If you do player development, you better know child development

When we watch our children learning to play sports, it can be difficult to remember that they are children. We sometimes expect more from them than their chronological age and physical and emotional maturity will allow. Here are some age group behavioral guidelines:


6-8: easily distracted, egocentric, cluster, easily fatigued, love movement, need clear directions, 1 task at a time
8-10: team identity beginning, more focus on drills, ball control; they know “who is good”, challenging them to work on their own helpful, need concise, purposeful instructions
10-12: compare with others, team objective, work at improving


12-14: read the game, assertiveness, growth spurts
14-16: apathy, stubbornness, moodiness; boys – winning most important, less for girls, learning to use their individual skills within team framework
16-18: mentally and physically stable

There are also some developmental differences in gender. Girls tend to mature mentally and physically at 12-14 years of age, an average of 2 years earlier than boys. Boys catch up physically at approximately 15 and mentally/emotionally around age 18.

While no genetic differences in playing abilities between boys and girls have been shown, anyone who has watched both boys and girls of similar ages in competitive sports has likely observed differences in how they approach the game. While individual girls may “play more aggressively” and individual boys may “play more cooperatively,” some generalizations tend to hold true. Awareness of these is helpful in parenting or coaching young athletes:

  • Boys are brought up handling a ball, girls must develop “feeling” for the ball
  • Boys are comfortable with physical expression and competitive aggressiveness, girls shy away from contact with their peers, even competitors
  • Boys focus on their own performance, girls try to achieve through cooperation
  • Playing together, boys may acquire better teamwork and tactics, girls play more purposefully and may rise to meet physical challenge

All who train youth athletes should remember the importance of:

  • Communicating in age-appropriate language
  • The necessity of repetition
  • The fragile nature of growing bodies and minds.
  • Play and practice as conditioning. After puberty, special sports conditioning may be appropriate.
  • Teaching technique, game insight/”reading” the game, and the language and rules of the game.

*some information from “Conditioning for Soccer,” Raymond Verheijen

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