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Ages & Stages

Mental Capacity for Sports in the Pre-Teen Years

During the preteen years, the brain’s ability to plan a set of plays or course of action and store that plan is at a level that allows youngsters to improve in all sports, most notably in those with more complex skills and rapid decision making. These active youngsters should be able to take information input from multiple sources and process it to produce a certain desired action. They can ignore information that is not needed, focus on specific tasks, and make more appropriate decisions with the information they have been given. They become a little less concrete or black-and-white in their thinking patterns and can form a few conceptual thoughts to help build on coaching instructions from the previous months or years.

Preteens are able to respond better to verbal instructions with less show-and-tell, but we all know that at any level of sport, visual instruction and demonstration can be worth a thousand words. Selective attention is improved with less interference from distractions. Pause here for clarification…the key word is selective. Johnny may have selective attention on the field to help him perform better, yet also have selective attention and stay focused on the television when asked to take out the garbage.

By this point in development, youngsters should be able to enter basically any sport for more significant competition if they are ready from a mental and emotional standpoint. Don’t forget that physical stature is not the only ingredient necessary for successful overall participation. Their bodies may be ready for harder training and competition, but emotionally they need to know already that they are valued as your children, regardless of whether they are national, local, or backyard superstars.

Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Sports Success Rx! Your Child's Prescription for the Best Experience (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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