Effect of practice on learning to maintain balance under dynamic conditions in children: are there sex differences?
In youth, sex-related differences in balance performances have been reported with girls usually outperforming same-aged boys. However, it is not known whether sex also has an influence on learning of a new balance task in primary school-aged children. Therefore, the present study investigated sex-related differences in children learning to maintain balance under dynamic conditions.
Thirty-two children (16 girls, 16 boys) aged 8.5 ± 0.5 years practiced balancing on a stabilometer (i.e., to keep it as horizontal as possible) for seven trials (90 s each) on two consecutive days. Knowledge of results (KR) (i.e., time in balance) was provided after each trial. On day three learning was assessed using a retention test (i.e., balance task only) and a test of automation (i.e., balance plus concurrent motor interference task). Root-mean-square-error (RMSE) was recorded for all trials and used for further analysis.
During practicing (Day 1, Day 2) RMSE values significantly decreased over the days (p = 0.019, d = 0.92) and trials (p = 0.003, d = 0.70) in boys and girls. Further, the main effect of sex showed a tendency toward significance (p = 0.082, d = 0.67). On day 3, the girls showed significantly smaller RMSE values compared to boys in the retention (p = 0.012, d = 1.00) and transfer test (p = 0.045, d = 0.74).
Performance increases during the acquisition phase tended to be larger in girls than in boys. Further, learning (i.e., retention and automation) was significantly larger in girls compared to boys. Therefore, practitioners (e.g., teachers, coaches) should supply boys and grils with balance exercises of various task difficulties and complexities to address their diverse learning progress.
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