Coaches have witnessed young athletes demonstrate a wide variety of emotional behaviour, ranging from destructive outbursts during competitions to angry conflicts during training sessions. The human brain is still maturing during adolescence and understanding what is happening enables coaches to better manage teenagers.

Emotional Control

  • Teenagers have trouble correctly identifying emotional states.
  • When processing emotions, adolescents focus on the amygdala, which regulate fear and instinctive reactions.
    • Unlike adults, teenagers have difficulty turning this function off in order to regain focus. Emotional levels remain high throughout the activity.
    • Increased testosterone during puberty swells the amygdala.
  • In addition to the limbic system, adults also activate the frontal lobe, which enables judgment and reasoning.
    • The frontal lobe does not mature until young adulthood.


  • Many young players demonstrate a lack of self-control and intolerance towards teammates, opponents, and officials.
  • Coaches should model the way and show athletes how to handle emotions.
    • Remain calm and centre the team.
    • Address emotional issues before correcting technical problems.
    • Reframe the situation and refocus players who need help.
    • Situations may be perceived as “fight or flight.” Provide players with a way out.


  • Adolescents have difficulty balancing Risk vs. Reward and seeing the future.
  • Teenagers are not motivated by modest rewards. They must perceive that the activity has a high thrill payoff or reduced effort requirement.
    • Improved social standing is also a relevant reward.
    • Long-term rewards are not as meaningful as immediate ones.
  • The prefrontal cortex, important in planning and decision-making does not mature until the twenties.

Sleep Cycle

  • Critical learning should take place during afternoon practices – when players’ brains are most attentive – instead of in the morning.
  • Youth may be tired during morning practices because they did not eat enough.

Brain Development

  • Alcohol is more likely to damage memory and learning ability in the hippocampus of the teenage brain.
  • Young people may understand the risks one day and yet still engage in the dangerous behaviour because of the powerful effect of the limbic system.
    • It is not necessary to nag a student athlete about every little issue as this may provoke conflicts.
  • If teenagers do not utilize certain parts of the brain and form connections between neurons insulated by myelin, they can lose that function.

Parts of the Brain

Brain Region Function Development
Frontal Lobe Self-Control, Judgment, Emotional Regulation
  • Restructured/Developing in adolescence
Corpus Callosum Intelligence, Consciousness, Self-Awareness
  • Full maturity in 20s
Parietal Lobes Auditory, Visual, and Tactile Senses
  • Immature until age sixteen
Temporal Lobes Emotional Maturity
  • Developing throughout adolescence.


  • Adolescents require longer time than adults to recover from traumatic brain injuries.
    • Teenagers will need about two weeks to recover.
  •  Compared to peers without a concussion history, athletes with two or more brain injuries possess significantly lower grade-point averages.
  • Second-Impact Syndrome for an adolescent can lead to a severe loss of neurons compared to adults who are recovering from injury.
  • Coaches and players must learn about preventing head injuries together.


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