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Part 2: Stages of Athletic and Social Development

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Foundation Building: Active For Life

In Part 1 of the 6 part series, we discussed the Landscape of Youth Sports And The Foundation for Physical and Social Development

While your child’s physical development is dependent on being active, her/his social interactions are important for personal growth. Being physically and socially active can work hand in hand to help or stunt a child’s growth as an athlete and as a person.



For part two, we will look at the grade school years from elementary school through middle school. The grade school years are the time when kids start to participate in organized sports and learn the fundamental skills necessary to play specific sports. Socially, this is the time where peer interactions start to play a larger role in a child’s development.

1) Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers: Foundation Building (birth to age 6)

Erickson’s Stage 1 (Trust versus Mistrust, age 0-1), Stage 2 (Autonomy versus Doubt and Shame, age 1-3), and Stage 3 (Initiative versus Guilt, age 3-5);

7 Stages of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD): Stage 1 (Active Start, age 0-6)

Erickson’s Stage 1 (Trust versus Mistrust, age 0-1), at this stage, infants completely depend on others (parents, family, and caregivers) to get their needs met. This includes food, shelter, and the need to bond with and trust others. If these needs are met, a child will learn to trust her/his environment and will form positive attachments to others.

Erikson stated that some mistrust is necessary to learn how to discriminate between honest and dishonest people. However, when mistrust wins over trust, a child will be frustrated, withdrawn, suspicious, pessimistic, and lack self-confidence.

Erickson’s Stage 2 (Autonomy versus Doubt/Shame, age 1-3) is a time when children start to develop self-control and self-confidence. For this to happen, parents need to create a supportive learning environment. This can include learning how to walk, talk, and use the toilet. If parents are able to encourage their child to try and do things for herself/himself, then the child will learn to cope with future situations that require choice, control, and independence.

Erickson’s Stage 3 (Initiative versus Guilt, age 3-5), a child will learn to balance between an eagerness to try new things and become more responsible. If parents are supportive during this stage, their child will learn to accept certain rules, without guilt, about what is allowed and expected. This creates a place of safety and security that allows children to foster their imagination through play and make sense of their world. Play starts to become goal-directed and children develop a sense of purpose in their lives.

7 Stages of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) Stage 1 (Active Start, age 0-6), the focus for children between the ages of 0-6 is acquisition of basic physical skills and balance that build the foundation for physical development. Things that are introduced at this age become ingrained habits. During this time, it is up to adults (parents, caretakers, coaches, and teachers) to introduce and encourage children to learn and develop. Kids should be encouraged to engage in unstructured play, by themselves or with others, to develop physical coordination, motor skills, brain function, posture, and balance.

Personal Perspective

As you can see, experiences at this stage provide foundational development for your child. The first year of life, a child is more or less completely dependent on others, specifically parents and caretakers. It isn’t till age two or three that kids are more active and start to become more independent. It is typically the time when kids start taking classes and engage in organized physical activities as well.

When my son and daughter were four and six (years old), I wanted to enroll them in martial arts. When I visited a taekwondo studio, I was surprised to find that five and six year olds were lined up and just standing there while the instructor belted out commands and skills for the kids to practice. If you have watched the old Karate Kid movie, it was a little like walking into the Cobra Kai Dojo. Not nearly as intense, but the expressions on the kids’ faces were enough to decide this isn’t what I wanted for my kids. These kids looked terrified and somewhat bored.

Luckily, our local recreational center offered a bunch of different sports classes. What I liked about the rec center was that the teachers were less focused on the group learning to do things exactly the right way. There was no heavy emphasis on sport specific skills development, unlike that taekwondo class. For my kids’ age group, these coaches were more focused on engaging kids in fun activities and games that applied to each sport, and also just allowed them to run around and be active.

As a result, we enrolled our kids in a bunch of different sports classes that year. Classes included, gymnastics, swimming, and soccer. Reflecting on that year, my wife and I were happy to see that our kids had learned the basic skills like footwork and ball control in soccer, tumbling and balance in gymnastics, and basic swim strokes in swimming class. The added bonus was that these classes were also a nice introduction to group dynamics and social interactions with other kids their age, as well as with coaches. In the end, we were happy to see that our children felt comfortable taking sports classes, built friendships, and enjoyed playing each sport. We give a lot of credit to the coaches and the recreational center for providing a curriculum that had the right balance of encouragement, instruction, play, and discipline.



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