Developing Control of Movement

FROM: IAAF "Introduction to Coaching Theory"

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Coaches who work with children must spend a great deal of time teaching basic skills and helping children to become more skilful. These basic skills are the movements needed for running, jumping and throwing. There should be a development of coordination in basic movements before specific event skills are attempted.

What Determines Children's Skill?
    When children start to play, either on their own or under supervision, they learn skills. The degree to which they can learn particular skills depends on their maturation and experience, the teaching they receive and the difficulty of the task.

    Maturation refers to changes which occur in the body over a period of time. Learning is the change in a person's performance of a task that comes from practice. While one particular performance may vary from another it is an indication of how well a skill has been learned. Both learning and performance are limited by maturation, not only of the skeleton and muscles but also of the nervous system.
    The nervous system does not fully mature until early adulthood. The system includes the brain and all the nerves through which messages are passed around the body. Younger children are not as good at remembering or selecting important cues as older children. They cannot make decisions so well, and cannot control muscular movements so quickly or precisely. The young athlete's skill will be limited by their stage of development.
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    The greater the opportunities a child has to move, the greater his chances to learn. The wider the range of movements and skills the child has a chance to practice the greater the range of experiences to draw on to put into specific event skills.


    For example, children who have had little chance to throw a ball in early childhood will probably have difficulties throwing a javelin later because they do not know what is involved. Most mature skills used in athletics are adaptations of the simple skills of running, jumping and throwing. The more opportunities children have to learn basic skills-tne better chance they have of becoming skilful athletes.

    Teaching children athletic skills is an essential task for coaches. It is important that these skills are taught at the level at which the children operate. Young athletes are not as fluent in language as adults. They need very clear explanations. Firstly of what they are trying to learn and then about how they should do it. Coaches frequently make the mistake of not taking into account what children may already know, or assume children have more experience then they actually have.

Difficulty of the Task
    The same task presents different difficulties to different people. The same task also presents different difficulties to the same person at different stages of their growth. The more difficult or complex a task the more difficulty young athletes will have in learning the task. This will show in poorer performances in the initial attempts. It is important to present the skill in a way that gives the greatest chance of successful performance. The more difficult the task the more practice time will be required.


Children's Basic Movements
    Children learn different patterns of movement from birth. They go through stages as they learn the basic movements that later will help with specific athletic skills.


A Child's Basic Movements


    There is considerable variation in the age which different children go through the same stages. Some may have very immature patterns of movement at puberty or in adolescence. Others may have very mature patterns in childhood. The opportunities that are created by the coach can be very important in accelerating progress. For late developers the coach must allow the athlete to fully learn basic movements before going on to complex movements.

How to Help Children Learn
    When children learn something new they go through three stages of learning:


Children's Basic Capabilities
    Compared with adults, children are limited in their ability to take in information, make quick decisions and evaluate their own performance. Because they have less experience than adults, children do not know the important things to look for in skills or situations. This means they need help in concentrating on what is important for them at the time. As they develop skills and gain more experience they are better able to take in and use more information.
    Good self evaluation depends on being able to correctly use available feedback. Better performance depends upon being able to assess one's own previous performance and making corrections when needed. Children find it difficult to evaluate their own performance since they are relatively inexperienced. Self evaluation can be developed by telling the athlete to concentrate on just one or two important points in practice and then assessing these points together after practice.


Principles for Structuring Practice

    There are some simple principles to remember which can be helpful for structuring practice sessions.

Big Movements Before Small Movements
    It is easier to make big movements which require less accuracy than it is to carry out small accurate movements. So big movements are easier to learn. When teaching the beginner it is better to get the big movements of a skill correct before worrying about the precision of advanced technique.

Simple to Complex Tasks
    It is obviously easier to make simple movements rather than complex ones. So learning should always proceed from the simple to the complex. Try to understand the children's limitations and see the difficulties from their point of view rather than from your own.

Parts and Wholes
    Simple movements are best taught as a complete, whole task. Complex movements which have many parts and are more difficult to learn may be best taught in parts. This means breaking the skill down into parts. These parts must relate to the whole skill.

Continuous Practice or Broken Practice
    All athletes can find long practices boring. This becomes even worse with children because their attention span is short. It is important to present interesting variations in practice and to break practices up into different parts which deal with different skills.

Practice and Competition Conditions
    Children like to use what they have learned, not just practice it. When a skill is learned put it into a competition situation as soon as you can. Only older, experienced athletes will be able to concentrate on practice for long periods to develop a higher skill level. For children motivation can be maintained by testing their skills in competitions as soon as they can perform reasonably well. These competitions should be adapted to the children's development and need only last for a short time. Children will learn a lot more easily if they are enjoying what they are doing.

Implications for the coach

● Practice within the children's limitations

● Encourage a wide range of movement experiences

● Teach simply. Use the KIS principle - Keep It Simple

● Use four guiding principles

    ■ Explain clearly and simply what they are trying to do

    ■ Demonstrate and suggest how they might do it

    ■ Give enough time for practice

    ■ Be patient and correct errors, one at a time, the most important fault first

● Do not expect too much too soon

● Develop basic movement patterns before special skills

● Do not give them too much to think about

● Point out the important things to concentrate on

● Help children evaluate their own performance

● Teach big, simple movements first

● Keep practices short with younger athletes

● Let them use the skill in a competition situation as soon as they can

● Use simple, easily understandable language

● Be positive when giving feedback


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