The Intricate Dance of Cognitive Motor Skills in Children

A young athlete in motion, representing the blend of cognitive motor skills and physical abilities in sports.

In the sprawling universe of sports, physical prowess is only one side of the coin. The other, equally important, is the cognitive motor skills that dictate an athlete’s every move, decision, and response on the field. While we’re well-acquainted with the physical training athletes undergo, the cognitive realm remains less explored. A compelling study by Irene M.J. van der Fels and her team illuminates this vital intersection, particularly focusing on children aged 4-16. Let’s dive into the profound relationship between motor and cognitive skills and how it shapes the future sporting legends of our time.

Read more: The Intricate Dance of Cognitive Motor Skills in Children

The Athletic Brain: A Systematic Review

The research, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, delved into numerous studies to uncover connections between cognitive and motor skills in typically developing children. These skills were broken down into six categories to better understand their interplay.

Results: The Intricate Web of Relations

While many studies showcased no correlation or provided inconclusive evidence on the relationship between motor and cognitive skills, some intriguing correlations came to light. The most evident of these relationships existed between complex motor skills and higher-order cognitive skills. In simpler terms, as children’s physical complexity in movement increases, their cognitive skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making, also see a marked improvement.

Another captivating find was the age-related difference in the strength of this relationship. Pre-pubertal children, those younger than 13, showcased a more robust connection between motor and cognitive skills compared to their pubertal counterparts.

Implications for Young Athletes

This study is not just another addition to academic literature; it has real-world implications, especially in the realm of sports. Recognizing the deep-seated relationship between cognitive motor skills and physical prowess can revolutionize training methodologies for young athletes.

Instead of treating physical and mental training as two separate entities, trainers and coaches can incorporate complex motor skill exercises. These exercises, as suggested by the study’s results, have the potential to stimulate both the body and the brain. For instance, sports that require high precision and decision-making, like basketball or tennis, can benefit immensely from drills that challenge both the athlete’s physical and cognitive capacities.

The Future of Sports Training

Given the findings of this research, there’s a promising avenue for creating holistic training programs. Integrating complex motor skill drills can not only enhance an athlete’s physical capabilities but also hone their cognitive motor skills. This balanced approach can equip young athletes with the tools to handle high-pressure situations, make swift decisions, and execute complex plays effortlessly.

For pre-pubertal athletes, in particular, such an integrated approach can lay a robust foundation. As these young talents transition into their teenage years and beyond, they carry with them an amalgamation of refined physical skills and razor-sharp cognitive abilities.

Wrapping Up: The Symphony of Body and Mind

The realm of sports has always been fascinated with the idea of the perfect athlete – someone who possesses not just physical strength but also a sharp mind. The study by Irene M.J. van der Fels and her team brings us a step closer to understanding this harmony between body and mind.

As we move forward, recognizing the importance of cognitive motor skills, especially in the formative years, can redefine sports training. The future, it seems, belongs to athletes who can seamlessly marry their physical actions with cognitive prowess.


Irene M.J. van der Fels, Sanne C.M. te Wierike, Esther Hartman, Marije T. Elferink-Gemser, Joanne Smith, Chris Visscher,The relationship between motor skills and cognitive skills in 4–16 year old typically developing children: A systematic review,
Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport,Volume 18, Issue 6,2015,Pages 697-703,ISSN 1440-2440,

Photo by Md Mahdi on Unsplash

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