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Growth & Development: Mental and Emotional Development

(The information in this article was taken or adapted from the High Performance Coaching Program Study Guide.)

Mental/Cognitive Development

The development of children’s and adolescents’ mental and cognitive abilities has a tremendous influence on how coaches teach and develop players’ skills in sport or any other activity or function.  One of the commonly used and quoted sources for this mental and cognitive development is Piaget.  Piaget concluded from early observations of developing children that we should not be as interested in the quantity of what a child knows as we are in the quality of his or her thinking and manner of problem solving.  Piaget proposed three main concepts regarding cognitive development: assimilation, accommodation, and schemaAssimilation is the “taking in” and adapting of information or experiences to add to an individual’s existing knowledge or strategies.  Accommodation is the modifying and adjusting of one’s strategies and concepts to arrive at new experiences and information.  Finally, schema is the action or strategy that results from assimilation and accommodation.

During the period between ages 8 to 11, the child is able to understand concrete mental concepts. He or she is taking in a great deal of information or assimilating.  During this time period, children have a greater acceptance of whatever information they are given, with little questioning.  Piaget refers to this time period as concrete operations.  The child can accept rules and structure reasonably well during this time period. 

From ages 12 to 15, the individual questions the information she or he is given, which often creates a great deal of confusion. Outright acceptance of commands and instruction decreases as greater amounts of information and more advanced thought processes dominate.  Piaget refers to this period as formal operations.  During this period, the individual is learning how to manipulate ideas in more complex ways and to systematically and methodically solve a problem.  Individuals at this stage will be able to solve problems more systematically than children in the 8- to 11-year-old age range.

Finally, during the ages from 16 to 18, adolescents become capable of more complex extractions and concepts.  They can better realize differences and problem solve at a higher level.  Individuals in this age group will challenge rules and will be less accepting of hard and fast rules in coaching situations.

Emotional Development

Before their teens, children want to work and produce. They want to do things well, and they take pride in doing so and in earning the praise of teachers, coaches, and parents. At this time, children will practice hard, learn the rules, and respond to goals set by authority figures.

As children move into adolescence, with the strong influence of peers and rapid physical changes, the search for identity becomes paramount. Although teens fear standing out from their peer group, they are struggling inside with who they want to be when they grow up. They often try on various roles to see how those roles fit. This search for identity is necessary if young people are to be capable of having intimate relationships with others. They can’t very well love another until they know who they are.

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