The job of being a coach requires men and women who pursue this craft to know the kids they're working with. Different age groups have different needs. They have different communication styles and differing abilities to understand the game, one another, or even instructions given them.
Most coach's training programs parse development into physical, mental, emotional, and psycho-social buckets. Today, I'm going to talk with you about age-appropriate mental development. Lest you think this knowledge is just for coaches, I assure you that if you're a parent, you'll benefit as well. I personally believe that every parent would benefit from coaching training & if such a thing as a license to have kids ever became a thing - let's hope it never does - but if it did, I would want parents trained in coaching kids at all ages. The stuff we learn as coaches is stuff that often takes parents years to figure out. We learn the hard way as parents and the stakes are highest with our own kids. A coach works with all types of kids, at all stages of maturity.
There are Stages of Development
Before we start talking about mental development, it helps to be able to frame it in terms of the ages I'm talking about. I base the stages of development in this article on the United Soccer Coaches Player Development Diploma Course. If you're a coach and have a deeper interest in this material, courses taught by United Soccer Coaches het two thumbs up from me.
Understanding development across a continuum of 15 years from 3-years-old to 18-years-old not only helps a coach or a parent relate more effectively with kids, but it helps to make the experience more fun. It's frustrating to kids when they are shown material that is too advanced for them. It's boring to kids when they are shown material that is too young for them. Find that goldilocks perfect practice session is a whole lot easier when you understand the development needs of each age group.
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Let's Look At Mental Development in Each of the Five Stages
In the toggle table below, I share some thoughts about each age group within a development stage. My thoughts are by no means exhaustive on the subject. In fact, I'm thinking I could do a separate podcast for each of the elements we consider, but for this one, I'm going to stick as closely as possible with mental development. It's really impossible for me to prevent some bleed over into psychosocial or even physiological aspects of development, because they do affect mental development, but I trust you'll have patience.
Stage 1 Kids (3-5-years old)
Young players at this stage have short attention spans. They are starting to understand visual instructions, but they tend to do better with concrete demonstrations of what they are expected to do. While many are still "parallel playing" an unaware of team dynamics like passing and group movement, they are starting to become aware of one another and the fact that other people have ideas and emotions.
Kids at this age are beginning to become more cautious. They understand there are things in the world that can cause pain and they proceed accordingly. They have wonderful imaginations and can be super spontaneous and creative.
In our program, we disguise "lessons" in the form of games. To teach movements like hopping, we might have them pretend they are bunny rabbits escaping from a fox, or we might work on coordination by playing body part tag with a ball (When I say Crumpet, touch the ball with your elbow!).
Stage 2 Kids (6-8-years old)
Kids in this age group still love games and imagination. Their attention span is becoming a little longer but it is inconsistent. They can focus on one task longer (not as many changes in activities). These kids talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. Their interests change frequently. They learn quickly. They like to try new activities,
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