2. Fitness

When the Early and Late Bloomer Meet Up in Sports: Tips for Parents and Coaches

Millions of high school boys and girls take part in team sports on courts, in pools, on fields, and in gyms. Millions more join in recreational or competitive sports outside of school. Teen athletes who bloom early or late, however, may have special safety concerns—as will their parents.

The Problem:

As mentioned in Effects of Puberty on Sports Performance, going through puberty can have a significant impact on athletic performance in both positive and negative ways. Further, organized sports leagues tend to group kids by age instead of developmentally. Just as it is unrealistic to expect all children at the same age to achieve the same academic level, it is unrealistic to expect children at the same age to have the same physical development, motor skills, and physical capacity. Some children have a slow growth spurt, while others grow so fast they need a speeding ticket!

Late bloomers (especially boys) may experience this when paired with early bloomers side-by-side on the playing field. For example, two boys are both 14; one looks 9 while the other looks 19! Interesting and amusing as this may sound, it can create significant health and safety risks on the athletic field. You might as well have paired Tinkerbelle against Godzilla!

Reducing the Risk of Injury to Late Bloomers:

About 25% of human growth in height occurs during puberty. During this time, sports safety should be critically considered, as children are more vulnerable to injury during the adolescent growth spurt (AGS). As players get older, stronger and faster, injury rates increase.

There are measures that parents, coaches and athletes can take to help improve player safety:

  • Make sure equipment and safety gear fit your child properly—pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee, shin), helmets, mouthguards, face masks or goggles, protective cups, and shoes.
  • Coaches and officials need to enforce strict rules against headfirst sliding in baseball and softball to prevent head and spine injuries.
  • In football, have a zero-tolerance policy for head-first hits and other types of illegal tackles. These tackles can lead to severe injuries of the head and neck and are the leading cause of severe injuries in football. See the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, Tackling in Youth Football, for more information.
  • Expand non-checking ice hockey programs for boys 15 years and older, and restrict body checking to the highest competition levels starting no earlier than age 15. Coaches are encouraged to follow zero-tolerance rules against any contact to the head, intentional or not. Rules preventing body contact from behind, into or near the boards should also be reinforced. See the AAP policy statement, Reducing Injury Risk from Body Checking in Boys’ Youth Ice Hockey, for more information.  
  • Seek out coaches who are well-versed in the nuances of puberty and AGS. Lack of proper coaching education has also been identified as a key reason why many sports injuries occur.

Note: Some early bloomers are actually rather tall for their age, or heavier than normal. These characteristics may make them attractive to coaches for sports where height or girth is an advantage. However, it is important to remember that these children still have immature bones which are susceptible to injury.

A Note About Same-Sex vs. Coed Sports Teams:

Remember, the average age that puberty begins is much different for girls and boys. Around age 13, with a surge in testosterone, most boys are taller, heavier, faster, stronger, bigger, and more powerful than most girls. These discrepancies may place girls at a greater risk for injury and/or at an unfair disadvantage in sports.

For this reason, parents and coaches may move towards separating boys and girls over age 12 in sports and competition, particularly in contact or collision sports. However, if there is no team for girls in a certain sport, girls should be allowed to try out for a spot on the boys’ team (in fact, it’s the law in some states). 

Taking a Balanced Approach:

To support success during the period of adolescent growth, given all of the tremendous variations possible, the proper matching of competition is very important. The unfortunate fact is that today’s society places such a heavy emphasis on winning.

An early bloomer enjoys advantages simply due to their early size advantage and strength in comparison to peers. Parents and coaches can emphasize to young athletes that success depends on developing proper skills and not just relying on size. In comparison, there are many talented young athletes who are late bloomers who are funneled out of the developmental pipeline far too soon due to their temporary lack of ability at these younger ages. Many quit because they perceive their struggles to be a lack of competence instead of delayed physical growth. There are many famous athletes that were late bloomers: Tim Lincecum, Tom Brady, Michael Strahan, Anthony Davis, to name a few.

  • Parents: Do not get down if your child is not MVP. The important thing is that he or she continues to play and to develop, improve upon themselves, and learn new skills.
  • Coaches: Give all players your equal attention and the playing time each needs to develop his or her skills.

Talk to Your Child’s Pediatrician: 

Many parents can benefit by having frank discussions with their pediatrician about their child’s specific growth pattern so that they can be properly prepared for the road ahead. Whatever the rate of growth, many young teens have an unrealistic view of themselves and need to be reassured by their pediatrician that differences in growth rates are normal.

2. Fitness

Types of Exercise

Aerobic Exercise

A teen’s fitness program should include aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, basketball, bicycling, swimming, in-line skating, soccer, jogging—any continuous activity that increases heart rate and breathing. Regular workouts improve the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system, so that the heart and lungs don’t have to work as hard to meet the body’s increased demands for freshly oxygenated blood.

Aerobic exercise also affects body weight composition, by burning excess calories that would otherwise get converted to fat. In general, the more aerobic an activity, the more calories are expended. For instance, if a teenager weighing 132 pounds walks at a moderate pace for ten minutes, he burns forty-three calories. Running instead of walking more than doubles the amount of energy spent, to ninety calories.

Low-intensity workouts burn a higher percentage of calories from fat than high-intensity workouts do. However, the more taxing aerobic exercises ultimately burn more fat calories overall. One study compared the burn rates for a thirty-minute walk at three and a half miles per hour and a thirty-minute run at seven miles per hour. The walking group expended an average of 240 calories. Two-fifths came from fat, and three-fifths came from carbohydrates, for a total of ninety-six fat calories. In the running group, the ratio of fat energy burned versus carbohydrate energy burned was significantly less: one to four. Yet overall, the runners consumed 450 calories. Total number of fat calories burned: 108.

Weight Training

Under the guidance of well-trained adults, children aged eight or older can safely incorporate weight training (also called strength training and resistance training) into their workouts to increase muscle strength and muscle endurance. Muscle strength refers to the ability to displace a given load or resistance, while muscle endurance is the ability to sustain less-intense force over an extended period of time. Males will not be able to develop large muscles until after puberty. Females generally are not able to develop large muscle mass. They do not have to worry about getting too muscular.

The Proper Technique: Less Weight, More Reps

Multiple studies show that young people gain strength and endurance faster by lifting moderately heavy weights many times rather than straining to hoist unwieldy loads for just a few repetitions.

Teens should always be supervised by a qualified adult, who can help them and demonstrate the proper technique. For that reason, it’s safer to work out at school or at a health club than on home exercise equipment. Other precautions to take include the following:

See your pediatrician for a physical and medical checkup before your youngster starts training.

Remember that resistance training is a small part of a well-rounded fitness program. Experts generally recommend that adolescents exercise with weights no more than three times a week.

Don’t overdo it (part 1): Excessive physical activity can lead to injuries and cause menstrual abnormalities. Your teenager may be exercising too much if her weight falls below normal or her muscles ache. Complaints of pain warrant a phone call to your pediatrician.

Don’t overdo it (part 2): Teens should be reminded not to step up the weight resistance and number of repetitions before they’re physically ready. Getting in shape takes time.

Drink plenty of fluids when exercising. Young people are more susceptible to the effects of heat and humidity than adults. Teens’ ability to dissipate heat through sweating is not as efficient as adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that teens drink at least two six-ounce glasses of water before, during and after working out in steamy conditions.

Always warm up and cool down with stretching exercises before and after training. Stretching the muscles increases their flexibility: the ability to move joints and stretch muscles through a full range of motion, and the fourth component of physical fitness. It also helps safeguard against injury.

2. Fitness

Sports and Teens’ Visual Abilities

Maturation of the eyeball-to-brain pathways improves rapidly to enable more complex patterns of action. Now the brain can see an object, judge where and how fast it is going, and tell the body what to do to get there at the same time.

Isn’t it amazing how the body works? That ability did not occur because Johnny ate more Wheaties, had a personal trainer, or practiced 4 hours a day starting at age 2. Changes like that happen on a genetic time clock ticking away in the DNA coupled with good exposure to the sport.

Improvement in visual precision has an obvious effect for every sport. Being able to see the swimmer in the next lane while judging the distance to the wall can make all the difference in executing the best possible finish. Seeing where to place the tennis ball, volleyball, or basketball can lead to an ace serve or a made free throw.

Visual maturity will help wrestlers and martial artists carry out more difficult moves as their peripheral vision becomes more effective. The implications of visual maturity are obvious for all of the ball sports, as well as sports like diving, gymnastics, and skating that rely on visual markers to perform certain maneuvers.

2. Fitness

Physical Activities for Teens

  • Washing and waxing a car for 45 to 60 minutes
  • Washing windows or floors for 45 to 60 minutes
  • Playing volleyball for 45 minutes
  • Playing touch football for 30 to 45 minutes
  • Gardening for 30 to 45 minutes
  • Walking 13⁄4 miles in 35 minutes
  • Shooting baskets for 30 minutes
  • Bicycling 5 miles in 30 minutes
  • Dancing fast for 30 minutes
  • Raking leaves for 30 minutes
  • Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes
  • Performing water aerobics for 30 minutes
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes
  • Playing a game of basketball for 15 to 20 minutes
  • Bicycling 4 miles in 15 minutes
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes
  • Running 11⁄2 miles in 15 minutes
  • Shoveling snow for 15 minutes
  • Stair climbing for 15 minutes
2. Fitness

How Teens Can Stay Fit

What can I do to get more fit?

Any type of regular, physical activity can improve your fitness and your health. The most important thing is that you keep moving!

Exercise should be a regular part of your day, like brushing your teeth, eating, and sleeping. It can be in gym class, joining a sports team, or working out on your own. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Stay positive and have fun. A good mental attitude is important. Find an activity that you think is fun. You are more likely to keep with it if you choose something you like. A lot of people find it’s more fun to exercise with someone else, so see if you can find a friend or family member to be active with you.
  • Take it one step at a time. Small changes can add up to better fitness. For example, walk or ride your bike to school or to a friend’s house instead of getting a ride. Get on or off the bus several blocks away and walk the rest of the way. Use the stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator.
  • Get your heart pumping. Whatever you choose, make sure it includes aerobic activity that makes you breathe harder and increases your heart rate. This is the best type of exercise because it increases your fitness level and makes your heart and lungs work better. It also burns off body fat. Examples of aerobic activities are basketball, running, or swimming.
  • Don’t forget to warm up with some easy exercises or mild stretching before you do any physical activity. This warms your muscles up and may help protect against injury. Stretching makes your muscles and joints more flexible too. It is also important to stretch out after you exercise to cool down your muscles.

Your goal should be to do some type of exercise every day. It is best to do some kind of aerobic activity without stopping for at least 20 to 30 minutes each time. Do the activity as often as possible, but don’t exercise to the point of pain.

A Healthy Lifestyle

In addition to exercise, making just a few other changes in your life can help keep you healthy, such as

  • Watch less TV or spend less time playing computer or video games. (Use this time to exercise instead!) Or exercise while watching TV (for example, sit on the floor and do sit-ups and stretches; use hand weights; or use a stationary bike, treadmill, or stair climber).
  • Eat 3 healthy meals a day, including at least 4 servings of fruits, 5 servings of vegetables, and 4 servings of dairy products.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after any exercise (water is best but flavored sports drinks can be used if they do not contain a lot of sugar). This will help replace what you lose when you sweat.
  • Stop drinking or drink fewer regular soft drinks.
  • Eat less junk food and fast food. (They’re often full of fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar.)
  • Get 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or do drugs