DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY FOR TEEN ATHLETES

I want to apologize that my blogs have fallen off lately. I just realized it has been over two months since I last posted an entry! I have missed doing this, but along with coaching at DU and running all of our youth and high school programs, I have also been going back to graduate school to get my masters in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology. My goal is to work on a more individual level with athletes and their families. I hope to individually coach athletes in their performance both on and off the field, to guide them in becoming more conscious and aware individuals and to support them with any struggles or issues that they are facing in life. So, a lot of my time, energy and money has been invested in this education so I can be my best in providing that service. It does not mean my interest in this pursuit has fallen off, there just has not been much time for me to write about it!

One of my favorite classes at graduate school has been Human Growth and Development.
I was a psychology major at Princeton and my concentration was in Developmental Psychology, so this was nothing new to me. I just find it fascinating how we all go through certain developmental stages in life and some of us move on to the next one and others actually get stuck in one stage or another.

The stage that applies to the age that I work with the most in lacrosse is the Adolescent / Pre-Adulthood stage. In this stage, a young man or woman is trying to move from his "family sense of self" to a more "social self". This is why this stage is so trying on the relationships of parents and teenagers and brings up so much conflict between the two. Basically, this is the stage in which a teen is asking himself, "Who am I?" so that he can learn how to become fully himself for young adulthood. In order to do this, the young man has to break free from his parents and family in some ways.

The problems that arise in this stage are due to the fact that a teen has a variety of options on where to turn. This is when many teens will "rebel" from their parents and family and join another social group. This can either be found in positive experiences like a sports team or negative, less healthy surroundings like a gang. This is one of the reasons why sports can be such an important factor in a young person's life, if we handle that experience in a conscious way. However, sports can actually be harmful if there is not a good team atmosphere, or a good leader in a coach, or is a culture fueled with unhealthy decisions. The other way in which some teens try to find themselves, is the "imperial" way of going about it in their own way. This type of person will break off from all groups and want to be left alone by everyone. This may be why some parents notice their teens become shut-down or quiet at this time in their lives.

Interestingly enough for parents though, there are specific ways in which adolescents make contact with other people to establish relationship. The first is that adolescents want to make contact on their terms! This is why parents who constantly ask questions or hound their kids for conversation are turned away. If a parent wants their teenager to make contact with them, the best way is to let it happen on their son's own time and manner. The other way in which teens establish contact is that much of their relationships and friendships are established through physical activity. So the best way for parents to connect with their children may be to go out in the yard and have a catch or to play video games with them. Adolescents appreciate contact through "doing" something rather than talking or interacting conversationally.

The other huge dilemma that comes up for teens at this age is that there is a conflict between their new-found "social-self" and their "authentic-self" that they are searching to become. The authority on what their social-self does is their social group like their teammates, classmates or friends. Their authentic-self is based on their own beliefs, interests, integrity, personality, etc.

So, this is where peer pressure and tough decisions come into play for teens. This past weekend in Las Vegas, I talked to our Denver Elite teams about the difference between making conscious decisions and unconscious decisions in the arenas of alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, money and sports. This is truly where adolescents need the most support and training as they can actually learn how to become more aware and conscious of decisions that they make and how those decisions affect both themselves and others. In doing this, they actually learn to grow into their authentic-self and are able to leave the social-self behind!

It has been found by the psychologist and writer, Robert Keegan, that 37% of all adults in our country are actually still stuck in this stage! This is because they have yet to learn how to make those conscious decisions for themselves, instead of getting pulled around by what the world tells them to do. So, this is where coaches and parents can make a huge impact in their sons life and create change in the world and the society at large. Pretty exciting stuff…at least for me it is!

Anyway, I will keep trying to share some of the things that I learn in school that I believe may be of interest to the audience of this blog. I will also be working my way into starting a private practice to be able to work individually with any athletes or families out there who are interested. If anyone has questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below on the comments section.

Hope everyone out there is doing well and enjoying the holiday season!