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Physical Education Curriculum Guide for 3-7 Year-Olds

The Motor Skill Learning System for 3-7 year-olds

  1. Stages of development
    1.1. Stages of development
    1.2. Why motor skill development is important
    1.3. Importance of early movement experiences
  2. Versatility for optimal learning and fun
    2.0. Why Talent is Overrated
    2.1. Versatility for optimal learning and fun  
    2.1.1. Advantages of versatility-oriented 
    sports activities
    2.2. Optimal learning & fun 
    2.3. A balance of 7 skills, Motor Skills to coordination to sport-specific skills
  3. Game-based approach
    3.1. Games based approach versus drills based approach  
    3.2. Deliberate play
    3.3. The importance of free play
    3.4. Enriched environments & Incidental moments
  4. Story
    4.1.Increase participation through stories
  5. Bigger and better brains
    5.1.Bigger and better brains
  6. Conclusion

1. Preface


Beliefs and actions in a new approach to children’s skill development

1. To understand children’s physical stages of development to better being able to challenge them.
2. Teach the most versatile movement experiences possible for optimal development, the prerequisite to learning sport-specific skills well.
3. Use a game-based approach with stories for holistic coaching.
4. Develop bigger and better brains through versatile movement experiences at a young age.

There are too many children today of age 6-7 trying out a sport that doesn’t have the fundamentals of coordination that are required to learn, enjoy and progress in the sport of their choice with confidence.
Too many kindergarten PE lessons consist of a series of “fun” games or inadequate teaching ideas that poorly or indirectly develop good skills. Since it is not believed children can play skillfully at an early age, lessons become time-filler activities. The problem is, one could do those “fun” games for years and still never learn fundamental skills to transition into playing sports later on.

Every healthy child can have the motor skills to learn, play and sample sports by the age of 6-7years, irrelevant to their genetic predisposition. We strongly believe in development and less in the concept of natural talent, but we also need to take a proactive approach versus a reactive approach. Children do not learn skills just by getting older and taller.

We can’t underestimate how early children start to develop these motor qualities and set healthy lifestyle habits.
If children can participate and have the skills to participate in their learning is accelerated and their confidence builds, both in sports and as a person.

We built the motor skill learning system to cater to the crucial years of 3-7 for fundamental motor skills development that influence children way beyond those first 7 years, even as adults.

What is the Motor Skill Learning System?

A 21st Century Physical Education Curriculum Guide to developing the necessary fundamental motor skills better and faster and be competent sampling or starting sports at age 6-7 has been created by expert coaches, for coaches, to provide 21st Century PE curriculums for 3-7 year-olds that are easy to implement.
Our methodology is based on Swiss Kindersport, Australian Skillforkids, Acecoach from Canada, Games for Understanding (GfU) and many more.

This new coaching is based on four foundations brought together in one system. Anyone of these four areas can help your coaching improve dramatically. Taken together they can transform your coaching. They include:

  • Teaching according to stages of development
  • Learning the max amount of movement experiences using all 5 motor skills in a balanced way (versatility).
  • Adopting a Game-Based Approach & Teaching with Story
  • Develop bigger and better brains through versatile movement experiences at a young age.

The outcome you want:

How to best train core motor skill elements to be able to control basic movement sequences that are not only fun but allow children to acquire any sport-specific skills with ease later on and play an active part in sports they choose to take part in, hopefully for life.

The benefits of systematically improving your coaching include:

For children

  • We want children to be able to acquire sport-specific skills more easily and develop a love for physical activity.
  • The ones capable are generally the ones motivated to continue. Children don’t love something they are not able to do.
  • The motor skill learning system sets them on a path of self-confidence and has a huge impact on long-term physical and mental health.

For coaches

  • More and better students ($)
  • Higher retention level (Why would they go to another coach who couldn't do these things?)
  • Increased enjoyment and motivation for coaching (Tired of the same old lesson? This material will rejuvenate your coaching experience)
  • Increased professionalism, competence, and confidence (Demonstrate more expertise in the field of coaching)

1.1. Stages of Sports Skill Development

 A summary of how children’s skills typically emerge over time and where the development of fundamental motor skills fits in. Why it is a critical building block for children to be able to participate in all sports later on in life.

If children skip one of the stages, in particular, the early development stages 2-4, they will greatly limit their potential down the line. Keep in mind that the age ranges (hence the titles) are overlapping which depends greatly on children’s development so far.
Even at a very young age children's speed of development can be up to 18 months apart.

Stage 1: Newborn to 1 year: Birth to Mobility

By about 12 months of age baby’s strength and balance have improved to the point where they are able to walk.

 Stage 2: Age 1 to 3-4 year: Mobility to Basic Motor Skills

From the age of 1 to 4 years children’s increasing mobility skills make way for them to have experiences that develop simple fundamental motor skills (throwing away, tumbling, climbing up..).

  • Encourage movement in any way. Facilitate the development of basic motor skills through sensory input which is what kids learn from.
  • Make physical activity/exercise part of every day for physical and mental health.  
  • Make it fun to keep kids at it, walk to interesting places that stimulate their senses so that they want to walk more.

Stage 3: Age of 3-4 to 6-7: Fundamental Motor Skills  to Ready for Sports Motor Skills

From the age of 3 to 7, children can have developed a high level of competence in all their fundamental motor skills with the goal to successfully play and learn any sport with confidence. It is the best window in life to learn and improve motor skills and our focus.

Expose children to the maximum amount of movement experiences during this time span. Children form libraries of movement experiences they can draw from later on.
Vary drills to challenge children who are very eager to learn at this age and they love challenges. For example dual-tasking; doing 2 things at the same time which is tough at this age but a great way to build sports skills and coordination.
Start to develop some game sense. Also, let kids take games their own way and you are more of a facilitator. Do it when it is fun for them and not necessarily for you.
Versatile movement experiences also promote psychological development like self-learn, problem-solving, confidence, resilience.. important skills not only in sports but also in life. 
Expose children to some sport-specific skills and try to facilitate active play and coordination development for at least an hour a day but preferably more.

To get all the games to teach 3-7-year-olds:

Stage 4: 7 to 9-10: Ready for Sports Motor Skills to Sports Sampling

From the age of 7 to 10, children tend to try a number of different sports. Let children sample as many sports as possible to find their likings. Often they are pushed into activities by parents who think it is good for them and then stop. Sports sampling further develops its general coordination as well as their sport-specific skills.

Stage 5: Age 9 - 12: Sports Sampling to Deciding on Intensity

Children like to move in general and are open to trying new sports.
Programs that offer the most versatile movement experiences opens children's eyes to what they enjoy and enables them to choose their preferred sports.

As children sample sports and start to like some sports over others, they start to also get exposed to competition and ideally play more than one sport which advances motor skill development further.
This is when children get a real sense of what sport they may be motivated to play more regularly. 

Stage 6: Age 13 to 16-17: Deciding on Intensity to choosing a sport for Fun or Professionally

Children of this age mostly fall into two categories.
1. Sport for fun with mostly deliberate play experiences improving their skills through a game-based approach.

This is where kids engage in fun play experiences in the sports they have tried and enjoy. This increases in complexity the more skillful they become.

2. Introduction to practice and training in deliberate ways to improve specific skills in technique, tactics or physical and mental ability.

Stage 7: Age 16 and up: Choosing a sport for Fun or Professionally

Children decide on their passion and motivation for a specific or several sports.

They can enjoy sports for life as a healthy and fun lifestyle or if skillful and motivated enough to pursue a career.

1.2. Why motor skill development is important

1.3. Importance of Early Movement Experiences

Why are children so teachable when it comes to motor skills, and how does a child become more adept?

Younger children move a lot and enjoy it very much. They learn through frequent practice and imitation. 
The connection of perception and sensory-motor skills, the sense of balance and concentration are constantly improving.
Children's brains are optimally prepared for coordinative tasks; younger children already have an immense network of nerve cells in the brain.
The physical conditions (leverage ratios) are also very favorable for coordinative tasks.
New movements are picked up and implemented very quickly. Errors during execution are normal and necessary but as the motivation to move and the tolerance for failure of appropriate tasks is very high, we need to take advantage of this timeframe. 
We call it the optimal window for motor skill development.

In the beginning, babies and very young children have endless possibilities for development.

Genes only give us the beginning of possibilities, the brain changes itself in relation to the experiences we have.

We have a genetic predisposition to behave a certain way, which is only an initial guide and does put some limits on what we are capable of but within that, there are so many potential outcomes depending on the movement experiences children have.

It is important to understand how the brain is used, the variety and richness of experiences it's exposed to, both physically and psychologically will determine the possibilities for what can happen in the future.

Brains remain plastic into adulthood but are way more plastic when we are born and able to change. That’s why early interactions are so important in children’s’ lives and the reason why we see so much individual variation over time in both ways, good or bad.

The early physical or psychological interactions will determine the possibilities for what can happen in the future.

Physical (and psychological) experiences in the early years are formative and begin the path of development and then all experiences after that will be affected by the early experiences.

For example, if a toddler plays with lots of balloons early on, it will translate into having an easier time to catch balls, then, later on, facilitates hitting balls with a racket as the toddler learns to judge trajectories of balls from an early age.

In basic terms, it is when an experience results in a learned behavior (e.g. judge trajectories of balloons) which then increases the likelihood of that learned behavior (e.g. judge trajectories of any ball) occurring again in the same situation.
This process continues over and over which in turn results in a long-term skill outcome (e.g. ability to catch all kinds of balls or hitting balls with rackets, bats, sticks..).

The best thing to do is to set, proactively, desired skills and habits from a very young age. The early years are super important to get children on track on a positive developmental path as all the interactions after will then be affected by the early interactions.

The normal development of children should not be left to chance. Instead, parents and coaches should take the initiative and help influence the course of their children’s development, rather than wait until things happen, or rather don’t happen, and then react. Children do not learn skills just by growing older.

We firmly believe that we don't value the importance of how these early years are super important in setting these positive developmental trajectories.

2.0. Why Talent is Overrated

2.1. Versatility

Promote the max amount of versatile motor skill experiences for optimal learning & FUN

Physical development becomes very varied as kids get older, and are much closer together when kids are still younger. (throwing a ball: a 4-year-old can be better than an 8-year-old).
It all depends on their motor skill experiences they go through.

The goal of our curriculum is to offer a broad and versatile basic training in motor skills for children to enable an optimal entry in various sports. A well-rounded development of fundamental motor skills also builds the foundation to enjoy physical activity as a lifelong pursuit and has the greatest potential for a professional sports career, even though this is not our primary goal.

How and which skills a Coach chooses to teach can either shortcut the learning process or make it longer and unnatural. Skills that equip children to play a sport later on (not just practice) must be the priority.

Young children are not specialist, they are allrounders. They are curious about the diversity life has to offer and need a broad base of experiences for holistic development, in particular for their physical development.

A broad base of motor skills allows children to adapt faster, which is not only crucial in a competitive environment later on but accelerates acquiring a new sports skill.

In motor skill learning there is a rule: “The transfer of learning between two situations is directly proportionate to the degree they are similar”.
The more often and the more varied movements are practiced in different environments the greater the learning, which is also what happens in playing sports where almost no situation is similar. And the point of lessons is for children to ultimately play sports better and not just do great things in a similar practice.
Have them gain experience with all forms of movements, on all surfaces, equipment, and elements.

Sports at age 3-7 should be as diverse as possible to acquire a vast foundation of motor skills. All sport-specific tasks are a combination of the 5 motor skills:

  • Reaction
  • Balance
  • Rhythm
  • Orientation
  • Differentiation

    that can be further divided into basic skill groups like:

  • Locomotion (running/jumping/hopping/crawling/walking/skipping/galloping/leaping)
  • kicking/punting
  • skidding/sliding
  • static balancing, dynamic balancing
  • fighting/scuffling
  • throwing/striking/
  • catching/intercepting/collecting
  • make rhythmic/dancing
  • rolling /spinning/twisting
  • climbing/supporting/dodging
  • rocking/swinging/hanging
  • stopping/landing
  • dribbling/bouncing/carrying
    and many more

Use these basic motivation forms as aids for planning, then vary and connect these.

To coach in a learner-centered way, we need a precise plan like the Motor Skill Learning System to maximize learning. Systematic learning is radically different from lessons that are 'tip' oriented.
The younger the children, the less sport-specific the movement skills should be taught. Basic motor skills build the foundation for almost all sports.

The greater and the broader this versatile foundation of basic motor skills is, the better is the initial position for deeper, sport-specific training and children will have way more fun doing so.

Versatility trains adaptability and allows children to solve a problem faster, not only in sports but translates well into many aspects of life.

We want children to do one thing well, to be able to adapt to situations that present themselves. A broad base of diverse motor skills will allow them to do so. Children become problem solvers and are in a constant learning and adaptation mode.

Learning that you won’t be able to come up with the same solution to a very similar problem twice and come it outright is critical.

Versatile movement & motor skill experiences shorten the learning time and the effectiveness of the training when learning new skills and more sport-specific techniques.

Developing a very broad base of motor skills at a young age is critical for optimal learning. (Optimal training, Weineck 2007).

Your aim:

  • Facilitate versatile motor skills experiences
  • Build a broad base of motor skills and
  • Expand the existing motor skills.

Demand and offer many variations, with increasing movement stability even more (the type of play, with different parts of the body, time pressure, variate the size of the balls and the movement space).
Fundamental motor skills are the basis to be able to acquire sport-specific skills, which is ultimately the goal, to learn a sport and practice it. (Steinmann 2009).


2.1.1. Advantages of versatility-oriented
sports activities

Optimal learning for lifelong sports participation & competitive sports

Every healthy child can have the skills to actively participate in your sports culture
Motor Skills are sustainably learnable, take into account previous experience, and can be improved by practicing.

The habit of being active forms early in childhood, at home, and in organized sports. The organized sports in this instance are the sports clubs and after-school programs. 
Good examples from parents at home and participation in organized sports add a significant level to children's activity.
Participation in early childhood leads to more active children with a higher intensity.
Fun is the main motivator for children to take part in sports. The main reason for leaving organized sports is disinterest and a lack of fun.

A well developed basic movement repertoire leads to more fun in sports.

Young children experience versatile classes based on improving a large variety of motor skills as more fun than traditional one-dimensional and sport-specific classes.
Girls and boys have different needs so we need to be aware of what appeals to them.

The optimal path to success 


Versatile movement experiences at a young age and the sampling of a large variety of sports increase thereafter

  • the likelihood that a child finds the most appropriate sport (functional matching).
  • improved performance through a large variety of stimulation in training and competition.
  • reduced risk of burnout due to frustration.
  • children decide on their own for a specific sport with a more mature mind later on.
  • 93% of children find their optimal sport based on their genetic physical predisposition.
  • Build, increase and maintain the talent pool for later specialization.


There are many different, individual ways to become a professional athlete.


There are very few sports where children reach their peak as adolescents as gymnastics and specialization happen earlier. But the most promising developmental path for children is

  • versatile movement experiences from age 3-7,
  • sampling many different sports and gradually choosing one main sport by the time they hit age 8-12. 
  • More goal-oriented, sport-specific training between the ages of 13-15 and beyond follows 

This is not only the most promising but also the most suitable and most child-appropriate path for success.

Performance athletes have the highest potential for success when they start to specialize in one sport at age 12.

The vast majority of game sports need a wide range of movement skills, tactical awareness, creativity, and social interactions with their own team or the opponent's team is a must.
An earlier but not exclusive specialization in team sports is age-appropriate.

To do’s for optimal learning & fun

  • Offer context-dependent activities that relate to the specific situational requirements of your sports culture. (a 100-meter sprint does not relate to many sports)
  • Offer training that is less frequent to keep children in sports and promote togetherness in addition to regular, more performance-oriented training.
  • There is a great need to offer training for both, fun groups and performance groups.
  • Give children the ability to enter any sport at any age.
  • Focus on motor skill development at a young age. Do not measure the results or use them as preparation for competition.
  • Set realistic goals with enough time to complete them.
  • Create positive emotions in the group
  • Offer competitions where children can show their skills as they get older.
  • Get them involved in group competition rather than individual competition.
  • Have appropriate offers for girls.

2.2. Optimal Learning & Fun

Optimal learning & fun

The ultimate goal and most fun are to learn a sport and play it.
Fundamental motor SKILLS are the basis to be able to acquire those sport-specific skills.

However many PE coaches will often fall into the „clown trap‟; to survive the lessons by trying to keep the kids „entertained and amused‟.
This is particularly true for coaches working with ages 3-6 as they don’t believe children have enough skills to play games.
The improvement side of the equation is sacrificed on the altar of „fun‟ and after many lessons, they still haven’t learned any skills.

As they enter the sports sampling phase they soon suffer the consequences, lacking the necessary skills to participate and more often than not won’t enjoy it.

All lessons must include both enjoyment AND improvement. Without balance, the lesson experience can suffer and the optimal potential WILL suffer.
One of the critical issues for training is set up an optimal learning environment where the two foundations of enjoyment & improvement are maximized.

Coaches need to strike a balance between enjoyment and improvement, create an environment that has the appropriate practice and is enjoyable as well. This will lead to both growth and retention.
Versatility in games and exercises is key to reach the goal at this age as attention span and endurance are very limited.

The Motor Skill Learning Programs systematically build skills and also make the lessons fun by incorporating a game-based approach with stories.

2.3. Balanced path of motor skills to coordination to sport-specific skills

Balanced path of motor skills to coordination to sport-specific skills

All Sport-specific skills are composed of the 5 motor skills:

  • Reaction
  • Balance
  • Rhythm
  • Orientation
  • Differentiation

We add physical activity and hand-eye coordination to all our weekly lesson plans.

Physical activity
Physical activity is very important at a young age; children not only get stronger but the brain cells fire all the time when children move, growing bigger and better brains.

Hand-eye coordination
Over 60% of overall sports participation worldwide is in ball sports which is why we add hand-eye coordination (includes foot-eye coordination) in the motor skill learning curriculums as well.

It is of equal importance to practice all these 7 skills to guarantee a holistic development at a young age. If your sole focus at a young age is hand-eye coordination and worse, always in the same environment, you will limit children’s development. Children might be amazing at catching or hitting balls; but once they are put in a real game situation and have to move, maintain balance when striking or adapting to a different surface, their skills quickly fall apart.

From Fundamental Motor Skills to Coordination to Sport-Specific Skills

1.Learn individual skills

Fundamental Motor Skills - Are the foundation skills of being able to understand and use sensory information to accurately carry out purposeful movements that are acquired through appropriate experiences. E.g catching a balloon without any movement. All sport-specific skills grow from fundamental perceptual-motor skills.
At a young age, motor skills tend to be learned in an isolated way, one skill at a time. It is very difficult for children age 3-4 to combine 2 tasks at hand.

2. Combine skills

Coordination - Is the sequencing of body movements efficiently in relation to the emerging environment to achieve the desired result. E.g. running after a balloon or ball and catch it. In relation to sports skills, coordination is one's ability to adapt movements to constantly changing situations to achieve an outcome as efficiently as possible.
Once some basic motor skills have been acquired proficiently, skills are combined and sequenced to achieve a more meaningful result that will lead to sport-specific skills.

3. Combine skills for different sports

Sport Specific Skills - Are the learned movements required to achieve particular goals related to individual sports. E.g. running after a tennis ball, hitting it with a racket to a tactically clever position on the court. The physical motor skills usually consist of technical expertise and the perceptual and decision-making skills require cognitive development that relates to that sport.

3.1. Game-based approach

A Game-based Approach (GBA) is the holistic approach to children’s sports development, recognizing that there is much more to a sport than technique. There are 4 "Performance Factors" that go into a performance:

  • Psychological (including Mental, Emotional, and Social)
  • Physical
  • Tactical
  • Technical

The "traditional" approach to children’s PE development concentrates heavily on isolated technical elements. Other elements are neglected and usually treated independently. There is little integration. By contrast, the holistic approach recognizes that all elements are critical and are developed from the outset in an integrated way.

To learn and teach in a game-based approach is fundamentally different than a drills-based approach.
The game-based approach promotes implicit learning; learning that is taking place without the learner being consciously aware of what they are trying to learn or in other words the learning is taking place at a subconscious level.

The drills-based approach typically promotes explicit learning; when the learner is consciously aware of the intended learning goal and is usually associated with verbalized instructions; directed learning where kids are told what to do.

Both forms have their place and benefit in teaching. However, the game-based approach is often a superior way to teach as it equips children with all performance skills needed for successfully playing sports.

The fun of playing a sport is why people take up the sport. The emphasis is on playing rather than reproducing an isolated skill that is not transferable to "real world" sports play.

The important thing is that you are aware of which method you are using in your teachings, both have their place at the right time.

Games based approach


  • Open learning path
  • Discover
  • Experience
  • Experiment
  • Coach asks questions

The game form is holistic and takes into account all dimensions: 

  • Physical
  • Technical
  • Tactical
  • Mental

Games are important for the students because games are more holistic, motivating, emotional and exciting than exercises and therefore very important in youth lessons.

Games are important for the coach as in the game form, the students are in focus and the coach has time to watch, the coaching takes place through asking questions.
Ask questions wisely: Do not anticipate the answers!

Exercise form


  • Frontal lessons
  • Show and explain
  • Instruct
  • Correct
  • Give solutions

Exercises usually only consider the following dimensions:

  • Physical
  • Technical
  • (Tactical)

Exercises are suitable for:

  • Technical analysis and improvements
  • Build up rhythm
  • Memorize movement sequences

Suggested lesson planning:

games, games, games, drill, games

Our recommended percentage of games based approach teaching in progressing from fundamental motor skills to sport-specific skills:

  • Phase 1: Fundamental motor skills  = 90% games-based approach
  • Phase 2: Stabilisation of skills/ fine coordination  = 60% games-based approach
  • Phase 3: Variable availability for sport-specific skills = 40% games-based approach

Problem-solving rather than isolated tasks

Create problem-solving tasks for children to accomplish rather than an isolated drill or task. Always ask yourself: "Will it help children to be more successful at solving the problems they commonly encounter when they play sports?"

Plan lessons that include playing games applying all 4 skills rather than standing in lines waiting for your turn. 

Children age 3-7 are very keen to explore and experiment which is a great advantage of including drills in your teachings. However, their interest in novel exercises or challenges doesn’t last more than a few minutes the most whereas children can play games for a long time if they like it.

3.2. Deliberate Play

There are important distinctions between the activity of free play and deliberate play. Both are equally important but for a complete development deliberate play is required and the kind of practice that creates champions.
Research over the last decade into the development of sports expertise has revealed that expert performers of skill-based sports such as baseball, cricket, tennis, basketball or soccer generally show an increased amount of time spent engaging in deliberate play.

With deliberate play activities, the coach can influence more, setting up activities trying to impact the situation.
“It’s the activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition. “(Psychologist at Florida State University, Anders Ericsson, research on superior performers).

We recommend starting with deliberate play to open young children's minds to what is possible. Show children skills or games they can do for example with a basketball, then next time in their free play they can try that out. There are so many things young children haven’t seen yet to know what is possible. 

At age 3-7 it is important to mix appropriate challenges that are relatively easy where children can feel good about themselves and more difficult activities where they are challenged.

Variety is key at this age, deliberately practice all 7 skills reaction, balance, rhythm, orientation, differentiation, hand-eye coordination, and physical activity.

Key characteristics that differentiate deliberate play from the generic play:
(all these characteristics are interconnected).

  1. Highly structured
  2. Specific and relevant
  3. Weaknesses are targeted and performance monitored
  4. Mentally & physically focused
  5. Reward-less

Dr. Olav Krigolson, University of British Columbia, Canada

Deliberate play is important to develop

1. Perceptual skills - Deliberate play provides a high level of repetition of so many versatile movement situations from which children form memories.  Lots of versatile movement experiences are required for the learning of anticipation skills.  Their brain learns to quickly reference all kinds of movement experiences against each other subconsciously and this allows them one day to read what is happening or going to happen very quickly.

2. Adaptability - A key feature of experts from skill-based sports is their ability to adapt their motor skills very quickly and accurately to suit constantly changing situations on the sporting field. Deliberate play, as opposed to closed drills practice, provides exposure to these variable situations to which kids have to adapt. So through play, experts have become extremely good at reading the situation and then adjusting their motor skills for a successful outcome.

3. Fun and Motivation - The final critical aspect of why deliberate play in the early years of sporting development is so beneficial is for long-term motivation to play and train. "Play" is seen as an essential element of instilling a real passion for a sport in particular or sport in general terms. This passion is the foundation for the long-term motivation to apply oneself to the necessary practice required to achieve real expertise in sport. Regardless of the long-term level though, we all need to be in the business of helping kids develop a love of physical activity and sport for the long-term health and well being.

So in terms of the 3 to 7 years age bracket, children should be more and more exposed to deliberate play-based experiences that will help engage them in sport-specific play situations successfully as they get older.

3.3. The Importance of Free Play

Learning through play

Adults can sometimes have a misconception about how children learn and develop skills, believing that they need to be specifically taught everything and need to be directed all the time. This couldn't be further from the truth.

This position has somewhat led to possibly an overemphasis on structured activities for young children. Structured activities that are led by adults are great and teach all types of skills that they may otherwise not learn. But of equal importance is the free play children have in enriched environments. In this case, children learn just by interacting with the environment. Just experiences will help them learn.

Implicit learning (learning of complex information in an incidental manner, without awareness of what has been learned)  is one of the most important things to understand as a coach.

For example, a child running around in the backyard trying to catch and kick the ball with Dad doesn't realize they are learning to judge speed, spin, bounce and direction of moving balls that will help them one day play any ball sport.

You don’t need to talk to kids all the time and direct them all the time and they will have more fun and are more motivated.

Children will learn their skills mostly through play.

They don’t have to be taught everything, they can just learn by doing.

Play-based learning is best for long-term sports success.

This makes sense when we consider that children have an inbuilt seeking system that has evolved over thousands of years. The seeking system is responsible for children's natural urge to explore and investigate. 

The environment has a massive influence on what children are doing.

  • Where do you take your children
    (play structures/playgrounds, backyard, woods, beach..)
  • Equipment you place in their environment
  • Freedom & time to choose and explore is very important
  • Your subtle, encouraging interactions

Implicit Learning and Play

When children play, they are learning all the time. Mostly they are not even aware of what they are learning. But just by doing, they are experiencing which is causing their brain cells to fire and connect to each other. These brain cells connecting means that learning is taking place.

Many people underestimate the value of such experiences to children's ability to one day learn and play sports. Rather, they place more importance on explicit coaching at an older age rather than the implicit learning of the basics through play at a much younger age, which is the key stepping stone to excel at or learn a sport with ease at an older age.
Lessons taught without too much instruction provide great fun and a true sense of achievement.

Play provides so many unique and variable movement experiences from which children will learn. The important thing to remember is that learning will take place via children just experiencing rather than needing to be specifically taught.

How does play actually help us survive better?

We are brought into this world preprogrammed to survive and procreate. All mammals have the drive to play as a way to develop necessary survival skills. "Play" has been preserved because it is how we as children learn. "Play" is the context in which we can trial and error, fail and have another go and explore ourselves and what we are capable of safely.

"Play" has been preserved by evolution because it is essential to long-term survival.

All types of play are generally underpinned by versatility. It is this diverse range of experiences that ultimately lead to children developing a flexible behavior repertoire. The more "play", the more experiences of adapting behavior whether it be physical, social or emotional to suit the environment. Survival is based on an individual being able to adapt to the environment. Whether it is a bear hunting, a teenager playing football or a business leader, success relies on effective adaptation to the constantly changing environment.

Studies have shown that animals that don't play during childhood actually have developmentally more immature brains which will disadvantage their ability to survive as an adult.

The take-home message is to 'take play seriously'. It is the versatility of play experiences, both deliberate and free play, that builds the flexibility of motor skill behavior. Don't see it as many people do as time-wasting or unproductive, but rather as crucial to not just the development of fundamental motor skills and coordination but healthy human development. 

3.4. Enriched Environments & Incidental Moments

Children have a seeking system that has evolved over thousands of years that kicks in if they are in environments that are engaging and interesting. The system urges them to explore and learn.

Being regularly exposed to environments and play interactions that are engaging, promote exploration and present novel challenges activate the seeking system.

Both brain-based and behavioral research (first study by Donald Hebb 1947) have shown positive brain changes in children being exposed to enriched environments with a lasting impact on their life. Mammals that are exposed to these enriched environments at a young age compared to those who are not, quite literally end up with bigger and better brains.

Enriched environments encourage free play, exploration, creativity and stimulate a range of physical, sensory, cognitive and emotional experiences.

A child devoid of rich play interactions that evoke curiosity and inspire a desire to make sense of the world will most probably go through life with a lack of motivation.

A child who has experienced enriched environments that have been interesting, challenging, free, varied, socially interactive and emotionally supportive will have every chance to go on to lead a happy and active life.

There are lots of different enriched environments and there are both physical and emotional characteristics. Typical enriched environments are playgrounds, gyms with PE equipment or a room full of toys and teaching aids.

Enriched environments are so important for child development because kids will naturally interact and learn when given an environment that is stimulating.
Create a stimulating environment that provides the children with versatile motor skill challenges, with various posts ideally in the hall, in the forest, on snow and ice.

Also look for incidental moments where children can use the natural environment to get inspired,  jump downstairs, take a ball along, jump to touch leaves on a tree together or skip stones on a lake.

In summary, the primary role of parents, caretakers, and teachers is to provide a stimulating environment that poses versatile coordinative challenges, step back and let kids explore and learn by themselves.

 4.1. Stories

Increase participation through stories

Children have an innate love of stories. Stories create magic and a sense of wonder at the world. A story is how we learn and try to better ourselves. We believe we are hard-wired to receive information primarily through storytelling.

Encourage active participation and feel safe

Stories inspire and encourage active participation, they enable children to empathize with unfamiliar people/places/situations which are very important at this young age. Children need to feel safe to be able to express themselves and try new challenges.
Stories create a stronger connection between the coaches and their students, promote a feeling of well-being and relaxation. They give listeners the emotional experience of success.
With a properly told story, your students have already experienced – on a subconscious level – the positive feelings that you are promising them.

Excite to take action

Well-told stories can get children excited to try and take action through the storytelling process alone. The more you can excite children through a story the more effort they tend to put into any task, greatly improving the outcome. A story is also a great help to turn any exercise into an exciting quest or challenge.

Improved concentration & communication

Concentration: Children age 3-7 usually have a very short attention span and find it difficult to concentrate on something for long. Stories hold the interest of children much better than instructions. Storytelling for kids ensures that they are not only more attentive but are also keen to listen and understand.

Communication: Stories deliver information in a simpler, more involving way than facts and figures. They are memorable and help children understand. Stories are a great tool for memorizing a game or activity. Try to give a name to each game or challenge to help children memorize it.

What works well
Give children a mission or battle to fight in or to go on a quest.

Creativity & cooperation

Stories help children consider new ideas; making them more imaginative and open to ideas and free-thinking.  You can use stories to encourage cooperation between students and teach sportsmanship among others.
Wrap a story around every game to tap into children’s fantasy.

Most important: The storyteller must be excited!!

Sources: Clint Paddison, Rodger Dean Duncan, Geoffrey Berwind

For activities using a games-based approach for 3-7-year-olds:

5.1. Bigger and Better Brains

It is essential to understand that the rate and amount of growth that occurs in the brain after birth are neither constant nor pre-determined, nor is it protected from outside influences. Even though all kindergarteners are individuals and develop at their own pace, their brain functions can be sped up and increased, or slowed down and decreased.
There is now a vast amount of scientific research that shows that increased stimulation generally results in increased brain growth and improved neurological function.

As we have seen earlier, versatile movement experiences are the main driver of stimulation for young children, it’s the way they learn.
There is equally compelling evidence to show that if a young child is placed in a deprived environment and left there for an extended period of time, it is almost certain that its brain's function and growth will be adversely affected.

Early years are crucial for brain development

Movement in the early years is very important not only because children get stronger but equally important for brain development. Movement stimulates the senses which means the brain cells fire info all the time and develop the brain.
The body and brain work better together, the sensory system communicates better with the motor system. E.g.when children see a ball moving they better run after it.

If children are not moving, they are not learning as much!

By ensuring that their child is exposed to a rich sensory environment with versatile movement experiences parents and coaches will be directly influencing the brain growth of their child.
A lack of stimulation and exposure to versatile movement experiences in the early years can become very difficult to catch up.
The more defined these developmental delays have become the more severe the intervention is needed to catch up with other children.


One of the primary ways for children that enhances the brain and motor skills in the early years is through environmentally-driven movement experiences.
Children need to be placed in an environment where their senses are going to be appropriately stimulated.


Motor skills are being developed gradually, It’s a long process and requires lots of repetitions. There needs to be a lot of space and opportunity to practice and repeat.
The constant practice and repetition of motor skills lead to the refinement and acquisition of gradually more complex skills and develop bigger and better brains at the same time.

Our aim

  1. More Cells
  2. More Connections (among cells)
  3. More Integrations (among brain parts)
  4. Increased Speed of Connections

Keep in mind that all motor pathways and networks develop specific skills.

Ways to Build Movement Into Learning

1. More Cells
Cells get designated for certain tasks. A young tennis player, for example, has more cells dedicated to hand-eye coordination.
The more certain brain cells are stimulated and activated, the more that part of the brain gets developed.

The more versatile we stimulate in general, the better the foundation gets to build more complex skills later on. (play with many balls, with many players, on many courts, many scoring systems, handicaps..)

2. More Connection (among cells)
Connections between cells are also created for specific areas and create efficient motor skills. Again the more we stimulate certain areas when young the more connections are formed for those areas. 

The more connections, the greater the potential to form further connections for new movement sequences and problem-solving.

3. More Integrations (among brain parts)
The same goes for connecting different parts of the brain. The better connected different parts of the brain are, the more efficiently they can communicate and therefore perform functions.

With the young baseball player, the parts of the brain that receive and understand visual information are very well connected to the parts of the brain that deliver the impulses to produce the swinging action.

4. Increased Speed of Connections
Only through many regular repetitions will these pathways become fast and efficient. The more certain brain cells are activated or firing, the more they are connected, the more often a specific connection is used, the faster the connection gets. Connections that are not used are pruned, atrophy and help the brain understand what's important.


The goal should be to build a wide net of brain pathways with very versatile movement experiences at an early age.

The more complex pathways the better (=more cells and more connections among cells and different parts of the brain). It will open up more possibilities later on to master more challenging (movement) tasks and problem solve. 

6.1. Conclusion

We are at the very bottom of an accelerating trend of providing sports programs for young children. The importance of the early movement experiences (age 3-7) for physical, social and brain development is still highly neglected.

You can make a huge difference. Start now and implement the done for you curriculums by Motor Skill Learning or customize them to your own needs. Use our modern, 21st-century teaching system that both builds skills and is fun rather than using outdated drills stations to have a lasting impact.

Acquiring sport-specific skills are built on top of a well-rounded development of all motor skills. Versatile movement experiences are the basis for optimal learning of motor skill fundamentals and most fun for children.
Add a modern game based coaching approach as a more holistic and realistic way of teaching, often superior to drill-based coaching which is still too prevalent.

Skill Learning Opportunities are best presented with a good balance between deliberate play, free play, enriched environments & Incidental moments and wrapped into an exciting story to increase participation.

The added benefit of early, versatile movement experiences is a high chance of faster and better brain development.
Start now. You can implement our PE sports programs for 3-7-year-olds in practically any location, even with no prior experience.

To get all the games to teach 3-7-year-olds:



  • Sport Sciences Research Institute of Iran (SSRI), Dr. Amin Gholami,
    Director of Motor Behavior Research Center
  • Acecoach, Canada, Advanced Coaching Education, Wayne Elderton
  • MOBAK, Motor competency tests by Prof. Dr. Phil. Habil. Christian Herrmann
  • Speedit, Israel, Move and Think, Arad Scovel
  • Body-Brain-Activity, Thilo Schneider Marco Schnabl, Austria
  • BASPO, Swiss Sports College
  • Agashe College of Physical Education, India, Prof. Shraddha Naik
  • Weineck, J. (2010). Optimales Training
  • Skills for Kids, Australia, Sean Fyfe, Developing Kids Motor Skills and Coordination from 0-6 years
  • Body-Brain-Activity, Thilo Schneider/Marco Schnabl, Austria
  • Mind management Switzerland, Chris Hadden, Head Coach

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