surrounded by the "start early" crowd.  Most of my friends have their late elementary school students in some type of pretty competitive sport.  What do you think?  

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  1. Thanks for writing this thoughtful post! So good to know that a book I wrote several years ago is still getting the message out.

    I do have to say that if your friends are waiting to enroll their late elementary schoolkids in competitive sports, that's better than much of what I've seen, where even toddlers are being encouraged to learn to play competitive sports!

  2. Sorry for the delayed response - we got sick last week. Thanks for your comments. Yes, good ideas do last! We do have the super pee wee leagues near us too but many of my friends do try to put off enrollment. Please continue with the great work. I look forward to reading your book about what everyone should know about early education. I am also wondering what we can do to ensure that children are mastering the basic skills like jumping, galloping and skipping. Do you have a book that covers those areas in a playful way?

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