Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, Volume 7. Subscribe here.
As I think about the realities of youth sports today, the most important person in the development of a successful high-school athletic program may be the elementary school physical education teacher. We know athletes specialize. We know athletes engage in less free or unstructured play. That does not appear likely to change. We also know this specialization has adverse effects in terms of basic movement competency, general physical literacy, overuse injuries, and emotional burnout.
A well-done elementary school P.E. program can negate some problems that arise when players specialize. An elementary school P.E. program should develop basic motor skills and movements. When I took over a varsity high-school program this season, I taught basic skills such as skipping, jumping, landing, and more that should be taught to children in elementary school. With more specialization, and less unstructured play, these skills no longer develop naturally. With an absence of physical education, these basic skills may not develop at all.
A quality elementary school physical education curriculum would develop basic fundamental and foundational movement skills. The foundation movements are squat, lunge, hinge, brace, rotate, push, and pull. Fundamental movements include running, jumping, landing, hopping, leaping, skipping, throwing, striking, hitting, and more. Teaching and developing competency in these movements should be the objective of an elementary school P.E. program. Every child should learn these basic movements before moving to more competitive sports, but without P.E. programs and unstructured play, and with greater specialization, children develop with a poor foundation.
Imagine if every player joined a high-school basketball program with a high proficiency in these movements. Players suffer injuries, and I watch them, and they cannot squat. They struggle to lunge. They have never been taught a hinge. These are just the basics; once children learn these movements, they should be challenged in every direction, every plane, every amplitude, every speed, and every complexity, as Kelvin Giles has said.
To build on the squat: Can you squat with a shoulder-width stance? With your feet together? In a wide stance? With one foot forward? With the other foot forward? With toes turned out? With toes turned in? Every few sessions when I was a college strength & conditioning coach, our workout would include dumbbell squats using these seven different positions. Can you do a speed squat? What about a slow squat? Can you hold a squat? Can you squat and move dumbbells or a medicine ball in different patterns as you squat?
Imagine the advantage that players would have on the court if they started high school with proficiency in these skills, and they were not movements that a coach had to address along with basketball skills. When a player can squat and lunge, he or she is likely to run and stop better. When a player can decelerate, jump and land with good technique, this enhances his or her shooting. Basketball skills develop on top of the foundation and fundamental movement skills. With a great elementary school P.E. program, high-school basketball coaches will inherit athletes with a head start, a better foundation, and a higher ceiling.
Below are three examples from the YouTube pages of coaches who do exceptional work with young athletes and provide great ideas for coaches. First is Jeremy Frisch; second is James Marshall; finally is Greg Thompson.