In our previous articles we touched on the concepts of Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) and Physical Literacy. As mentioned, LTAD is a framework that serves to guide the participation, training, competition, and recovery pathways in sport and physical activity from infancy through all phases of adulthood. At Novanta, LTAD guides our programming and planning. It ensures that what we design and implement at each age group is appropriate for the athletes. When planning ‘age-appropriate’ activities it is important to not only consider chronological age (how old an athlete is) but also the developmental age of the individuals. Although a group of athletes can be of the same chronological age (e.g. 12 years old) they will most likely be at varying stages of development and therefore cannot be treated the same. Recognizing these differences in individuals and creating appropriate programming for them is vital to their physical development. This is where measuring, and monitoring growth and maturation comes in hand. In the following sections we’ll describe what growth and maturation are, how we measure them, and how we use our measurements to optimize our program design for each group.
Although often used interchangeably, and simultaneously growth and maturation, are two distinct concepts. We’ll begin by defining growth, followed by maturation and introduce a concept related to the two; Peak Height Velocity (PHV).
Growth: refers to observable, step-by-step, measurable changes in body size such as height, weight, and percentage of body fat (1).
Maturation: refers to changes in structure and function in the athlete’s progress toward maturity; for example, in the change of cartilage to bone in the skeleton, in changes to teeth (baby to adult teeth), in changes to sex organs, or in changes in body proportions. Maturation takes place at varying rates and at different times in each individual (1).
Peak Height Velocity (PHV): is the maximum rate of growth in stature during the adolescent growth spurt. The age of maximum velocity of growth is called the age at PHV (1).
Measuring growth is relatively straight-forward. At Novanta, we track growth by measuring an athlete’s height, seated height and weight at regular intervals throughout the year. Maturation on the other hand is more complex to measure. The most reliable measurements are either too invasive to perform consistently with youth athletes or involve looking back at growth data to identify events during maturation, like PHV, once the individual has already passed them (2). For this reason, we use the growth data collected, the sex of the athlete, and readily available equations (2) to predict years before PHV. By predicting years before PHV we are able to have a measure of an athlete’s developmental age (their maturation) and can use this alongside their chronological age (2).
Once the data has been collected and we have a measure for each athlete’s predicted years before PHV, we then use these values to plan our training sessions and make modifications for training groups and individuals within those groups. One way we do this is by using sensitive periods. These are times during a person’s development where specific behaviours or adaptations (e.g., strength, speed, agility, flexibility, coordination, endurance) are believed to have a greater response to training or experiences than at other times (1). This doesn’t mean that we can’t get stronger or faster outside of these sensitive periods, just that these systems are thought to have optimal trainability during those times, and we can take advantage of this knowledge. We don’t have to spend most of each session or year trying to bring out a specific adaptation however, we can use our data to guide us in creating a program and plan that is optimal for the athlete. (Figure 1.)
A developing young athlete experiences a variety of changes going from pre-adolescence to post-adolescence. Measuring and tracking growth and maturation allows us to continuously be aware of these changes and account for them. This awareness not only serves as a guide when we plan our training sessions but also impacts our daily interactions with the athletes and our expectations of them. It helps us create an optimal training environment for our athletes to thrive in.
- Long-Term Development In Sport and Physical Activity 3.0 (2019). Retrieved from https://sportforlife.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Long-Term-Development-in-Sport-and-Physical-Activity-3.0.pdf
- Wormhoudt, R., Savelsbergh, G.J.P., Teunissen, J.W., & Davids, K. (2017). The Athletic Skills Model: Optimizing Talent Development Through Movement Education (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315201474
- West, E. (2018, January 2). 12U Q-and-A: Playing with the Boys. ADM Kids. https://www.admkids.com/news_article/show/869029.
Photo courtesy of Samuel Ramos – Unsplash