Coaches and sports educators need to be aware that children and teenagers grow at different rates through varying stages of development. These stages are physical, emotional, and mental and impact all areas of a child’s academic and athletic life. Sport readiness will vary from child to child and coaches need to be aware of the varying stages of development and where each child is in order to create successful sports programs. It is not enough to assume that every child reaches a certain stage of development at a given age.
Sports programs need to be wide and varied enough to support a diverse range of interests and capabilities. Each child’s cognitive, motor and social development needs to be taken into account when determining their ability to meet the demands in any given sport. Simple adaptions to sports programs, such as equipment variations, length of time spent playing and practicing, avoidance of specialization and changing the focus of games from competition to fun can make all the difference between a child becoming a happy fit athlete or dropping out of sport altogether.
Children who participate in programs that are beyond their developmental capabilities can suffer injury, discouragement and disappointment, leading to giving up sports altogether. 75% of teenagers have dropped out of sports by the age of 15 and although age inappropriateness of activities may not be the major reason, it no doubt plays a part. For these reasons, it is important that coaches take seriously their own education in childhood development.
Domain 4 covers the areas of Growth and Development in Sports and includes Standards 16-18
Standard 16 — States that coaches should have a sound knowledge of how the stages of childhood and teenage development will change and influence the learning and performance of sport skills. This knowledge includes:
- An understanding that developmental stages are physical, cognitive, emotional, social and emotional.
- Being familiar with the implications of the four growth and development stages, which are: pre-adolescence, early adolescence, middle and late adolescence.
- Knowing that the four stages of development cover the areas of: physical height, strength and weight, mental understanding and thinking, social interaction and emotional feelings and attitudes.
- Being aware of the behavioral implications of each of these stages and how they apply to individuals.
- Recognizing that the four main stages are interrelated, but it is more than likely that there are varying rates of development in different areas for each young athlete.
- The use of simple charts to plot the developmental profile for each player of a team in order to make the most of each player’s abilities and not place them outside their capabilities.
- The fact that girls and boys mature at different rates at different times.
Standard 17 — Involves facilitating the social and emotional growth of athletes through a supportive and positive sporting experience, which will encourage a lifelong participation in physical activity. To this end coaches must:
- Be aware of the social influences at work on young athletes, both positive and negative e.g. drugs and alcohol.
- Tailor detailed explanations of tactics, skills and rationales to suit the age and development of athletes.
- Help athletes build realistic goals for themselves and provide the means to achieve those goals.
- Emphasize with young athletes by viewing their experience from their point of view.
- Expect and understand that teenagers have emotional outbursts due to frustration, often when learning new skills, and hormonal mood swings.
- Understand that fear of failure creates anxiety in adolescents that may negatively affect performance and seek to avoid this stress through appropriate training and practice sessions.
Standard 18 — Stipulates that coaches need to provide all athletes with responsibility and age appropriate leadership opportunities as student athletes mature. This can be achieved by:
- Players clearly and fully understanding the roles they play on the team.
- Coaches working with athletes to develop goals that challenge the players and can be achieved within the sports program.
- The importance of independence and personal responsibility needs to be recognized and provided to the athletes.
- Athletes being given opportunities to run part of practice sessions and participate in the decision-making process regarding team policies.
There are many factors to be considered when dealing with growth and development in children and adolescents in the field of sports education and sports injury is one of the most important. Injuries to the immature skeleton are common and happen easily. The immature skeleton has a relative disproportion between bone length and musculature, as young muscles stretch to match bone length before they strengthen. It is important not to assume that because athletes are taller than their age counterparts that they are stronger. Also, the long bones in children and adolescents are more porous than in adults, so buckling fractures can occur easily. Varying injury patterns occur at different ages and must be taken into account when deciding on a training regime.
There are several measures a responsible trainer can take to provide a varied, safe and developmentally appropriate training program for all ages. A coach should ensure that good quality equipment is available that is suitable for all age groups. A training program based on the science of physical development should include strength training and appropriate warm up and cool down periods before and after training, an emphasis on high repetition at low resistance and the principles of progressive resistance. Duration, intensity, and frequency of training sessions must be considered when constructing programs and a wide variety of athletics, sports and physical activities should be utilized.
If these aims are met children and adolescents are much more likely to enjoy their time spent on sports and athletics and to continue to participate well into adulthood, creating happier, healthier and more productive adults.