Purpose: This study examined the effect of a 16-wk ball skill intervention on the ball skills, executive functioning (in terms of problem solving and cognitive flexibility), and in how far improved executive functioning leads to improved reading and mathematics performance of children with learning disorders.
Methods: Ninety-one children with learning disorders (age 7–11 yr old) were recruited from six classes in a Dutch special-needs primary school. The six classes were assigned randomly either to the intervention or to the control group. The control group received the school’s regular physical education lessons. In the intervention group, ball skills were practiced in relative static, simple settings as well as in more dynamic and cognitive demanding settings. Both groups received two 40-min lessons per week. Children’s scores on the Test of Gross Motor Development-2 (ball skills), Tower of London (problem solving), Trail Making Test (cognitive flexibility), Dutch Analysis of Individual Word Forms (reading), and the Dutch World in Numbers test (mathematics) at pretest, posttest, and retention test were used to examine intervention effects.
Results: The results showed that the intervention group significantly improved their ball skills, whereas the control group did not. No intervention effects were found on the cognitive parameters. However, within the intervention group, a positive relationship (r = 0.41, P = 0.007) was found between the change in ball skill performance and the change in problem solving: the larger children’s improvement in ball skills, the larger their improvement in problem solving.
Conclusions: The present ball skill intervention is an effective instrument to improve the ball skills of children with learning disorders. Further research is needed to examine the effect of the ball skill intervention on the cognitive parameters in this population.