We spend a lot of time here focusing on the physical aspects of education and development, but this week we’re going to take a look at an equally-important part of the equation. The best, most impactful coaches understand not just the technical aspects of leading young athletes, but the mental aspects as well.
The psychological side of athlete development requires long-term and sequential development, similar to our approach to physical development. Programming should be designed to deliver all aspects of psychological development, including mental, cognitive and emotional components. These can be broken down into two elements:
According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, the Concrete Operational stage is when children begin to develop logical thinking. This stage coincides with the FUNdamentals and Learn to Train phases for SNYB-aged athletes. Some key points to consider about what typically happens in this stage of development:
- Individuals continue to develop logical thinking
- Individuals begin to understand how the world operates
- Abstract concepts (ex. Game plans, team strategy) can be difficult to grasp
- Comprehension of consequences (ex. What happens after 5 fouls) starts to develop during Learn to Train stage
The Competence stage of Erikson’s stages of social-emotional development asserts that children start to relate better to peers and are more receptive to the idea of teamwork – again, this stage coincides with FUNdamentals and Learn to Train timelines. During this stage:
- Children begin judging and comparing their and others’ behaviour
- Children start to recognize differences in abilities
- It’s important to be mindful of this – coaches can recognize signs of withdrawal (possibly as a result of feeling inferior)
Clearly, there’s much more to dive into regarding these theories than a few bullet points. What we want to take away from these points, though, is the idea of being mindful of the ages of your athletes. Considering the emotional and intellectual growth and challenges of different age groups will allow you to tailor your practices and your behaviour to best suit the athletes’ capacity to learn and understand.
For more on the topic, check out this guide from Dr. Terry Orlick, a Canadian sport psychologist. Dr. Orlick outlines a number of effective strategies for teaching young athletes that can be used to supplement and reinforce your understanding of the concepts above.
Jeff Scanlon is the Coordinator – Grassroots and Domestic Development at Canada Basketball. Jeff is a Kinesiology & Physical Education major with a graduate certificate in Sport Business Management, and a lifelong basketball enthusiast.