Developing Athletic Motor Skill Competencies in Youth

by Nick Mattis, SPT


The development of strength and coordination in children is a rapidly evolving topic that many parents are concerned with. Questions surrounding what the best movements to perform are for child growth and the progression into sports are discussed in this article. Early and applicable activity in children can lead to long-term athletic development (LTAD). Strength, coordination, and motor skill competency are all vital components in the growth of children in activities. There are eight Athletic Motor Skill Competencies (AMSC) to which form a foundation of targeted areas of growth in children. Which is one of the athletic motor skill competencies? The competencies include: Lower-body unilateral, Lower-body bilateral, Upper-body pushing, Upper-body pulling, Antirotation and Core bracing, Jumping/Landing/Rebound mechanics, Throwing/Catching/Grasping, and Acceleration/Deceleration/Reacceleration. Through the progression of each competency, children will become more well-rounded in movement that is applicable to many scenarios as well as decrease the risk of injury through properly strengthened muscles and instruction of form.

Early Stages:

The early stages of development begin in childhood. Which age is considered childhood for girls? Childhood is considered in girls <11 years of age and boys <13 years of age. At this age, the brain is more neural plastic than adolescent years, meaning the brain is able to adapt, change, and form new learning pathways. This allows the children to learn, process, and repeat movements at a greater success rate than later in life. Approximately how much training-induced gains can be achieved by pre-pubertal youth compared to adolescents? Children are able to achieve almost 50% greater gains in motor skills in comparison to adolescents with resistance training. Therefore, the movements should be introduced at the pre-pubescent age to maximize the growth of the child. At this age, it is important to get the child to adhere to the long-term program. This often involves making the program in to fun games with play like movements. An example of this is performing movements like animals. There are several benefits to these movements such as child enjoyment, easy to perform, and effective. What is the main purpose of animal shape exercises? The most important benefit of the animal exercises is the enhanced locomotion skills the child receives from the exercise. Asking the child to “walk like a gorilla” will effectively improve lower extremity strength and range of motion as the child walks in a squatted position with it seeming like a game to them. Which is recommended for teaching children key body positions and movements? Similarly, cues can be given to the children when performing the motion to help instruct them in a way they will remember. When they are “walking like a gorilla”, you can tell them to “duck under the branch” so they will squat lower in the exercise. Using cues like this will be easier for the child to remember and perform compared to verbalizing squatting lower. In Table 1 of the article is a list of several animals and how to perform the movements like them. What physical attributes does the vulture exercise help to improve? A great exercise for single-leg balance is the vulture exercise where one stands and balances on one leg.


It is important to introduce smaller, simple movements before larger more complex movements. The complex movements are often combinations of several simple movements. Therefore, mastering the simple movements will make a more fluid and easier complex movement when it is time to progress. For example, simple movements such as the tuck, arch, and pike should be performed and mastered first. Then the individual can progress to more difficult movements such as a squat, handstand, or bridge. Which represents an appropriate progression? An appropriate progression would be as follows: tuck, straddle, and lastly bridge. It is important to recognize and understand the difficulty of each exercise to make proper progressions. Figure 5 in the article shows levels of intensity of exercises for proper progressions. Which of the following horizontal pushing exercises is classified as the highest intensity? The barbell bench press is the highest intensity for the horizontal pushing exercises, while the press up hold (plank) is of the lowest intensity. What is the most likely result of constant movement variation during game-based activities? When progressing the exercise, studies have found that rather than continually performing the same motion over and over, there is greater retention results in the child with constant variation in the movement. The constantly changing movement is found to have greater retention in the child’s brain rather than repeated continuous movements. Similarly, it is not as important to train children for sport specific movements as it is to make them well rounded in many movements. What is recommended for practitioners using more structured training with young athletes? Practitioners and parents should be training the young athlete to develop gross athleticism relevant to sports performance. This will develop the child’s movement skills to be applicable to many different sports and other scenarios. Not only will they accel at multiple sports, but they will also not be stuck with one sport as a kid lacking skilled movements to participate in other sports.

Physical Therapy First:

Here at Physical Therapy First, we have a team of skilled therapists that are able to assess, educate, and treat your child in recovery from injury to return them to their optimal functional level. Through manual techniques, therapeutic activities and other interventions, we can restore ROM, increase strength, and return you back to activity. Call today to schedule an appointment.


1) Radnor, John M. PhD1; Moeskops, Sylvia MSc, CSCS1; Morris, Stephanie J. MSc, CSCS1; Mathews, Thomas A. MSc, CSCS1; Kumar, Nakul T. A. CSCS1; Pullen, Ben J. BSc1; Meyers, Robert W. PhD1; Pedley, Jason S. PhD1; Gould, Zach I. PhD, CSCS1; Oliver, Jon L. PhD1,2; Lloyd, Rhodri S. PhD, CSCS*D1,2,3 Developing Athletic Motor Skill Competencies in Youth, Strength and Conditioning Journal: December 2020 – Volume 42 – Issue 6 – p 54-70. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000602