Mental, Cognitive and Emotional Development

mental and cognitiveMental, cognitive and emotional factors are essential to each athlete's development. Not only is holistic development - which encompasses all of these factors, in addition to physical development - beneficial to the individual, but all of these skill sets are interlinked.

Just as physical and technical skills require long-term and sequential development, so too do the psychological aspects of athlete development. This includes a range of knowledge sets, such as the underpinnings of fair play and ethical sport, mental skills for performance, emotional regulation, sequencing and decision-making.

Programming should be designed to deliver all aspects of athlete development in a complementary manner, including mental, cognitive and emotional components.

Training, competition and recovery programs should consider the cognitive, moral and emotional development of each athlete. This is not simple, since there are no easily visible markers for the transitions between stages of cognitive, moral and emotional development. This figure outlines how Piaget’s (1954) stages of intellectual development, and Erikson’s (1959, 1964) stages of emotional development match up with the first five stages of of LongTerm Athlete Development.

Intellectual development: children go through both the sensorimotor and pre-operational stages during Active Start. During the first couple of years, children explore the world around them through movement and sensory experience. They begin to understand that objects are permanent by the end of their first year, and by age two they are generally able to plan and execute movements to get what they want, such as moving an object to get an object behind it. Between ages two and seven, children begin to grasp language and develop the ability to talk about things that are not present, though they still maintain a self-centred point of view. Role playing and symbolism, such as a blanket draped over a chair representing a fort, become important at this stage.

The concrete operational stage covers the next three of Long-Term Athlete Development stages. Moving from FUNdamentals through Learn to Train and into Train to Train, individuals continue to develop logic. They begin to understand how the world operates, though abstractions – game plans or team strategy – can still be difficult to grasp until the early stages of Learn to Train. Comprehension of “reversibility” and the consequences of some actions (i.e. kicking a basketball is a foul, and five fouls means dismissal from the game) comes into play during Learn to Train as well.

The formal operational stage takes place during the Train to Train and Train to Compete stages and remains the dominant stage for the remainder of life. The ability to think about abstractions becomes prevalent. Logical thought and deductive reasoning emerge, and systematic, long-term planning becomes part of the individual’s thought process. Individuals fully understand the rules of the game and the consequences of their actions.

Emotional development: Individuals go through eight stages of emotional development (so long as they’re cared for and raised well), though the first five are most important to coaches or parents engaged in of Long-Term Athlete Development. Hope, Will and Purpose are all covered by Active Start. Hope is the first year of life when children begin trusting adults. Will is where children learn to explore and begin to develop autonomy, lasting until age three. Between ages four and six – Purpose – children will develop initiative through learning to plan and doing things on their own.

>> Learn about the next key factor: Periodization

To read the entire Canadian Sport for Life - Long-Term Athlete Development 2.1 resource paper, click here.