As my 10-year-old athlete “Nick” dashes through a circuit of Sandbell overhead presses, overhead walks, squats to a Dynamax ball, and jumping rope swings, I hear the grand old sound of sport-specific coaching for children.
About a hundred yards away from our playground fitness empire, the basketball court is rife with 8-year-olds whose basketball aspirations, I can only assume, are being replaced by a silent and passionate plea for Coach to just shut up and let them play basketball. Even with my poor distance vision, I can see, or maybe sense their eyes glaze over as Coach provides three-to-five set instructions on specific drills and movement patterns. Everbody knows an 8-year-old boy’s favorite thing is to stand and listen to multiple instructions while the siren song of actually playing lingers just out of reach. The best part is that each one of those little fellows will likely retain exactly none of what Coach is saying.
Coach is an assssssssss.
And Coach is not just an ass because he isn’t doing things the way I like to do things, but because he clearly, clearly has no understanding of childhood development or how an 8-year-old brain works. I do not want to assume here, but all available evidence made it seem likely he was of the “I don’t need to know about brain stuff, we’re here to learn basketball” ilk. So yes, if that is the case as I believe it to be, Coach is an ass.
For motivated 8-year-olds, particularly with sport-specific activities (which, as you may already know, I think suck anyway), one or two practical pieces of coaching input per lesson is about right. Something about dribbling and something about passing. And that’s it. That’s it because no matter how well you phrase it, how good the analogy, or even how positive the reinforcement, the 8-year-old brain is not going to retain a great deal of information about the nuances of basketball technique. Nor are many children physically capable of performing sport-specific movements over and over without some type of overuse injury or imbalance occurring. I highly recommend Marky Hyman’s book Until It Hurts on this matter.
Now that September is here, adapted PE classes around the country will start doing units of team sport activities, and notes will go home stating that Craig or Lisa or Tim or Jordan is “doing really well with soccer or football skills.” Hell, Nick got a football award the other day from his phys ed class and he can hardly hold his body in position when performing an overhead throw.
It must be me. It is apparent that I don’t have the magic wand that these adaptive PE coaches wield. Or maybe I’m just not a liar.
Sometimes it’s difficult to write a note home saying “Chris is working on standing for 3 seconds on a pair of spot markers” or “Jillian is working on raising her arms over her head and extending them fully 3 times,” because we think these are skills that young people, even those with autism or related special needs already have. And I do get emails from coaches and professionals saying “That’s not how we do it, we actually focus on developing movement patterns, etc.” That’s great. Congratulations. You’re the minority. If you were the majority, we wouldn’t be facing a lifestyle-related disease/disorder problem among the young autism population. But we are.
The entire foundation of adapted PE requires complete upheaval and reconstruction. Here’s what we need:
– Programming that focuses on the foundations of human movement (pushing, pulling, bending, locomotion, rotation)
– Programming that assesses baseline skills and creates individualized goals based on Physical, Adaptive, and Cognitive abilities (Ahem, PACProfile.com )
– Programming that supports the development of active play skills (creativity and exploration of movement) in all ages
– Programming that introduces and/or facilitates social interaction during movement, and not just (or not at all) with competitive games
– Programming that builds strength, stability, coordination, speed, and motor planning in a variety of different activities
Here is an example of an exercise circuit I would use in an APE class:
Station 1: Hurdle Step-overs
Station 2: Sandbell Overhead Presses
Station 3: Rope Swings
Station 4: Squats to Dynamax Ball
I like to use a time-based approach for these stations. Each athlete, or pair of athletes, is at the station for 1-2 minutes and then moves on to the next one. The activities can be made simpler (regressed) or more challenging (progressed) based on the individual at each station at any given time. Try that with a competitive activity. If you have two or more athletes at a station, they can practice taking turns, working on social skills, or completing the activity together (cooperation). Each station can be run through 3-5 times or more. Or run it forwards (stations 1, 2, 3, 4) three times and then backwards (stations 4,3,2,1). This provides some variety while giving the athletes enough time to learn and become more proficient with each activity.
The new Autism Fitness E-book details all of these exercises and more plus programming tips and the concepts necessary to make programming successful.