It is part of the adolescent condition to explore, inquire and take risks. One of the ways the brain responds to experiences that matter is through the neurotransmitter dopamine, the availability of which, peaks in adolescence. This increase in dopamine (linked to pleasure, motivation and learning) and hypersensitivity of the brain's reward centres during this period ensures that adolescents will ‘get off the sofa’, leave the nest and engage with the wider environment. Research has shown that adolescents are more willing than adults to lean into uncertainty and explore situations with the promise of reward. Immediate rewards seem to shine brighter for adolescents. This is linked to increased activity in reward pathways for both the anticipation and receipt of immediate rewards (in all forms) and is thought to promote risk-taking, novelty seeking and finding pleasure in the quest for experience; all of which are essential for learning and ensuring the gaining of experience in the transition toward independent adult status.
This increase in incentive motivation for new experiences and testing boundaries represents both vulnerabilities and opportunities. So for a young player, this has the potential to be a period where bad habits are formed that they find hard to shake off. But, with the right conditions, this period could be an opportunity for positive spirals, an inflection point for initiating healthy patterns of behaviour that can begin positive developmental trajectories.
IDYOMS supports clubs and coaches to construct environments which explicitly seek to honour these natural drives toward risk-taking, novelty seeking and exploration as well as positive social interactions.