Which age is the key to developing self-esteem?
Age-related specificities in sport
One of the most important factors in youth development is age. For anyone working with children, it is crucial to know what the child is going through at what age, what is going on in their inner world, what they are experiencing, what they are sensitive to and what psychological characteristics are developing.
For example, where is the seed of self-confidence or the ability to cope with pressure? And how to help develop them steadily? When does it become essential for children to be part of a team and why?
In this article, we provide a brief description of both the developmental periods and the sensitive periods for the development of individual mental skills, with links to applications in sport.
In the period from 0 to 8 years, the basic framework of our personality is formed. The greatest influence on the development of the child and, therefore, their basic personality structure, is the family. The foundations of how self-confident a person is, how he or she can cope with stressful situations or how persistently and intensely he or she can strive for something or “fight for something” are formed and strengthened. If children do not receive sufficient upbringing in this period, these qualities can only be developed to a certain extent in later periods, not built up from a solid foundation. Therefore, cooperation with parents is crucial for the quality development of an athlete.
In this period, the egocentric perception of the world prevails. Therefore, it is important to recognize that athletes in team sports cannot perceive a team or team outcome and their motivation will naturally be directed at themselves – kowtowing, selfishness, etc. Other authority figures – teachers or coaches – also begin to have a greater influence on the child’s development. It is advisable to communicate with athletes individually, speaking to them in the 2nd person singular – referring to them as “you”, not “we” or “you, the team”.
This age is characterized by increasing peer influence. 12 or 13-year-olds begin to perceive the team and group around them. The need to have an influence on the functioning of the group (team) is awakening, they are looking for their role in a group (class, team, group of friends…), they compare themselves and need to feel a contribution to the group. Therefore, at this age it is appropriate to start supporting children in the roles they naturally fit into, praising them for their contribution to the group or starting to evaluate team performance.
Adolescents aged 14-16 are greatly influenced by their peers and the group atmosphere. They gradually learn to have a common goal, to be united or self-directed. Around the age of 14, they begin to form their own worldview by making often unconstructive criticisms of the world around them. They protest and disagree by default with the opinion of authorities. This is a natural process of building their own identity, values and opinions. They learn to go their own way, breaking away from the ambitions of their parents. They are learning to establish relationships and it is very important for them that authorities respect their opinion and individuality.
Later in this period, they begin not only to criticise but also to rationally argue their point of view, moving into a period of ‘constructive criticism’.
From a biological point of view, the period is specific to biological acceleration, which is often accompanied by emotional instability and thus possible instability of performance. In the social sphere, adolescents at this age begin to establish their first romantic relationships. It is also a period of experimentation (alcohol, discos, vending machines, drugs, going to bed late), which can disrupt the lifestyle of an athlete. Often, however, talent is still enough to be successful.
Talented athletes often gain their first experience in the national team and international level, which raises their status in the club and social environment, and in some cases, they are approached by agents for the first time. These facts can influence an athlete’s self-reflection and attitude in the club.
Adolescents at this age are consolidating their views and worldview. They no longer just criticize the world, but try to communicate constructively with the environment and authorities. The team and team atmosphere have a major influence on them. As long as they are guided to do so in the lower categories, they are able to manage team dynamics on their own. They automatically learn to use what they have learned so far.
This period is typically characterised by young athletes moving into senior categories or transferring abroad, which again increases their social status and can affect their self-reflection. Talented athletes may feel for the first time that their talent is no longer enough to succeed. They are under pressure to perform and to assert themselves, which they learn to manage.
Each period has its own specificities, and for healthy psychological development these must be respected. At the same time, it is important to add that, alongside the specifics of age, it is essential to take into account the individual personality of each child or adolescent. We adults are responsible for finding our way to the child, getting to know him or her and respecting his or her needs. Only in this way will they grow up to be confident, resilient and respectful adults.