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Stories of child prodigies, who began to learn a specific sport as early as age 3, may encourage parents to question whether or not they too should be enrolling their very young children in sport training programs. This raises the issue of neurodevelopmental maturation and readiness of the child to effectively and safely engage in sports, especially competitive sports. This chapter reviews the definition of neurodevelopment, normal child development as relevant to sport participation, and sport readiness. The discussion is limited to typically developing children.

Several broad fundamental principles underlie our understanding of child development (Table 1-1).1–20 In order to effectively engage in and benefit from sport participation, all children and adolescents need to have mastered several fundamental skills.21 Further refinement of skills is necessary for a child and adolescent to move from participation for fun to participation at a competitive level; at this level, skills must be highly developed to such a degree that it will limit who can play competitive sports. Children and adolescents who cannot master fundamental skills or who have other impediments to refining those skills can still be involved in sports activities, but may require special adaptations or equipment.15,22,23

Table 1-1. Key Principles of Child Development

Neurodevelopment in a broad sense refers to the growth and maturation of the nervous system as well as the sensory and perceptual abilities of the child.6,11,12,18,19,24,25 Normal growth and development is characterized by individual variations in the rate of progression and achievement of milestones, and the sequential nature of this progression. Although largely determined by genetic factors, environmental factors (such as opportunity, nutrition, and social context) also play a significant role in the overall development of a child or adolescent. Capute noted that motor milestones are mostly influenced by the maturation of the neurologic system, whereas social and adaptive skills are influenced largely by environmental factors, such as social expectations, education, and training.18

The term neurodevelopment encompasses various ...

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