3 tips to boost your child’s brain development and 3 ways to hinder it

boost brain development

There are many different ways you can boost your child’s brain development and at IQ Football, we’re all about incorporating neuroscience into our brain-centred football training. So, we’ve compiled 3 main tips for parents who would like to enhance brain development and 3 things that usually hinder it.

boost your child's brain development

Brain boosting tips

In a recent TED talk, seven-year-old Molly Wright, one of the youngest-ever TED speakers discusses the top five tips for helping children to thrive by five. She lists: connecting, talking, playing, a healthy home and community. Many of these extend beyond the age of five. In fact, a recent paper in Harvard Medical School discusses how a lack of socialising and connecting with people is linked to depression, a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, and can even accelerate cognitive decline.

You would think the top five tips that Molly mentions are a given for loving parents. Except, we live in a time of numerous distractions of various kinds that have the ability to steal these top five gifts from children in very loving homes. You can see more about this in the seven-minute video.

What a powerful demonstration. The one thing Molly used as an example that harms children was surprising. It wasn’t an abusive parent – needless to say, that would have negative effects. Instead, Molly used a seemingly harmless example that could touch every person reading this blog: a parent sitting on their iPad in front of their child.

This brings us to the first hindrance that touches both parents, and children: screen time. Screen time has various negative effects on children of all ages, not just five-year-olds. Keeping it to a minimum can change your child’s life. You can read the researched-backed effects of screen time in our tips to improve your child’s concentration.

So what tips can boost your child’s brain development?

Play and ‘free play’

We are, of course, believers in getting kids who love football into an environment where they can play! Playing outside has endless benefits to boost brain activity. Kids are given the opportunity to learn new skills, socialise and practise activities that build positive neural pathways. We’ve fleshed out some of these benefits below.

  • Learning new skills: this gives the opportunity for the brain to work hard. The harder the brain has to work the more neural activity. The harder you struggle in your practice, the more your brain has to change (neuroplasticity). Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections and those that are rarely or never used eventually die. We teach that effort is more important than the result; the process is more important than the victory. This is taught because it fosters a growth mindset. Growth mindsets are key to boosting your brain’s development (more about this later).
  • Socialise: socialising and connecting with other people boosts brain activity and prevents cognitive decline. There are also many other benefits: kids learn how to deal with their teammates on the field. Learning key social skills, like communication, how to negotiate, conflict resolution, emotional management, etc. are all key to healthy brain development. Our Holiday Clinics are excellent opportunities for social development because kids are placed in an environment with other kids at different ages to their own. We will always place kids in a similar age category to their own, but inevitably during break time, all the kids socialise together. The older kids are encouraged to learn how to lead, the younger kids are encouraged to learn how to listen, respect, and deal with older kids. There are many studies that show the importance of allowing kids to socialise with kids of different ages to their own.
  • At IQ Football our ‘playing’ is focused on developing the brain. Our brain-centred curriculum utilises the latest research to maximise a player’s learning habits and to bring out the best of their unique physical, technical and mental intelligence to set them on a pathway to success. You can read more about this from our blog brain-centred training, or on our website.

Free play is as important as structured ‘play’, such as football. Giving kids of any age the time to be able to just hang out is crucial to their brain development. This provides the opportunity for more of the positive benefits of social skills that we discussed during the breaktimes at Holiday Clinics. Free play also promotes creativity and imagination, which are both brain-boosting activities.

Physical activity

This is also one of the benefits of organised or unstructured play; it is essential to brain development. In a Harvard article they say:

“A 2018 study in PLOS One found sitting too much is linked to changes in a section of the brain essential to memory. Researchers used MRI scans to look at the medial temporal lobe (MTL), a brain region that makes new memories, in people ages 45 to 75. They then compared the scans with the average number of hours per day the people sat. Those who sat the longest had thinner MTL regions. According to the researchers, MTL thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia.”

It goes on to say that physical activity is then essential to brain development. If you find your child sitting for long periods of time while they complete their homework (or, watch a screen), encourage a rule of moving after 15 – 20 minutes of sitting. This could be doing kickups with their IQ Ball around the house, balancing on one leg, doing situps/pushups next to their desk or simply playing in the garden.

The brain power used in physical activity to balance, focus, explore, jump, etc. makes them excellent brain-boosting activities.

Build positive mindsets

We mentioned how highly we value a growth mindset at our academy. There are multiple reasons for this and they can be read in our blog: Growth Mindset v Fixed Mindset, but in summary, a person with a growth mindset believes that intelligence can be developed. The growth mindset leads to a desire to:

  • learn,
  • embrace challenges,
  • persist in the face of setbacks (whether that is an injury, or losing a game (or many in a row) etc.,
  • see effort as a pathway to mastery,
  • learn from criticism,
  • find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

Children with a growth mindset don’t believe everyone can become an ‘Einstein’. They simply believe everyone can get smarter and excel in their area of unique intelligence.

A growing body of literature has shown us that you can indeed grow your cognitive abilities. Unsurprisingly, those who have a growth mindset tend to study more deeply and grow their intelligence more. This is because they highly value learning and see effort as something positive.

In closing, boost your child’s brain development through play and free play, physical activity, and building strong mindsets and steer clear of excessive screen time, sitting, and isolation.

P.S. note that some types of screen time just so happen to cause sitting and isolation… take a stand on it today.

boost brain development, Brain-boosting tips, Brain-centred Training, Children, Football, football player, IQ Football, Mindset, neuroscience, practise at home, skill development, Skills, Soccer, Soccer Academy, technique


Sean Szabo

Recognised as a leading brain-centred football coach in Gauteng, Sean Szabo is an English FA qualified coach who has worked internationally assisting player’s motor and technical football skills, as well as their cognitive development on and off the field. IQ Football was founded in 2015 by Sean as an amalgamation of his passion for football coaching, mentoring, and brain-centred research.

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