top of page
sports psychology


Part 4: Learning to Compete

In part three, we discussed the grade school years as being a time when kids are starting to develop and establish the fundamental skills necessary to play sports, to learn in school, and to build relationships with others.  As stated by Erikson, it is a time when kids learn to be more industrious, or self sufficient and productive.   It is through their positive and negative experiences in school, in sports, and in their social interactions that determine whether they start to gain or lose self-confidence and self-competence.  If children are able to have positive and meaningful experiences during that time, it will be easier for them to want to take on more challenging tasks and dedicate more time to getting better at doing the things they find of interest.  Part three discusses the teenage years and how kids start to define who they are as a person and how they start to develop as a competitive athlete. 


Part 4: Learning Who I Am and How To Compete

3) Teenage Years:  Learning to Compete (ages 11-23) 

Erikson’s Stage 5 (Identity versus Role-Confusion, age 12-18); LTAD Stage 4 (Train to Train, girls age 11-15/boys age 12-16) and Stage 5 (Train to Compete, girls age 15-21/boys age 16-23)


Erikson Stage 5 (Identity versus Role-Confusion, age 12-18) occurs during adolescence from puberty to early adulthood.  This is a time in life when a person is figuring out, “Who am I?”  To answer this question, Erikson believed that you must successfully resolve all previous stages.  Erikson considered this identity crisis stage to be the most significant conflict a person must face.  If an adolescent is able to resolve this conflict, then he/she will have a strong sense of identity and be ready to plan for the future.


LTAD Stage 4 (Train to Train, girls age 11-15/boys age 12-16) is the first of three stages in the high-performance training and competition development stream.  This is considered the make-or-break stage to become an elite performer in a specific sport because it is a time for enhancement of sport specific skills, building an aerobic base, and overall development of long-term athletic potential.  This stage begins at the onset of puberty and ends at the conclusion of adolescent growth spurt.  Train to Train is where athletes become more sport-specific and ramp up their training hours as they begin to specialize in a chosen sport and usually compete in a second, complimentary sport.  At this stage, winning should continue to remain secondary to skill and physical development, education, and progression.  Although, competition tends to be ramped up at this time as athletes test their skills against fellow competitors. 


Due to the onset of puberty, coaches and parents should remind their athletes that coordination and movement can be affected by their growth spurt; training to competition ratio should be 60:40; and competition focus should be on tactical understanding and physical ability, not on measured outcomes (like win/loss record).  Lastly, it has been said that athletes who shift to a higher competition focus at this stage (like playing up an age level/group) tend to plateau later in their development because they did not complete their skills development.


LTAD Stage 5 (Train to Compete, girls age 15-21/boys age 16-23) is when athletes transition from foundational development to specialized training.  These athletes have committed to specializing in one sport, and are focused on being high-level competitors, be it at the high school, college, and/or professional levels.  Athletes spend more time refining skills in training with activities that involve high-volume and high-repetition.  This is high-level training that requires a huge commitment of time and resources, and it is not the typical sporting experience for the vast majority of athletes.


At this stage, athletes have put in the blood, sweat, and tears to develop a strong base in the technical, tactical, and physical aspects of the game that are necessary to successfully compete in their sport.  These are elite level athletes who are competing at the collegiate, competitive club, and professional levels.  As a result, elite athletes at this level are seeking out any and all resources that help them perform consistently at their best.  This means that athletes are always trying to get the slightest edge on the competition by seeking out ways to refine their skills.  This is where successful athletes focus on developing consistent high-level performance by doing things like setting up proper periodization schedules, competition and recovery plans, injury prevention and management plans, nutrition, strength and conditioning, and mental skills development. 


The Teens

The teenage years are an interesting time for kids because they are trying to figure out who they are as a person, how they fit in with their peers, and how to navigate and balance their many different social relationships.  For example, teenagers have to figure out how to manage and cultivate relationships that include, being a student, a friend, a son or daughter, an athlete, a performing artist, and/or a member of a school club. 


All of these experiences can help or hinder a teenager from developing a confident self-identity.  For example, an athlete that defines himself/herself as just a great athlete can run the risk of experiencing role confusion if he/she suffers a career ending injury, an injury that keeps them from training and competing for a number of weeks, or if they start to perform poorly and fall into a performance slump.  It is for this reason that teenagers need to balance and continually nurture all of their social identities.

Personal Teenage Journey

As I reflect on my high school years, part of my self-identity was tied to being an athlete and specifically to being a lacrosse player.  Mid-way through my sophomore year of high school, I made it a goal that I wanted to continue playing competitive lacrosse in college.  My reasons were because I loved the sport and wanted to continue playing lacrosse at a higher level, and two, without a college scholarship, it was unlikely that I would be able to attend college.  My senior year of high school, I ended up tearing my ACL playing in a winter indoor lacrosse league.  At the time, I felt my whole world come crashing down.  I felt like my dream to play in college, to get a college scholarship, and to even go to college was not only at risk but now seemed impossible to achieve.  I also felt a deep sense of regret since I would not be able to finish my high school career competing and playing lacrosse with my teammates and closest friends.  Because my athlete identity was so tied to lacrosse and the relationships with my teammates, I decided it was more important to finish my season as an active member of the team and not worry about college at that moment.  So, instead of getting reconstructive surgery to repair my ACL right away, I decided to work with my doctor (orthopedic surgeon), the high school trainer, and physical therapist to prepare to play that season without an ACL and have the reconstructive surgery after my high school season.   


Looking back on that experience, it now seems like an incredibly bad decision.  In the end, I was still recruited to play lacrosse in college, went on to play four more years of competitive lacrosse, and even received financial aid in the form of academic scholarships and grants that helped me pay my college tuition at a division three school.  I am forever indebted to my family, high school coaches, my teachers, friends, doctor, and high school trainer for getting me through that spring season.  Without them, I don’t think I would have recovered from that injury physically and emotionally!

Join our mailing list

Never miss an update

bottom of page