by Brian Grasso, YCS, CMT
The key ingredient to working with pre-adolescent and
early adolescent athletes is providing global stimulation from a movement
perspective. Younger athletes must experience and eventually perfect a
variety of motor skills in order to ensure both future athletic success and
injury prevention. Developing basic coordination through movement
stimulus is a must, with the eventual goal of developing sport-specific
coordination in the teenage years. Coordination itself, however, is a
global system made up of several synergistic elements and not necessarily a
singularly defined ability.
Balance, rhythm, spatial orientation and the ability to
react to both auditory and visual stimulus have all been identified as elements
of coordination. In fact, the development of good coordination is a
multi-tiered sequence that progresses from skills performed with good spatial
awareness but without speed to skills performed at increased speeds and in a
constantly changing environment. As Joseph Drabik points out,
coordination is best developed between the ages of 7 – 14, with the most
crucial period being between 10 – 13 years of age.
As with anything else, an important issue with respect
to coordination development is to provide stimulus that is specific (and
therefore appropriate) for the individual. Prescribing drills that are
either too easy or too difficult for the young athlete will have a less than
An interesting note, as I have suggested in past
articles, is that there appears to be a cap with respect to coordination
development and ability. Younger athletes who learn to master the
elements associated with good coordination (balance, rhythm, spatial awareness,
reaction etc), are far better off then athletes who are not exposed to this
kind of exercise stimulation until advanced ages. The ability to
optimally develop coordination ends at around the age of 16. This
validates the claim that global, early exposure is the key from an athletic
development standpoint. Again, global coordination will serve as the
basis to develop specific coordination in the teenage years.
Once again, it is important to mention that coordination
development is a process that encompasses years of exposure and is based on
DIVERSITY and VERSATILITY. Young athletes cannot be pigeonholed into
sport specific stimulus at a young age and expected to vault into the ranks of
elite athletics. As the motto of my company says, ‘You Can’t Become a
Champion Until You Become An Athlete’.
Furthermore, it is important to understand that
coordination-based exercises must be introduced during the preadolescent
ages. Adolescence is not an appropriate time during which to begin
elements of coordination training. As strength, speed, height and body
mass change significantly during these years, it is much more prudent to
reinforce already known movements rather than teach new ones. Herein lies
the art and understanding of developing a young athlete. Coaches,
trainers and parents must accept the fact that developing a healthy and
successful athlete is a journey or process that encompasses several varying
degrees of stimulus, all of which build on top of the other.
Coordination training, for example, is introduced during
the pre-adolescent ages while nervous system plasticity is high and movement
habits have not yet been ingrained as permanent. The scope of
coordination training changes during the adolescent ages, during which physical
growth alters the young athlete’s previously mastered movement habits. At
this time, refinement of movement should take precedent over learning new
movement-based skills. In post-adolescence, coordination training can
once again be taken to new heights.
One point to consider about coordination is that genetic
pre-disposition plays a significant role. Less coordinated children will
likely never exhibit the tendencies of naturally coordinated children
regardless of training. That is not to say that improvements cannot be
made, however – quite the opposite.
Here are three basic principals of coordination training
1. Start young –
coordination improves as a result of learning and mastering new
movements. Start young athletes off early with coordination-based
exercises that challenge their abilities (within reason). The more
coordination a young athlete has, the more ability he or she will display at
any perspective sport.
2. Challenge young athletes on
an individual and appropriate level – Some youngsters have good balance
while others display good rhythm. The key to successful coaching is to
undercover what elements of coordination each athlete requires and develop
drills/exercises that most suitably target the weaknesses.
exercises frequently – young athletes learn quickly in most cases. Be
sure to challenge them physically and intellectually with new exercises often.
The following list provides some basic exercises that
you can use with your young athletes to help develop elements of coordination –
• Multi-directional forms of running, jumping and
• Single leg balancing games
• Mirror games (mirroring each
• Known exercises starting or finishing in new
positions (start sprints from belly or one knee; end with hands up or on all
• Opposite arm circles (right hand circles forward, left
• Simultaneous arm and leg circles
• Jump in place with
180 or 360 turns while in flight
• Balance exercises on a low balance
• Cross step-over running or carioca
• Somersault to balance
(somersault to standing one legged balance)
• Skipping A, B and
• Obstacle running (place hurdles directly on floor and have athlete
run over them)
Remember, coordination includes elements of balance,
spatial orientation, rhythm and various other traits. This list reflects
exercises to improve several of those elements.
Brian Grasso is the Executive Director of the
International Youth Conditioning Association and considered by many to be one
of the premier authorities on youth athletic development in the world.