Today I managed to slowly drive my Jeep back home. I had to pay the consequence of leaving my car outside some stranger’s house for a whole day and trekking back to it the next day because I was convinced of my ability to drive on icy roads. I left you yesterday this tale of my stupidity. Now I get to delve into why I did what I did.
Ever since I was little I wanted to grow up. Trouble was my brain had different plans. “‘The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,’ says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. ‘[…] These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them'” (www.harvardmagazine.com). The most recent research on adolescent brain development indicates that the human brain does not finish developing until the ages of twenty-five to thirty. The law may say that I became an adult at eighteen, but my brain is still developing the critical processes of long-term planning and judgement. Two processes I wish I had used harder before I went driving yesterday.
The brain “is only about 80 percent developed in adolescents. The largest part, the cortex, is divided into lobes that mature from back to front. The last section to connect is the frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgment” (www.harvardmagazine.com). The picture to the left shows brain development from age five to twenty. At age five the red and yellow parts of the brain contain huge amounts of gray matter. While the blue and teal parts at age twenty contain less gray matter. It seems counter-intuitive that a fully developed brain has less gray matter than a five year old brain but the secret is in the connections. Think of a five year old brain as a laptop without an internet connection. A lot of information can get “downloaded” into it but it can only search the information that it has on the hard drive. Whereas a developed brain is the same laptop with an internet connection. This laptop can “google” all the information it wants until it find the best way to do something.
The fully developed brain uses the multitude of connections within it to plan and judge on correct courses of action. My brain had one experience of driving on the snow, but my mom had dozens of experiences driving on snow and ice that she could draw from. This is why she knew I would probably get stuck while I thought if I just drove slowly enough I would own the road.
Now, I have shared with you my story of thick-headedness and I have explained why my brain just was not up to speed. How does any of this information help us coach young players? The answer is because adolescent brains are “elastic” in their development their brains can develop along certain paths.
“Kids who ‘exercise’ their brains by learning to order their thoughts, understand abstract concepts, and control their impulses are laying the neural foundations that will serve them for the rest of their lives. ‘This argues for doing a lot of things as a teenager,’ says Dr. Giedd. ‘You are hard-wiring your brain in adolescence. Do you want to hard-wire it for sports and playing music and doing mathematics–or for lying on the couch in front of the television'” (www.actforyouth.net). I spent plenty of time in front of the television as a teenager. Quite simply, if there is a TV in your house your kid will find it, but I was fortunate that my parents kept me active. Running cross-country, joining swim team, engaging in martial arts, and playing lacrosse all challenged my brain with fine-motor skills and complex problem solving.
I am the person I am today because my mind was challenged when I was younger. Now all I need to do is make sure to file my latest driving escapade in a part of my brain that I can easily access so I avoid the same mistake in the future.