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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Social Brains Of Teenagers


Most people who read my articles are in the business of working with folks in some stage of adolescence. You may work with young people who are just entering their teenage years or you may be like me, working with young people trying to navigate the time between adolescence and adulthood.
In a great TEDtalk called, The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore talks about her research on teenagers. The video is about fourteen minutes long and very interesting. One of the more fascinating statements she made was that adults and adolescents use a different cognitive strategy to make social decisions. What does that mean? It means the perception, social cues, reasoning, and judgment skills that adults use are totally different than what a teenager would use. So maybe Mars and Venus aren't just the homes of men and women, but also adults and teenagers.
How can coaches use this information with our players?
  • Be patient and teach. As Blakemore says, the ability to take someone else's perspective into account in order to guide behavior is still developing in adolescents. So we've got to be patient with our players and challenge them to try and see things from a different perspective. We can do that through personality assessments where they see the good (and the bad) of their personality type. We can also do that through leadership meetings with our captains. According to this video, we can't assume that they'll see the light on their own.

  • Understand that teenagers are supposed to be different. The things that may frustrate you about your players may be the things that are inherent to adolescence. They've got poor impulse control, they're moody, they're very self-conscious, and they take risks. Sounds like fun, huh? But what if we used their teenager-ness to our benefit? Blakemore says teens are more likely to take risks when they're with friends. How about creating a team of young people who relish being brave and having the courage to take risks in game situations? While coaches may have to navigate the moody waters of teenagers, there can be benefits to their behavior if we're willing to see them.

  • See it as an opportunity. In the beginning of the video, Blakemore tells us that the adolescent brain is still developing. So we've got a great opportunity to teach them not only sport skills, but life skills as well. We also have a great chance to development them as competitors... to develop their norms as an athlete.
Check out the video, I thought it was great. And then use some of this stuff with your team... it's really good!
Dawn Redd is the Head Volleyball Coach at Beloit College. Come visit Coach Dawn's community of coaching nerds and team leaders over at her blog,, where she teaches how to become an excellent coach, motivate individuals, and build successful teams.
Her book, Coach Dawn's Guide To Motivating Female Athletes, is available for purchase on her website.
Follow Coach Dawn on Twitter: @CoachDawnWrites
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