Cognitive Mental Development

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. 

Stage 1
3-5 years old
Stage 2
6-8 years old
Stage 3
9-11 years old
Stage 4
12-14 years old
Stage 5
15 + years old

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. 

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)

Stage 2 Kids (6-8-years old)

Stage 3 Kids (9-11-years old)

Stage 4 Kids (12-14-years old)

Stage 5 Kids (15-years old and up)

Making Mental Cognitive Development Your Friend in Training

Players are where they are, right? Not much we can do about their mental abilities, or about the things that affect their mental status at practices and games. We can use what we know about youth mental development to inform our practice sessions, the way we speak with players, and the environment we set up for them to learn in . 

Understanding what you're working with is like having the answers to questions before they are asked. It makes for an infinitely better experience all around if the coach knows the age group along with their issues, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, and you have a good network around you to help you solve problems that don't fit your previous experience. 

Take some time when crafting lesson plans to really think about how your environment and approach need to be adapted in order to most effectively connect with and influence player behavior. 


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The Soccer Sidelines

Soccer Dad, Coach, and Club President who is devoted to developing kids and their families. With a diverse background in leadership in other settings, David is focused on empowering parents, players, and coaches to focus on the stuff that really matters in youth sports.