By Craig Valency, MA, CSCS

When I was in PE class in junior high and we cycled around to the soccer unit, I dreaded it. I ran around the field, never in position, tripping over my own feet, bumping into other kids and unable to successfully dribble the ball more than two feet without losing it or falling.

Young soccer players in actionBasically, I was being thrust into the most advanced form of physical activity. I had to have perfect rhythm, timing, spatial awareness, and visual acuity. Instead of developing movement skills, getting fit, and learning to love movement for life. I was figuring out how to get out of ever having to embarrass myself again!

It would be like having kids read Moby Dick before they know all the sounds of the letters or parts of speech. If we want them to develop basic literacy, we always start with the basics. Then, hopefully, kids develop a love of reading for a lifetime.

So it is with movement!

If we want kids to enjoy movement and exercise for a lifetime they must develop physical literacy by first learning the parts of movement, the sensory awareness skills, before putting them together in complex games requiring elite level timing, coordination, reaction, and agility.

The true definition of agility is being able to quickly change direction in response to a stimulus. This means there has to be an element of unpredictability or reaction.

So before we get kids ready for sports or games that require agility, we have to first develop their ability to quickly change direction with a good sense of rhythm and timing. This is known as change of direction speed, or CODS.

Cones, ladders, hurdles, and jump ropes are great tools to work on this. No equipment? No problem, simply have kids do basic locomotion patterns such as crawling, marching, skipping, galloping, and shuffling.

cartoon-jump-rope-girlStart with simple even timing with cone, hurdle, jump rope, or locomotion drills. To improve the link from sound to body movements have the kids sing the rhythm, while moving. This is one of the reasons jump rope songs are so popular. For a ladder drill for instance, they could say, “in, in, out, out” or “right, 2, 3, left, 2, 3” etc. To increase rhythmic awareness point out that some beats are divided into 4 parts or 3 parts.

Because sports, and life, do not always happen in a perfect, even, rhythm, it also important to practice moving to irregular patterns or rhythms. Try spacing out cones unevenly or having kids skip, crawl, or dance to your hand claps and vary your tempos or syncopate the beats.

Temporal awareness is the sense of timing or rhythm that is needed to smoothly and effectively accomplish any physical task. The good news is that practicing these rhythm drills also directly translates to better brain development and mental processing and learning.

So remember, first basic even rhythms, then uneven, irregular patterns and rhythms, then reactive agility, and finally go out and play some soccer!

What are you doing to get kids feeling the rhythm? We’d love to hear your strategies for improving rhythm and timing, or how you might adapt a game or drill you presently use to develop temporal awareness.

We'd love your feedback!