Age appropriate learning is a vital consideration in coaching and positive player development. Children and adolescents aren’t just ‘small adults’. Understanding the various differences in learning processes that exist between the age groups gives coaches and managers the knowledge they need to be most effective.


Understanding the differences in the thinking processes of different age groups is the natural starting point in helping coaches choose the appropriate technical and tactical activities needed to meet individual players’ needs. The process that a coach may adopt needs to reflect the level of participation within the sport and to meet the developmental needs of the player.

If we look at the changing cognitive characteristics in a player, from childhood through to adolescence, it’s obvious just how differently the various age groups think.

Cognitive characteristics

Players at 4–8 years old:

  • Are sensitive to criticism
  • Have short concentration spans
  • Enjoy games
  • Have no awareness of space
  • Enjoy being successful and like being told they’re doing well

Players at 9–12 years old:

  • Are critical about themselves
  • Are critical about others
  • Can start to solve problems on the field
  • Become competitive

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Dwayne Wooliams
Dwayne Wooliams
Dwayne Wooliams is the High Performance Manager at New Zealand Football.
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