In an earlier post, it was argued that youth soccer could be used as a weapon in the battle against childhood obesity. More a more research is pointing towards the use of sports programs as a way of improving the health and fitness of young children. A new study recently published in the Croatian journal Collegium Antropologicum by Dr. Marko Erceg and colleges at the University of Split (Split, Coratia) investigated the effects of soccer training motor development of young children. By supplementing standard physical education classes with a soccer training program the investigators found that motor skills, aerobic endurance, agility and flexibility were all greatly improved.
The investigators enrolled 180 seven and eight year-old boys in their study. The Croatian children were divided into two groups. Both groups participated in regular physical education programs. In addition, the experimental group received 45 minutes of soccer training, three times per week for 9 months. Training was conducted by experienced coaches and consisted of learning technical skills as well as free play. Before and after the nine month training period, a battery of motor skill and physical fitness tests were administered to both groups of children.
Following the nine month program, the experimental group showed improvements in nearly all measures of skill, agility, flexibility, speed and fitness. The degree of improvement was significantly greater that of the control group. Overall, the soccer training proved to be beneficial in developing the motor skills, muscular strength/power and aerobic capacity of the seven and eight year-old children.
Two issues should be pointed out. First, it is possible that other sports programs that involve technical skill might also enhance motor development. Activities such as basketball… may have the same effect. Second, Dr. Erceg’s research does not indicate that soccer training will have long-term effects on motor development. That is, there is no indication that children who participate in soccer at an early age will have greater motor skills once they mature. Despite these issues, this study is another piece of evidence supporting the use of youth sports for children. It is becoming more and more clear that a youth soccer program can be greatly beneficial in promoting the overall health and fitness of young children.
Erceg M, Zagorac N, Katic R (2008) The impact of football training on motor development in male children. Collegium Antroplogicum, 1:241-347.