Physical and Mental Growth of Children and Youths

Physical and Mental Growth of Children and Youths

John L. Haubenstricker, Ph.D.


Coaches of middle and high school youths face a unique challenge. Not only must they have a thorough understanding of the skills, rules, and strategies of the sports they coach, as well as the ability to perform all of the usual coaching responsibilities, they must also adapt these abilities to individuals whose bodies are undergoing physical changes and whose cogni­tive capacities are not yet mature. Although coaches of mature adults must cope with phys­ical, mental, and psychological differences in their athletes, they do not have to contend with growing bones, rapidly changing body tissues and proportions, immature biological systems, delayed strength and coordination, limited cog­nitive capacity, lack of group experiences, or the extremes that exist for each of these variables among individuals of the same chronolog­ical age during the growing years.

Having an understanding of the physical growth and mental development of children and adolescents will enable coaches to be more ef­fective in helping boys and girls become more skilled and better athletes. The awareness that growing children and adolescents are not yet adults should lead to modifications in practice schedules, performance expectations, instruc­tions, drills, activities, and game strategies. The bottom line in coaching must be the welfare of the participating athletes.

When reflecting about the impact of their coaching practices on the growth and develop­ment of youths, coaches should ask three ques­tions: 1) Do my coaching practices promote the safety of the participants?, 2) Do my coaching practices permit all the participants to learn and achieve according to their abilities?, and 3) Do my coaching practices result in enjoyable expe­riences for the participants?

The bottom line in coaching must be the welfare of the athletes.

This chapter provides information about the physical and mental growth of boys and girls. First, the normal physical growth curve will be discussed, including the changing rates of growth in body segments. This will be fol­lowed by a consideration of male/female differ­ences in physical dimensions and body composi­tion, as well as in physical performance. Finally, attention will be devoted to the growth of cog­nitive function and its relationship to learning sports skills and strategies.