by Allistair McCaw
Sports Performance & Movement Coach
The most important athletic skill is best developed before the age of 12.
Believe it or not, the most important element in creating a great mover in sport is actually developed and trained between the ages of 4 and 12. And what is this great characteristic found in the best athletes you ask? Anticipation.
Ever watched a player who doesn’t visually appear to have the physique to be athletically quick, but somehow seems to get to every ball or be in the right place all the time?
Ever wondered, besides other great attributes, why tennis pro Roger Federer, soccer star Christiano Ronaldo or squash wizard Ramy Ashour, are at the top of their sports?
Here’s why. The best movers on the court, not only have great footwork and movement skills, but also have the ability to read the game and anticipate. They see the play before it happens.
Even though the required muscle and properly trained movement patterns are essential in developing a great mover, it’s the athlete’s ability to react and their reflexes that determine just how well they will move in their chosen sport.
Simply put, all movement starts with the brain telling the body that it needs to move. The neuromuscular system or ‘brain to body wiring’ as I like to call it, needs to be continually trained.
Good anticipation and response skills are essential qualities to being a good mover on a tennis court. Knowing the opponent’s next shot, the one that’s coming back, allows players to move early and into the correct position to be ready.
The key to a good mover in sport is that they react faster. They are earlier into position and ready. Reaction and anticipation exercises should be included into all movement programs, not just athletic based skills.
These skills are developed best in the ‘skill hungry’ years (between ages 4 and 12). This is when an athlete is more teachable, pliable and receptive to acquiring the skill. The later an athlete is left to acquire reaction and anticipation skills in their development, the less chance that athlete is going to be a great mover.
It’s highly recommended that a coach or trainer develops and works on these motor skills in their kids’ sessions by including lots of games that involve challenging the child’s ABC’s: Agility, Balance and Coordination skills (catching and throwing).
Even still, when I’m giving my professional athletes a movement training session, I include anticipation and reaction skills as part of their routines. Great movers in sport read it early, they see it before it happens.
Train it early, when they’re young, and remember, all great movers are great anticipators!