It is becoming increasingly important that the issues surrounding all areas of a youth player’s development are catered for, beyond the scope of their technical and tactical skills. Each child who plays football is on their own unique journey of development. So it is essential that, as their parent, you understand the type of support your child will need at different times as they grow.

Children develop their mental skills at different rates and some skills become more important and easier to develop at certain times. In the world of your 8-11 year old, your child begins to learn some crucial skills – including how to make friends and become an independent learner – skills they can use for the rest of their lives. Continuing brain growth means that the perceptual hardware needed to see moving objects clearly is developing rapidly. They also develop a more mature and logical way of thinking, gradually becoming able to consider several parts to a problem or situation.

Even though their thinking becomes more complex, children in this age group still think in concrete terms. This means they are most concerned with things that are “real” rather than with ideas, therefore children of this age have difficulty fully understanding how things are connected. Also the child’s self-esteem is fragile and can change rapidly depending on what is happening around them.

Contrast this to the ages of 12-16, where it can be a very confusing time for young adolescents as they begin to turn into adults. Children at this age start to understand that what they do now can have long-term effects. They learn flexibility, sensitivity toward others, and can manipulate ideas for complex problem solving. Issues are no long just clear-cut and concrete.

As they start to move from childhood into adulthood, children feel the urge to be more independent. Often, friends replace parents as a source of advice. Many children at this age are preoccupied with their own desires and needs and can be insensitive to others. Because they are so self-centered, and because the peer-group is now so important to their sense of self, they seem to believe other people are watching them. As a result, some may feel as if they are constantly “on show” and are being judged so may become self-conscious.

As parents you will be very well practiced at watching the behaviour of your own child. This makes you a massive resource to tap in order to help shape the development of your child’s mental skills.