Think about your 14-year-old daughter leading a fast break in her most recent basketball try-out. Quickly, she dribbles the ball toward the opponent’s basket. Two of her teammates on either side of her cut to the hoop, hoping to get open for an easy layup. Your daughter’s job is to lure a defender to her and then dish the ball to the open player – thus exploiting the 3 v 2 advantage. To your frustration, your daughter fails to see the open teammate, drives to the basket, and one of the defenders blocks her shot. This leads to a turnover. Things unravel from there as the ball goes down the other end of the court for a fast break, and what was supposed to be easy points for her team is now 2 points for the opposing team.

Should she make the team? She’s 14 years-old. She should be able to see the fast break at this age, shouldn’t she?

Peripheral Vision Can Develop Later

Many of us might think so. But understanding that that peripheral vision, the ability to see out of the corners of our eyes, can continue to develop into the late teen years (Davids) may make this scenario easier to understand. It isn’t so much that adolescents lack the capacity for fully functional peripheral vision. They struggle to see more broadly because of other distractions in their visual field. In this case, they lack the practice to see the through noise of their defenders and recognize their open teammate.

Imagine the frustration of many parents and coaches who witness seemingly talented kids make poor decisions in the field of play. Today, players who are later to develop, physically, cognitively, or in this case, visually, may be written off as not good enough. So, while not all our children are the next Elena Della Donne or Michael Jordan, it may not be until they reach their late teens that their true visual ability can be assessed.

What does this mean for parents?

We need to be patient about our kids’ development and recognize that abilities mature at different times and rates. Some 14-year-old girls may be able to see break; others may not. This is something that needs practice and time. Reminding our kids of this is important.  It is also important for us to understand so we can temper our expectations to realistic levels.

We also need to be thoughtful about who is coaching our kids. Good coaches understand this variation in development. They have observed how athletes mature at different ages and are familiar with the process of teaching. They are in the best position to be patient and teach – much better than we are.

Finally, it may or may not click for your child. There are some talented kids who just don’t see the break well, even if their peripheral vision is fully functional. This may mean that they must work extra hard, or perhaps they need to play a different role in fast break situations.

The end goal is that regardless of what sport they play, kids understand that development happens at varying speeds and their main objective should be to enjoy what they’re doing and find where their own strengths lie.


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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.