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Coordination and Movement Skill Development – The Key to Long Term Athletic Success
A key element of working with prepubescent and early adolescent athletes is to provide holistic stimulation from an athletic standpoint. Young athletes must experience and eventually perfect a variety of athletic skills to ensure future athletic success and injury prevention. Development of basic coordination through motor stimulation is a must, with the ultimate goal of developing movement-specific coordination during adolescence. However, coordination itself is a global system of multiple synergistic elements and is not necessarily a separately defined capability.
Balance, rhythm, spatial orientation, and the ability to respond to auditory and visual stimuli are all considered elements of coordination. In fact, the development of good coordination is a multilayered sequence that progresses from skills with good spatial awareness but no speed to skills that perform at greater speed and in changing environments. As Joseph Drabik points out, coordination is best developed between the ages of 7 and 14, with the most critical period being between the ages of 10 and 13.
As with anything else, an important issue with regard to coordinated development is the provision of specific (and thus appropriate) stimuli to the individual. Optimal results will not be achieved by formulating a workout that is too easy or too difficult for a young athlete.
An interesting note, as I’ve suggested in past articles, there seems to be an upper bound on coordination development and ability. Young athletes who learn to master the elements associated with good coordination (balance, rhythm, spatial awareness, reflexes, etc.) do much better than those who are not exposed to the stimulation of this movement until old age. The ability to optimally develop coordination ends around the age of 16. This confirms the statement that comprehensive, early exposure is key from a sport development perspective. Likewise, global coordination will serve as the basis for developing specific coordination during adolescence.
Again, coordinated development is a process involving many years of experience and based on diversity and versatility. Young athletes cannot be relegated to specific athletic stimuli at a young age and expected to leap into the ranks of elite athletes. As my company motto says, “You can only be a champion by being an athlete”.
Also, it is important to understand that coordination-based exercises must be introduced before puberty. Adolescence is not the right time to start coordinating training elements. With significant changes in strength, speed, height, and weight over the years, it is more prudent to reinforce known movements than to teach new ones. That’s the art and understanding of developing young athletes. Coaches, trainers, and parents must accept the fact that developing a healthy and successful athlete is a journey or process that involves multiple levels of stimulation, all building upon one another.
For example, coordination training is introduced before adolescence, when neurological plasticity is high and motor habits are not yet ingrained. The extent of coordination training changes during adolescence, a period during which physical growth alters previously acquired movement habits in young athletes. At this point, motor improvement should take precedence over learning new motor-based skills. After puberty, coordination training can reach new heights again.
One thing to consider about coordination is that genetic predisposition plays an important role. Less coordinated children may never exhibit the tendencies of naturally coordinated children, regardless of training. However, that’s not to say improvements can’t be made – quite the opposite.
Following are the three basic principles of coordination training −
Start Young – Learning and mastering new movements improves coordination. Begin young athletes early on with coordination-based exercises that challenge their abilities (within reason). The more coordinated a young athlete is, the better he or she will be able to perform at any angle of motion.
Challenge young athletes on an individual and appropriate level – some youngsters have good balance, while others show good rhythm. The key to successful coaching is understanding which elements of coordination each athlete needs and developing the drills/exercises that work best to target weaknesses.
Change up exercises frequently – young athletes learn quickly in most cases. Be sure to challenge them both physically and intellectually with new exercises on a regular basis.
The following list provides some basic exercises that you can use with your young athletes to help develop the element of coordination −
Multi-directional forms of running, jumping and jumping
one leg balance game
Mirror game (mirror the opponent’s actions)
Known exercise that starts or ends in a new position (starts with a lunge on the abdomen or one knee; ends with landing on hands or all fours)
Double arm circle (circle forward with right hand, circle back with left hand)
Simultaneous arm and leg circles
Jump in place 180 or 360 turns in flight
Balance exercises on a low beam
stride or carioca
Somersault to balance
Skip A, B and C
Obstacle run (place an obstacle directly on the floor for the athlete to run over)
Remember that coordination includes elements of balance, spatial orientation, rhythm, and various other characteristics. This list reflects an exercise in refining several of these elements.
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