Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletters, Volume 6.
A physical education teacher asked for help in designing his curriculum. He asked for the three to five exercises that I would do in every class with 4th-6th graders. Without knowing about available equipment, class size, teacher experience, and other important programing variables, I would play tag, crawl, sprint, and do some form of dexterity/coordination exercise such as juggling in every class.
Tag, in many ways, is the perfect developmental activity, which is probably why every child plays tag. For children, it is an easy, fun game. Tag develops general skills that apply to almost every sport: Quickness, agility, faking, changing speeds, lunging, reaching, and more. There are many variations that one can play — general games and more sport-specific versions — so tag should never get boring.
Crawling is used infrequently once one can walk upright. Crawling enables children to develop core strength and coordination. I wrote a preseason training program for a women’s college basketball team, and every workout included their choice of four of these exercises: Frog, spider, chimpanzee, gorilla, scorpion, leopard, and crocodile. Most of these animal movements are different ways to crawl.
In elementary school, every physical education class included static stretching and slow jogging. Why? Nobody liked jogging and stretching, and it took time away from the activities that we enjoyed. Jogging and stretching did little to improve our athleticism or health. Sprints may not be fun for some children, but at least they do not waste as much time as a one-mile slow jog (at least 10 minutes for the slowest 4th-6th graders). Developing speed helps in every sport, and four to six short sprints with short recoveries have been shown to improve health measures (Buchan et al., 2012). Also, it is easy to run slowly with terrible running technique; it is harder (though possible) to run fast with terrible technique. Rather than allowing children to develop terrible technique at slow speeds, and practice this technique class after class, sprinting will help to develop better running technique.
Finally, exercises that force children to track balls, use both hands, use both feet, and manipulate objects will enhance their development and coordination beyond simple sports skills. Whether playing hacky sack, juggling a soccer ball, juggling tennis balls, balance tasks with catching and throwing with both hands, or other simple activities, these activities will promote brain development (Draganski et al., 2004; Scholz et al., 2009) and coordination that can be transferred to any sport.
Whereas this sounds like it could be an entire class, and it could be, these activities, once taught the first few times, can be used as a warm-up for the first 10-15 minutes of a class or practice. In the time that it took my class to sit and stretch and jog a mile, children could play a game of tag, do relay races with short crawls and sprints, and juggle, developing several basic motor skills that form the foundation of almost all sport-specific skills.