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1. How children perceive certain constructs in sport and assess their level of competence is dependent upon what developmental stage they are in. The way young children, older children, and adolescents judge their sport performance is different, and it is important for coaches and parents with children in sports to work within the constructs to ensure the most success for their child. In early childhood, around ages 3 to 6 years, children receive feedback from the environment and how people react to their actions and are beginning to learn self-evaluative skills. Early on in this age group, they have a rudimentary conception of perception of measurable personal competence. Younger children have high perceptions of competence compared to their actual general competencies, but they are more realistic in specific skills. In a majority of cases, girls tend to be stronger in play-oriented and locomotor skills while boys tend to be stronger in motor and sport-specific skills around this younger age group. In judging performance, young children focus on simple task accomplishment, feedback from significant adults, and usually equate effort and ability. They typically have no consideration for task difficulty or subjective difficulty, just simply whether they can complete the task, and think that working hard at a task indicates higher ability. What parents, teacher, and coaches say is very important in their performance evaluation, so it is recommended that individuals who work with children in this age group to give multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery and task accomplishment and give positive feedback, though they cannot quite judge the value of the feedback at this age.
As children reach the higher end of childhood, around ages 7 to 12 years, their higher perceptions of competence seen in the younger ages seem to diminish somewhat over the next couple of years. Children in this age range become more accurate in their perception of competence as their age increases. When looking at gender differences, females tend to be less accurate in their assessment of competence and males tend to show higher sport competence in females, though research on this has not shown to be consistent and differences may come as a result of boys getting more experiences in sport than girls. Older children judge performance with peer comparison, evaluative feedback from peers and possibly coaches, and performance outcomes in the team environment. Peer comparison and feedback from peers is usually based on the peers they value most, and these children tend to be better consumers of feedback. Changes in perception from early childhood to these older child years come about due to developmental changes and because they tend to become more concrete thinkers. Peers become more important sources of information, though coaches still remain an important source. Physiologically, early puberty causes differences between peers and within genders that aren’t a factor in early childhood. Cognitively, older children gain a perception and understanding of the concept of ability and they learn to differentiate between effort and ability. In a sociological sense, changes between the age groups in perception come from a more competitive and less instructional environment and an increase in the importance of coach feedback because coaches become more of an authority figure. When working with children in this age group, it is recommended to provide each child with optimally challenging activities and reduce the emphasis on peer comparison and performance outcomes as a means to evaluate personal competence. Furthermore, being aware of and learning about the wide variability in maturation and focusing on skills more and less on development will help coaches and parents with children in sports to provide appropriate feedback that is contingent on performance. Of overall importance for this age group, it is better in the long term for children at this age to learn fundamental motor skills than it is to win.
As development continues, a significant decline in children’s perceptions of competence and control is seen from late childhood to early adolescence, though there are no comparable consistent age-related declines reported in regard to perceptions of physical competence. In the adolescent age group, ages 13 to 18 years, males tend to have higher scores of perceived competence and perceived ability than females, similar to older children, though this depends on the groups being studied. In the younger end of this age range, performance is often judged through evaluative comparison from peers, switching to more self-comparison when reaching the older end of the age range. Gender differences in judgment are also seen in the adolescent age group, with males focusing more on winning and peer comparison and females more on internalized performance standards. Changes in perception from childhood into adolescence come as a result of continuing and intensifying variability in maturation with major differences seen in gender and continued cognitive development with more abstract thinking. Adolescents are better able to integrate a lot of information from multiple sources and peers become a more salient reference group as comparisons are made in both close peer groups and distal peer groups. This age group, in comparison to younger ages, are able to differentiate more between effort and ability and use effort as a source of competence and ability more as a stable, innate trait. Changes in this age group from a sociological perspective see higher stakes in performance and an increased emphasis on winning and rewards. When working with adolescents, especially in a sport setting, it is recommended that those in an authority position hold higher expectations for all athletes on the aspects athletes can control, encourage internalized self-perception, use a more autonomous and less controlling coaching and teaching style with structure. It is also important to focus on multiple sources of competence instead of just one, give effective contingent performance feedback, and create and support positive peer relationships and a positive environment.
In judging their perceived competence, youth take in information from those around them, making changes in social influences play a role in how children assess performance as they develop. A major social influence in a child’s life comes from parents. Especially early on in life, during the early childhood period, parents are responsible for introducing their children to sport and providing a source of physical, mental, and emotional support in participation. It is also in these early ages that children begin to learn about their emotions and how to control them, much of which they learn from example from the adults in their life. Peers are also a major social influence in youth development, especially in the older child and adolescent age range. During the older childhood time period, a shift begins to occur from being highly reliant on adult feedback to more reliance on peer feedback. As development continues into adolescence, this peer influence is often coupled with more self-perception of competence. These social relationships are indicative of the trends in and the changes of how youth judge and perceive competence and how the people children look to for social influences support how they look at themselves and their own success.