Tom is an 18-year-old goalkeeper who recently moved up in class from youth to adult football. He was an early maturer and has a history of being more advanced in soccer than his peers but now a weakness is exposed. He never learned to kick with his left foot and this has been a problem at this level. The current paper discusses the proposed reasons for his difficulty and outlines a plan of intervention.
Understanding the Effects of Early Maturation as They Apply to Tom
The traditional view holds that early maturation in boys has more positive consequences for psychosocial adaptation than late maturation. The early literature by researchers like Mussen and Jones (1957) described early-maturing boys during late adolescence (17 -- 18 years) as having higher self-esteem and self-confidence, a more positive self-image, and as being more socially mature, which may have led to more favorable perceptions of early maturation in males by the adult world. These effects seem to be enduring as the researchers found that the effects of greater prestige experienced by early maturing males was still evident at age 33, when they were found to be more responsible, cooperative, sociable, and self-controlled compared to late maturers. However, they were also found to be more rigid, moralistic, humorless, and conformist (i.e., indicating high conscientiousness, high agreeableness, but low openness to experiences). There have been some other findings that do not paint such a rosy picture. Ewert (1984) using a German sample found that early-maturing boys in late adolescence (age 18) were no longer superior to their late maturing counterparts in physical appearance and interests, as was the case during early adolescence. They were, however, rated as being more dominant in social interactions (i.e., taking over responsibility), which indicates higher conscientiousness than found in their peers at age 18.
Contrary to the aforementioned traditional view, several investigations of larger samples supported a link between perceived, as well as objective, early maturation in boys and emotional problems (Petersen and Crockett, 1985), depressive feelings, and anxiety, especially in mid to late adolescence (Silbereisen and Kracke, 1997). In a more recent longitudinal sample Ge, Conger, and Elder (2001) also found that objective early maturation in boys was associated with higher emotional distress in grades eight and twelve as compared to their peers.
With respect to athletics, particularly soccer, the research has been clear in establishing that early maturing boys are more often a part of elite soccer teams than the later maturing counterparts and that as time goes on the differences between early maturers and later maturers tends to subside (Malina, Bouchard, & Bar-Or, 2004). Often, younger athletes who are more than two standard deviations ahead of their peers in terms of physical variables such as height and measures of strength are not motivated to learn the proper techniques and methods of their specialty and rely on their physical superiority to carry them through (Malina et al., 2004). From the above case description this certainly appears to be the case here.
In youth sports a confounding factor that hinders the development of talent is often early physical maturity. The organization of youth sports tends to bias player selection over skills and talent in favor of physical maturity (Starkes, 2000). For example, research on the birth quartiles of elite youth athletes in soccer (as well as in other sports) indicates that they are more likely to be born in the first quartile of the selection year as opposed to the last quartile (Brewer, Balsom, & Davis, 1995). Over time however, when these athletes move on these advantages disappear and their lack of skills may be a hindrance to their performance. Depending on the individual case, such circumstances can be rectified by intensive practice; however, there is a sort of no-man's land here as well as one can never be sure how such an athlete will respond to a sudden change of being relatively dominant to one of being more or less equivalent to the other players. Each case requires individual attention and a special approach (Malina et al., 2004; Starkes, 2000).
It appears as if Tom has been able to get away without developing the inherently weaker points of his skills. His situation appears consistent with early maturing boys that play sports. It is safe to presuppose that he has not been in the situation of having to independently improve aspects of his game. We are also told that he prefers to kick the ball out of bounds with his right foot as opposed to use his left, more evidence that he is trying to hide a weakness as opposed to developing it. We are left wondering how Tom is processing these events cognitively.
Schemas are organized patterns of thought that structure the world for the user (Young, Klosko, & Weishaar, 2003). They might be thought of as cognitive scripts that organize the individual's knowledge and their assumptions about a person, thing, activity, concept, situation, etc. Schemas are used for processing and interpreting information about the world. They are quickly activated, automatic, and affect how we act, feel, and believe, but can be altered (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977; Young et al., 2003). Markus (1977) in her seminal work developed the notion of the self-schema that is an organized pattern or series of scripts a person has of the self; in lay terms a complex form of self-image. One's self-schema is instrumental in determining one's attitudes, motivations, interpretations of events, self-worth, and one's ability to adapt and change. Markus and other researchers have found the one's self-schema is instrumental in determining how one views the world, what information one will attend to, and how a person will adapt to change. Early maturing boys can generally be observed to have more positively developed self-schemas than late maturing boys but as mentioned in the review above there are caveats to this trend and especially regarding sports performance from adolescence to young adulthood (Malina et al., 2004; Starkes, 2000). It is very difficult to determine how Tom views his situation outside of the information that he has never needed to develop his left foot kicking, he has always been more adept at the game than others his age, and he does not attempt to kick with his left foot. We can surmise that Tom's self-schema includes the notion that is inadequate in kicking with his left foot and that in other aspects of the game he is generally more confident in his other abilities; however, it will be very important to discuss how Tom feels about the situation, what he believes can be done about it (does he view the situation with an internal or external locus of control?), and how motivated he is about learning to kick with his left foot (these issues are discussed further when a proposed assessment of Tom's situation is described below).
In Tom's case we also are told that he has realised that he has a major weakness kicking with his left foot. This indicates that the athlete has indentified an area of his game that is deficient and we can surmise that he understands that this situation will not remit spontaneously. This could be an advantage in the current case. We are also told that when he does attempt to kick with his left foot his performance is quite amateurish, at the level of a beginner; therefore we can conclude that Tom will have to learn to kick with his left foot starting with the basics and working from there.
One of the related issues we might consider is bilateral transfer of skills. Inherently we might believe that if Tom has already learned to kick the ball with his dominant foot learning to kick with the nondominant foot will be easier. He could simply apply the same routine to his left leg; however, the current description of his problem does not support this idea. Moreover, the research is somewhat mixed on this idea. For instance Kumar and Mandal (2005) looked at the effects of bilateral transfer of skill with regard to speed and accuracy left-handed and right-handed participants. Non-preferred to preferred and preferred to non-preferred hands were tested a mirror-drawing task. Left and right-handed participants did not differ in the extent of bilateral transfer, which was modest at best. Bilateral transfer was greater from the non-preferred to the preferred side and speed in learning demonstrated very moderate bilateral transfer but not accuracy. Conversely, Chase and Seidler (2007) also investigated whether the degree of handedness is related to the magnitude of bilateral transfer in a sensorimotor adaptation task and sequence learning task. Transfer was generally better when first practiced with the dominant side, but there was a task effect. Thus, the type of task appears to be important when considering bilateral transfer and the research is not clear whether transfer occurs more effectively from the preferred to nonpreferred side or vice versa. In the current case the description of Tom's kicking technique with his left foot…