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A developmental theoretical approach is recommended as the most appropriate framework from which to study children's psychosocial experiences in sport. This perspective provides the best understanding of children's sport behaviors by focusing on ontogenetic changes in cognitive abilities which help to describe and explain behavioral variations among individuals. A content analysis of sport psychological research conducted on children and youth over the last decade reveals that few studies selected age groups for investigation that were based on underlying cognitive-developmental criteria. Thus, recommendations emanating from these studies may be misleading or inaccurate. Examples of developmental research from the psychological and sport psychological literature are provided to illustrate the potential for conducting further research on the psychosocial development of children in sport. Finally, guidelines for implementing a systematic line of research in sport psychology from a developmental perspective are outlined.
The authors gratefully acknowledge Dan Gould for his helpful comments on an earlier draft, and Sally Walrath for her assistance in compiling references for the content analysis.