How ball skills train attention

From an early age young children take an interest in playing with balls: they like to toss and kick them and crawl or walk after them. As they get older children enjoy playing ball games with their peers and their parents. And the more they practice catching, throwing, kicking and hitting the more skilled they become. 

Ball games provide children repeated opportunities to practice the two important aspects of catching, throwing and kicking: these are visual information gathering and then using this information to plan the movements needed for a particular task.  

In other words ball games require:

  • good visual attention skills that allow the child to pick up the information needed to predict/plan the trajectory of the ball 
  • the ability to turn this visual information into a motor plan;,
  • the ability to combine movements of different parts of the body into a smooth coordinated action. 

By the age of 5-6 young children have acquired some basic ball skills: they can catch a medium sized ball with two hands, they can throw a ball at a target with a degree of accuracy and they can kick a ball towards a target.  

Children with poor ball skills have often not mastered these basic skills and are very aware that their peers do better than they do. As a result the child avoids ball games and misses out on opportunities for improving their skills.  

Two reasons why practicing ball skills is important

The first is that it is important for young children to have the confidence and skill needed to join their peers in playground activities rather than feeling inadequate and left out. 

The second is that practicing  ball skills is a really good way to train attention, persistence, and willingness to fail and try again. A carefully graded  ball skills training program allows the child to succeed at a valued task and also teaches that repeated practice leads to improvement in task performance..  

The child also learns to tolerate failure: he/she learns to view a failed attempt as just a mistake that can be corrected next time round. This is very important because children with poor ball skills often have an anxious nature and experience a strong negative emotional response  when they fail or make a mistake. 

What you can expect a child to do

Ball catching skills

By the age of 5-6 years a child can catch a soccer sized ball 7-8 out of 10 times: 

  • In front of the body,
  • To the side of the body,
  • Take a step and catch

Catch a tennis ball with two hands 7-8 times out of 10:

  • In front of the body
  • To the side of the body
  • At waist and at shoulder height

Ball throwing skills 

The child of 5-6 years should be able to:

  • Throw a beanbag underhand onto a 40 X 40 cm mat from a distance of 2 meters
  • Throw a tennis ball at a 40 cm diameter target at head height on a wall at a distance of 3 meters.
  • Throw a soccer sized ball from above the head a distance of 4 meters.
  • Use a sidearm patterns to throw a soccer sized ball straight ahead a distance of 4 meters. 
  • Throw a tennis ball up past the face and catch it again.
  • Bounce a tennis ball in front of the body and catch it again with 2 hands. 
  • Repeatedly bounce a soccer-sized ball on the floor 5-10 times with one or two hands.

Soccer kicking skills 

At the age of 5-7 a child should be able to kick a soccer-sized ball towards a target, including: 

  • Taking a step forwards and kick a stationary ball straight ahead 
  • Moving towards, intercepting and kicking a slowly moving ball 
© pam versfeld