A Consideration of Psychosocial Factors in Youth Athlete Development

A Consideration of Psychosocial Factors in Youth Athlete Development

According to Bergeron and colleagues (2015), the aim of youth athletic development is to:

‘Develop healthy, capable and resilient young athletes, while attaining widespread, inclusive sustainable and enjoyable participation and success for all levels of individual athletic achievement’.

As anyone who works in youth sport will know, this idealistic visualisation of the perfect developmental model isn’t always easily achievable as there are so many variables that have to be taken into consideration. A deep understanding and knowledge of these variables will help strength and conditioning coaches to create personal guidelines and philosophies to develop healthy, resilient and capable young athletes. A recent consensus statement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) provides a 27-point guideline to youth athletic development, focussing on; general principles, coaching, conditioning, testing, injury prevention, nutrition, hydration and external heat illness.


I have chosen one recommendation from these that I believe to be particularly interesting, as I feel the importance of psychosocial factors in relation to the well being of young athletes is discussed less often in the dialogue between coaches. 


‘Commit to the psychological development of resilient and adaptable athletes characterised by mental capability and robustness, high self-regulation and enduring personal excellence qualities.’

The International Olympic Committee states that young athletes experience in sport should be both pleasurable and fulfilling for the duration of involvement (7). Due to the vulnerability of this population, the strength and conditioning coach has a duty of care to the athlete. Included in these duties are the legal, ethical and moral responsibilities that must be considered (8).


One recent report suggests that this guideline from the IOC is both of great importance and incredibly necessary. Alexander et al (2011) reported that, out of 6000 adults; 75% of respondents reported feeling some form of psychological harm whilst being involved in organised sport in the United Kingdom with a further 25% claiming that they had experience physical harm. Other reports have suggested that depression is particularly common – and often unrecognised – in adolescent girls (13). One explanation for why these detrimental disorders are presenting, is because there are often inappropriate and excessive demands placed on young athletes who have not yet build up the resilience to cope with such psychological overload from coaches and parents (7,4).


Reinboth et al (2004) suggest that strength and conditioning coaches should seek to promote feelings of competence in their young athletes, as satisfying this basic human need can have a positive influence on other similar psychosocial needs, such as autonomy and feelings of connectedness to others (5,10). Donaldson and Ronan (2006) go further, they claim that young athletes who carry a strong sense of competence, also experience more happiness in the sporting environment, higher intrinsic motivation and fewer behavioural issues and emotional upsets.


One of the most crucial points for the strength and conditioning coach to consider, is that performance achievement may have little carry over to the athletes perception of competence. This can often happen if the athlete is motivated predominantly by extrinsic factors - such as an over emphasis on winning or out performing others – which sometimes leads to less enjoyments and motivation 14. In contrast, young athletes who are intrinsically motivated by the love of the game, or the joy of playing are reported to have less stress (15,12) and higher predicted values of well-being (11). The strength and conditioning coach can help to increase levels of perceived competency in their athletes by providing positive feedback that is both constructive and age appropriate, as well as instilling confidence in the individual (9). 


Strength and conditioning coaches are advised to include task mastery in their sessions, research has shown that children note higher levels of enjoyment, competence and an understanding that hard work leads to a tangible feeling of success (12,16). The coach can create an environment with a culture of well being, by encouraging intrinsic motivation and competence whilst simultaneously being acutely aware of hazards in the environment that may lead to unnecessary stress. Creating a coaching philosophy in which effort is always rewarded and failure is encouraged, the athlete is likely to focus on personal improvement and task mastery, whilst not focussing on outcomes or being overly concerned with the competition. In order to help develop ‘resilience’ in young athletes – as the IOC advises - coaches should help children develop the psychosocial skills to adapt to challenging situations whist continuing to function physically and psychologically (6).  



1.    Alexander, K., Stafford, A., and Lewis, R, (2011). Summary report: The experiences of children participating in organized sport in the UK, London: NSPCC. 

2.    Bergeron, M.F., Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Chia, M., Côtê, J, Emery, C.A., Faigenbaum, A., Hall, G., Kriemier, S., Léglise, M., Mallina, R.M., Pensgaard, A.M., Sanchez, A., Soligard, T., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Van Mechelin, W., Weissensteiner, J.R., & Engebretsen, L. (2015). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine 49:843-851.

3.    Donaldson, S.J & Ronan, K.R. (2006). The effects of sport participation on young adolescents’ emotional well being. Adolescence, 41: 369-388.

4.    DiFiori, J.P., Benjamin, H.J., Brenner, J.S., Gregory, A., Jayanthi, N., Landry, G.L., & Luke, A. (2014). Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports: a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. British Journal of Sports Medicine 48:287-8.

5.    Gagné, M., Ryan, R.M., & Bargmann, K. (2003). Autonomy support and need satisfaction in the motivation and well-being of gymnasts. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15:372-390. 

6.    Luthar, S.S. (2006). Resilience in development: a synthesis of research across five decades, is D. Cicchetti and D.J Cohen (eds). Developmental Psychopathology: Risk, disorder, and adaptation. New York: Wiley.  

7.    Malina, R.M. (2010). Early specialization: roots, effectiveness, risks. Current Sports Medicine Reports 9:364-71.

8.    Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Bizzini, L., Blimkie, C., Evens, J., Gerrard, D., Hangen, J., Knoll, K., Micheli, L., Sangenis, P., & Van Mechelin, W. (2008). IOC Consensus statement: training the elite child athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42: 163-164. 

9.    Oliver, J.L., Lloyd, R.S., & Meyers, R.W. (2011). Training elite child athletes: welfare and well-being. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33:73-79.

10.    Reinboth, M., Duda, J.L., Ntoumanis, N., (2004). Dimensions of coaching behaviour, need satisfaction, and the psychological and physical welfare of young athletes. Motivation and Emotion, 28:297-313.

11.    Ryan, R.M & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well being. American Psychologist, 55:68-78. 

12.    Smith, R.E., Smoll, F.L., Cumming, S.P. (2007). Effects of a motivational climate intervention for coaches on youth athletes’ sport performance anxiety. Journal of Sports Exercise Psychology, 29:39-59. 

13.    Thapar, A., Collishaw, S., Pine, D.S., (2012). Depression in adolescence. Lancet 379:1056-67.

14.    Wang, C.K.J., & Biddle, S.J.H. (2007). Understanding young people’s motivation towards exercise. In M.S Hagger and N.L.D. Chatzisarantis (eds) Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Exercise and Sport, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 

15.    Watson, J.C., Cannole, I., Kadushin, P. (2011). Developing young athletes: a sport psychology based approach to coaching youth sports. Journal of Sports Psychology in Action 2:113-22.

16.    Wells, M.S., Ellis, G.D., Arthur-Banning, S., & Roark, M (2006). Effect of staged practices and motivational climate on goal orientation and sportsmanship in community youth sport experiences’. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 24:64-85. 


Myths of Youth Resistance Training

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