Social and Emotional Learning

Age Specific Information (AYSO): 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16-19

By Katie Lovallo, MA, Mind Fit Performance (

It’s important to note that development and growth take place at different rates for every child. They will have different interests, personalities, and abilities. Keep in mind that the connections between the amygdala (emotion center in the brain) and prefrontal cortex (thinking and rationale center in the brain) don’t fully develop until around age 25, meaning that most youth think, act, and make decisions based on emotions. So what may seem rational or irrational to you as an adult, won’t match how youth see things, simply because they don’t yet have the ability to see it differently.

Below are some common development and age specific milestones you may notice in your child and team members.

Preschoolers (ages 3-5):


Encourage participation in multiple sports and physical activities. Practices/games/classes should be interactive and mostly about fun. Basic skills can be introduced and taught, but not forced. The keys here are to encourage participation, which for some will mean interacting and for others, observing. Each child advances at their own pace, so the key is to create a fun environment they want to return to.


Around these ages, children start to exercise some independence and are also more interested in interaction with others. Cooperation and sharing get better everyday, especially with modeling and encouragement. It’s also important to help children talk out their feelings when their stress rises, so model positive ways to work through these emotions.


Youth at this age seem to be in constant motion. While physical growth and motor development slow slightly at these ages, coordination and motor skills are still developing. they may be able to skip and hop, to catch and throw a ball, to kick/dribble a soccer ball, and their balance is increasing.


Noticeable growth can be seen intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Around the age of 4, kids are starting to piece together their understanding and awareness of their day (organized as morning, afternoon, and night) and the world around them. They ask a lot of questions; continue to encourage that. You may also notice specific interests (dinosaurs, trains, animals, etc). Create an interactive learning environment for them in both life and sports. Encourage exploration, conversation, questions, interactions, and expression of their feelings.


Gradeschoolers (ages 6-12):


Encourage participation in multiple sports and physical activities. Participating in multiple sports develops physical and attentional skills, can help avoid burnout or overuse injuries that come with specialization, and can enhance athleticism and performance in each respective skill/sport.

Try to keep practices/games/classes focused on skill development and overall understanding. Youth at these ages still have short attention spans, so keep concepts simple and effective. Encourage questions to facilitate understanding, nurture competitiveness, and put an emphasis on development, learning, and participation. Winning should be important but not the most important or only goal. Plan from a growth minded perspective; there’s always something to learn.


At this age, particularly from 9-12, having friends has become very important. Social interactions are a high priority of youth this age and children enjoy hanging out with others. Children at this age still feel very connected to family and parents/guardians.


During these stages, children develop more grace in their movements. Their coordination and motor skills have likely increased and they can master more complex movements, such as jumping rope and skipping. They may even practice skills to get better at them. Show and tell instruction may still be key to facilitate understanding and progression. Attention spans are still relatively short, so keep instruction simple and sequential to enhance understanding and mastering. The keys in sport here are skill development, some skill mastery, general fitness, and having fun.


Complex thinking skills and memory are still developing. Children are developing their ability to think in concrete ways, and are becoming more opinionated. Model positive behavior and encourage open communication about feelings.


Adolescence (ages 13-19):


Sports at these stages become much more competitive and more highly skilled. Teens may navigate towards a particular sport, but continue to encourage participation in multiple sports or physical activities. Injuries due to changes in the body or overuse may take place at this time. Teens may also start to envision their future in sports by striving to play for the high school team or play in college. They may seek extra training or put forth more effort in skill development. Their understanding of more complex strategies increases, and practices/training should reflect such understanding.


Social interactions are a high priority and teens are motivated by peer acceptance. They often choose to hang out with friends rather than parents or family. Teenagers are seeking independence, searching for identity, and starting to seek more responsibility and trust. You may notice an increase in risk taking, which is a natural part of adolescence.


In General: Proprioception and kinesthetic awareness increases greatly. Strength increases, so skills sets may improve or change. Views of body image may take a negative turn during these stages and may be influenced negatively by societal expectations or comparisons to others.

Girls: On average, puberty begins between ages 7-13, and hormones are released into the bloodstream that signal the production of estrogen. Body grows taller (growth spurt). Natural weight gain in the hip area, the start of breast development, and an increase in body fat. Roughly 2-3 years after puberty begins, girls get their period. Hair also begins to grow under the arms and in the pubic area. Puberty hormones also trigger acne.

Boys: Puberty hormones are released into the bloodstream that signal the production of testosterone and sperm. Body grows taller (growth spurt). Shoulders grow wider, the body becomes more muscular, and the voice changes to become deeper. There will also be changes in penal development. Hair also begins to grow under the arms, the pubic area, and eventually the face. Puberty hormones also trigger acne.


Girls/Boys: Surging puberty hormones can contribute to feeling more emotional, confused, or anxious. Biological clock shifts triggering staying up later and sleeping in later. Anxiety and depression may become prevalent at this stage, but are normal and likely won’t last (with regular conversations, check-ins, and the proper support systems in place). If anxiety and depression do increase, seek the help of a trusted parent, friend, or training professional. Decision making skills are still developing, and individual morals and values are starting to surface. Teens may often be very self-conscious, and this may impact their self-esteem.

Challenging Changes

Typically broken down into early adolescence (ages 10-14), mid adolescence (ages 15-17), and late adolescence (ages 18-24).

This is often a very transitional time of life. Teens are exploring independence, identity, sense of self, and breaking away from childhood tendencies. They tend to be very egocentric during this stage. They typically only see the world from their own viewpoint and expect that others see it through their viewpoint as well.

Adolescence can be filled with insecurities and concerns about judgement. Teens are motivated by peer acceptance. Anxiety about physical changes, appearance, and one’s place in the world tend to increase. Mild anxieties about these things are common, but should they increase to more detrimental levels, seek help and guidance from a trained professional.

This is a very confusing time filled with lots of changes physically and mentally, and as a result, will likely induce a ton of questions. All of the changes experienced during this stage of life are normal, necessary, and indicate healthy growth. If you are a parent, do your best to answer questions, create a climate of open communication, and listen to your teen. Preparing them for what lies ahead physically, mentally, and socially can help alleviate anxieties they may feel. If you are an adolescent, ask questions, seek information, and talk to your parents and doctor about the changes taking place in your body. There’s no such thing as a dumb question!


Some additional resources and references regarding the information you can access to further your understanding of the growth and development of our youth can be found at the following links: