Before you know it, your young athlete will be walking out the door for their first year of college. This comes fast! It’s important to realize that our kids are only on loan to us for a short period of time. Here is one way to make the best of it!Know Your Child's Development WindowThere are clear development windows for all sorts of things from walking and talking to understanding how to navigate mixed gender social situations. A youth athletic coach is focused somewhere within the period of time between 3 years old and 18 years old. Each age grouping has it’s own development focus that is determined by a mixture of factors including physical maturity, emotional maturity, and mental maturity. Tables have been drawn up by development experts to show coaches what activities, intensities, time duration, communication styles, rules, safety factors, and equipment are appropriate.Since every individual is different, coaches for a given age group will often review the development tables for 1-2 years on either side of the age group they will be coaching. Programs differ in the range of players they serve as well. So for example, a travel program has a tryout and sorting function before a given season, and therefore has less variability per team. Recreation programs, by contrast, are open to everyone of all abilities, so they tend to program a wider range of variability and flexibility into their development plans.As a parent or a coach, knowing that we only have 15 years to work with, and that each years has a specific developmental focus, should put the youth sports window of opportunity into clearer perspective.US Youth Soccer Player Development PyramidNot To WorrySome concerned parents have become aware of this development window and the fact that there is a specific focus for each age group and wondered out loud to me whether their child has already missed some important developmental windows and therefore will never be great at the sport they are exploring. I’ve taken players on at 14 years old who have barely touched a soccer ball. There was a learning curve, of course, but they didn’t have any less fun.One thing to remember: those guidelines are just that: guidelines. It’s important for a coach to know when kids are parallel playing, for example, so she doesn’t frustrate herself trying to get 4 year olds to understand game strategy. It’s important for the coach of a 15 year old team to understand that hormonally driven social dynamics are at play so he doesn’t embarrass a player in front of his friends and turn him that player away from the game.While it is true that players who play more and play longer are generally more competitive players, we mustn’t chose NOT to play soccer because we fear the other kids are too far ahead. Work ethic and nature will both take their course and in the end, can have a really excellent effect on a young person’s life.Being in Tune With Your Child's Development CycleIt’s one thing to be aware that there is a development window, another to be aware of what each stage of development is focused on, yet another thing all together to be proactively supportive at each stage. If your coach is trained to know these stages, he or she may be able to share some information with you as to how you might best support your player. If he or she is not trained in the various stages, you can send me an email at Podcast@TheSoccerSidelines.com, tell me the age of your player, and I’ll send you a copy of a development table so you can look it up for yourself.I would first advise any parent to open a dialog with the coach and find out what the development plan is. On my teams, I look at 1-2 years on either side of the age group I’m coaching. I take note of the items I think we’re going to be able to work on given the 8-10 week training cycle we’re in and the strategy I hope my team to adopt, and I start there. After the first practice, I refine the plan. After the first game,
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