3 Part Series: Why My Athlete Should Have Been Training Yesterday (1) Understanding Growth, Development, Maturation and everything in between. (2) How does Puberty and Athletics Intersect? (3) What Should My Athletes Training Program Look Like?
Before delving into these complex transitions within a youth athletes life, I think we should take a moment and dissect some of the common terminology utilized by both the general public and scientists to mark these transitional moments.
Growth: To many, this may simply mean a change in either direction (both positively or negatively) of essentially any attribute of the young child’s life. For the purpose of this discussion, (and really any discussion related to science that we will look at) growth as related to tissue, bone, and many cellular process. Thus, when discussing growth of a youth athlete we could be referencing the increased muscle mass or increased stature due to bone growth. “Growth is the most significant biological activity during the first 20 years or so of life, starting from conception to fun maturity .”
Maturation: Interestingly enough we tend to discuss growth as having been altered by the actualization of maturation. Maturation is the peak potential of growth that a given system or process can experience. However, maturation is not unanimous across all process for a given system. For example, a person can become sexually mature having not yet achieved skeletal maturity. This is referencing the timing and tempo of maturity which can not only happen at different paces for each process of a system but also varies from person to person. This VARYING is what creates uniqueness among people.
Timing of Maturity: Is concerned with when a maturation period is achieved.
Tempo of Maturity: Is concerned with the pace at which someone is achieving maturation.
Development: This tends to be used on a broader scale and generally encompasses both growth and maturation processes. Development should be viewed from a qualitative not quantitative perspective in that there is no termination of the development, just how the development is altering based on the systems environment. For example, a baby begins to develop with a biological differentiation of cells, which then form together and create tissue, this tissue continues to develop within the embryonic and fetal stages of the pre-natal environment . However, this development does not stop when the baby is born into the post-natal environment because the tissue continues to develop further and further as it continuously adapts to the needs of the environment with which it is apart of. Thus, the development of an individual is indefinite!
So… why is this important at all when addressing athletic potential, training, and talent identification?
THE PITFALLS OF CATEGORIZING ATHLETES BASED ON CHRONOLOGICAL AGE
Chronological age essentially marks the amount of time a person has been alive. More descriptive than that? It marks the time from conception to death of an individual, involving no variability, change, or unpredictability. Chronological age is strict and rigid and allows no adjustments!
The biggest issue is that people correlate growth, development, and maturation with an individuals chronological age. It takes a picture of an entire individuals lifespan and marks how many years they have been alive. It doesn’t care about someones environment, behavior, etc. Why is it so bad to correlate maturation, growth, and development to chronological age? Because these factors can be altered by the environment, genetics, desires of an individual, and those they interact with.
Next, we are going to look at why using chronological age standards to design a training program can be both dangerous and a disservice to the athlete.
Before we delve into the designing of a program, I want to take first take a moment and clarify the definition of strength and conditioning. Strength and conditioning should really be termed ‘movement therapy’ or ‘performance enhancement.’ As strength and conditioning professionals, we are primarily trying to reduce injury while optimizing performance. This is often accomplished through a myriad of different domains, protocols, and tactics. Unfortunately for the strength and conditioning professional, it is often presumed this will only involve overloading the human system with weight or strenuous exercise. However, as we will discuss at further length in one of our upcoming articles in this series, the goal of strength and conditioning is to stabilize, mobilize, and then maximize the human system.
Now, hopefully you can clearly see the issue with utilizing chronological age standards as the barometer for program creation and implementation (ie. No kids should lift before the age of 13). With this current example, we are assuming that all 13 year olds are at the same growth, maturation, and developmental stage as the rest of their peers. This is not only ridiculous to assume but as stated before, both dangerous and a disservice to a majority of that population.
So, how do we avoid this dilemma and circumvent the program creation pitfalls? One of the leading ways research has pointed to accurately assessing an athlete’s current stage of growth, maturation, and/or development is to consistently ascertain anthropometric measures.
Some of the anthropometrics we take on a consistent basis will include height, weight, girth measurements, sleep, diet, and stress levels. It is with these measures that we feel we can accurately and effectively ensure that our athlete is adequately prepared for the program we are providing from a daily and cyclical approach.
Although some may view this as over the top and not necessary, we view this approach as taking one more step further to redefining the youth athlete. There is a specific set of guidelines and protocols that need to be adhered to in order to ensure the best possible training experience of the athlete. These guidelines and protocols are governed by the current theories established through the latest research standards. It is with these standards that we hope to combine our invaluable experience and thirst for knowledge and advance our athletes to the height of their potential.
youth athletes love youth athletes because youth athletes are very similar to other youth athletes. Who doesn’t love youth athletes.