Is your child ready to play?

Readiness, the presence of necessary prerequisite skills for successful completion of a task or skill forms the basis of appropriate participation. What does this mean? All children no matter the age develop at their own rate and develop skills accordingly. Developmental growth consists of three components: motor (skills), cognitive (understanding), and social (peer and adult interactions and feelings). All three of these components develop separately but greatly influence each other. For example, a young player may be able to shoot a basketball from 10 feet but not recognize that if he had taken a few more steps he could easily have made a lay-up with no one covering him. This awareness of the game involves the cognitive component. While the motor component was developing, the cognitive aspect was slightly behind. Staying with this example, let’s look at how teamwork comes into play. This young player may not yet understand that he could also easily havepassed it to a teammate under the basket for a simple lay-in. Working as team is an aspect of the social realm. Very young children do not develop a team concept until around 8 years of age. That is why children in early age soccer leagues run around in groups circling the ball. With continued exposure to playing and experience these players will later learn how to pass to teammates, play a certain position and understand their role in the team strategy. Readiness is therefore related to personal and cognitive growth as well as physical ability.

So then how does a parent know when their child is ready to play? The first clue is if the child asks to join a team or express an interest in playing. This can be observed by watching the child play along with peers and with family members. Do they enjoy the activity? Are they freely getting involved? Are they persisting at the activity? The next step would be to ask them if they would like to play the sport on a team? For older children aged 8 to 16 years the same idea is important. Do they want to play on a team? Why do they want to play on a team? Perhaps to meet new friends, be around others and to improve on skills. As long as they have a reason for wanting to play this shows a step toward readiness to play. However, just playing on a team does not necessarily mean they are ready for more complex concepts in sport such as competition, running called plays, following along a team strategy or recognizing their individual role on the team. This is where the necessary prerequisite skills come into play.

The necessary prerequisite skills for successful sport play include (1) the fundamental skills involved in the sport (i.e. in basketball, the ability to dribble, pass and shoot a ball); (2) the cognitive understanding of what they are doing, and (3) the experience or desire to participate with others either on a team with other players or as an individual (i.e. diving, tennis). A young player must achieve the basic fundamental skills in order to be successful and prior to moving forward. For example, if a 9 year old cannot catch or field a baseball consistently during the season, and then joins a baseball league with more competitive athletes this player may wind up sitting on the bench more, and thus decrease his self-esteem and the desire to continue playing. In this instance the player did not have the necessary skills to be successful and thus was not ready to move on to another team. How then can the player obtain the necessary prerequisite skills so he/she can become ready for the complexities of organized play?

Parents and coaches can help players get ready for organized play by helping them gain skills, reinforcing their interests in the sport, supporting their efforts, and presenting a fun and positive environment in which they participate. How your child feels about their skills, their efforts and the feedback from teammates and coaches impacts their self-esteem and desire to continue play. If they feel good about what they are doing regardless of their skill level they will continue with the effort. This continuation leads to improvement of skills through practice and repetition. And the more they play the greater the understanding of why they need to perform a skill a certain way or at a certain time. Pulling the three major domains together (motor, cognitive, social) successfully leads to an uprising spiral. The more they play, the better the skills. The better their skills the more success. More success leads to greater self-esteem. The greater the self-esteem the more they play, and so on. When is a child ready to play? When they have the necessary prerequisite skills for the level of play they are to participate in.

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