Children who are just beginning softball, are not physiologically equipped to endure the demands of most organized and dedicated softball schedules. The goal during sport initiation, is to introduce children to many activities that will assist them in building many foundational sport skills such as agility, balance and coordination as mentioned in the long term athlete development model.
The aerobic system at this age is sufficient for many activities however the anaerobic system is not yet developed enough due to the low tolerance levels to lactic acid accumulation so should be avoided. Impact activities are also not recommended because the ligaments are not yet strong enough and the bones ends are still not calcified. Flexibility should be encouraged through various activities throughout this stage and further on.
Continuous and fun activities are the most suited for this age group as their attention span is short and most of their interests are involved in engaging with other children. Children’s desire for fun and activities should be nurtured and they should be encouraged to challenge themselves based on their own perceived limits.
Activity Guidelines for the Sport Initiation Stage
- multilateral development
- activities at their own pace
- positive reinforcement
- encourage development flexibility, coordination, balance
- encourage development of low intensity motor abilities
- encourage correct execution of suitable skills
- modify equipment
- ensure opportunities for success
Children need to build confidence in their skills and abilities to improve their skills. We need to make sure that they are provided with adequate opportunities for self evaluation and self direction in their activities and group roles.
Motor Skills Training
The sport initiation phase is the most important phase where coordination is developed. For this reason multi sport and multi lateral activities are recommended to allow the child many opportunities to enhance this skill. Activities that include both dominant and non dominant hands and feet will only improve their coordination and balance as well as confidence in their abilities.
Reaction time and response to visible cues are also important to develop as the athletes learn to adapt and respond to their surroundings. This is done through play and creativity in a well planned activities while still maintaining some random and unplanned tasks.
Nervous system adaptation and coordination at this stage are responsible for the increase in ability to move quickly. Coordinating the arms with the legs for example means that the legs will move faster as the arms are driving quicker. There are no obvious differences between boys and girls in their speed abilities at this stage.
Children should still not be running long distances full out (4-6 seconds). They can repeat the sprint after 2-3 minutes of rest but must never feel uncomfortable in their efforts. This skill is a long term development so should be treated that way and not rushed to early.
Strength and Power Training
Simply put – Not advised.
Children at this age will be developing their gradual strength on their own by engaging in activities that require strength. Boys will display more strength than girls due to genetics and choice of activities however girls are generally better at balance and flexibility activities.
The low tolerance for heat stress is one of the main reasons for children in the initiation stage to be less efficient in endurance activities. Their inferior cardiac output does not allow for large amounts of endurance training although children who do, have a history in participating in physical activity and show greater improvements than children who do not due to adaptations that do occur through experience.
Boys tend to be better at endurance activities at this stage due to their muscle mass being slightly greater than girls because VO2max is related to lean body mass. Towards the end of this phase however both girls and boys will improve with the increased lung and heart size thus increasing efficiency.
What you are likely getting from this article is that it is critical to allow these young children in the sport initiation phase of their development to enjoy sport and activity participation. Pushing them to excel not only takes away from the fun of a multi lateral focus but also has potential to actually harm their body and mind.
So… allow them to have fun and monitor their activities in a constructive multi-lateral environment that is full of ways to be creative and self directed. These are our future athletes.