As visual, auditory and cognitive abilities develop in elementary school children, they are able to learn more about the rules of the game and the proper techniques of catching and throwing as they develop a growing awareness about being part of a team. Because auditory and visual abilities are still developing, even for the 12 year-old, elementary school athletes will still struggle to see the ball, the field as well as easily follow complex directions.

Good Rules to Follow

Keep drills short and simple. Give instructions in short, positive statements, and avoid overloading kids with too much information. Their working memory is quite limited. They may be able to recall only 2-3 items at a time, whereas adolescents and adults may recall up to two or three times as much information. There is a natural fearlessness in most children during these years, and it is our job as adults to protect that willingness to experiment and try new things so that they develop their skills.

Focus on the Skills, Not the Score

Yes, they care about the score, but not for long after the game is over. Early emphasis on outcomes and participation in highly competitive teams can be a risk factor for burnout, injury as stress has been indicated by many pediatric and sports medicine experts. Once again, an important function of adults (parents and coaches) working with elementary school kids is to teach them the skills and principles of the game so that their fundamentals will be very strong as they progress to the next stages of development.

Fundamentals and Fun

Highly competitive, tough athletes with poorly developed skills may be at a disadvantage as they play high school sports because their fundamentals are off. While youth sports for older elementary school kids can be competitive, it is our role as adults to not get caught up in the score and consider how we are preparing these young players to understand how to play the game. Equal playing time gives all players the opportunity to be a part of the team and learn the game. Playing only the “best” players may contribute to dissatisfied teams and individuals and in fact may ignore potentially talented players.

Most important, our goal is to keep all of our kids, regardless of ability engaged and enjoying the game. It’s too early to tell who “all” of the best players are, and it undermines the joys of youth sports to be favoring players. These kids want to play and they want to be with their friends. The intrinsic joy of playing the game is the fuel that will keep kids engaged in the sport, whether they become collegiate or recreational players.

This article was adapted by Dr. Ginsburg’s original posting on the US Lacrosse website and from the book Whose Game Is It, Anyway?, Ginsburg, Durant and Baltzell

Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.