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D: Developmental Athlete

As kids grow and mature, they pass through the same stages of development. However, they all do this at different rates. Physical and mental growth rarely coincides, and this has implications for youth sports programs. Here is a simplified outline of child development.

Developmental Markers and Characteristics

3-6 Years

  • Relatively rapid physical growth
  • Rapid brain development

6-12 years

  • Relatively slow physical growth
  • Steady brain development
  • Improving memory, decision-making, and attention span
  • Reasoning abilities are limited

12-17 years

  • Relatively rapid physical growth
  • Initially rapid, followed by steady brain development
  • Physical and psychological maturation rarely occur at the same pace
  • Young people start to identify and commit to one or a small number of sports
  • Abstract thought becomes well-developed


  • Relatively slow physical growth
  • Steady brain development
  • “End of the Beginning” - physical and emotional development continues, although at slower rates than before; preparing for adulthood (Richard Bailey - Sport UK)

It's not difficult to imagine some of the implications of this pattern for effective sports programming. What you see on the outside doesn’t always match up with what’s on the inside. Kids are continually changing and development isn’t linear.

This is why, at 12U, it's important for parents, coaches and youth sports organizations to have patience. The developing athlete you see before you now is not the athlete you will see tomorrow.

Child development is a less linear process than many people realize.