Age Appropriate Development


When discussing age appropriate development, we are often drawn to the chronological age as the parameters . This is evident in how players are separated into teams and organized for Competitions. This leads to a bias in not only selection of players, but also how parents perceive their child is doing.

Quick Task



Take a look at the image to the left. Now take a piece of paper and a pen, and you have 1 minute to draw a tree of your own.


Now, take a look again at the diagram, and compare it to the one you drew. How similar is your drawing to the image?



There is a good chance there is something missing in the picture drawn… do you add in the roots? It’s easy for us to be influenced by what we see, and at times more than what we know. This is an issue with player development when we compare players to others, we do not know the back story of every player, and we also do not know at what stage of maturation they are in. Chronologically there could be 364 days difference between two players in an age group, and in maturation there could be up to a 4 year difference between an early and late developer.

Age appropriate development is quite often reduced to just the birth year of a player. When we only assign players by their birth year we are only considering the chronological age of the player. Different ages include – chronological, biological, relative age, and training age, four variations on an individuals area of growth and maturation.

Phases of Development

Every curriculum through the phases of development is based on the needs of the player, and the most effective way to effect the development of the individual player. On a micro scale every session plan takes in to consideration the technical needs of the player, the physical demands of the individual player within their specific role, the psychological consideration for the demands of the session on the player and the ability to challenge and bring out the best in an individual. Tied to all this is the coaches understanding of growth and maturity, and how a chronological grouping of players means the coach must be aware of the biological age, sports age, and the current rate of growth of an individual within the team.

We also need to understand what is the difference between growth and maturation for further understanding of the phases of development.

Growth is the physical and quantifiable process in development. An example being the change in height., you get physically taller and is measurable.

Maturation is the development of individual and behavioral characteristics through growth. Generally, less quantifiable and is more emotional, and intellectual, where organisms grow within structure. An example, brain development resulting with an ability to handle more complex tasks.

Playing up is often a very broad phrase we use, and the reason for doing so is quite often for the wrong reasons. Playing up an age group is not as simple as the ‘best’ player or the ‘biggest’ player moving up in to an older age group, there are considerations to be made for all pillars of the players long term development.

Technical/Tactical – a player may be technically good and capable of individually playing with older players, but are they tactically as aware as older players who have more playing experience?

Physical – a bigger player may need to be more challenged technically so needs to play with players of similar physical makeup, this will show their reliance on their size. Is this player though at a same rate of maturation as the others of similar size and body shape?

Psychological – a player who is going through their stage of Peak Height Velocity can find themselves now playing with bigger players if moved up an age group, but during this rate of growth can be going through a difficult period with their technical ability. As the body changes they need to be able to adapt to their bodies movements. The psychological damage of a lack in confidence and now not being able to compete can be very detrimental.

Social – players playing up with older players can miss out on important social interactions and can be exposed to inappropriate social environments. It is a very delicate situation when players can also miss out on necessary social experiences with other players of same chronological age, and this social development can be key to long term future of the individual in to adulthood.

The youth soccer environment is an incredibly difficult environment to be able to properly implement playing up and down for the benefit of the player, as a result of the win at all cost mentality, and tournament/league emphasis on chronological age ‘champions’. This is another example of how development and winning philosophies cannot coexist.

At Fremont YSC we will do out best to address all of these considerations through our structure and long term development model, through practice set up with club training, and the progressions through the age appropriate curriculum’s. For further information click on your age specific presentation on understanding age and player expectations –

An interesting article from Changing the Game Project –

Benefits of Small Sided Games – Manchester United 4v4 Study

Age appropriate development is also dependent on the methodologies, small sided games are incredibly beneficial for implicit learning and the enjoyment of the game.