The Adolescent Growth Spurt in Young Athletes
You've heard it many times. "My Tommy is just falling behind. He hasn't hit his growth spurt." -or- "My Cindy grew 6 inches in the last year! Talk about a growth spurt!" Here are a few things you should know about your athletes adolescent growth spurt.
Only babies grow faster than we do in our growth spurt. It is a time of rapid change in height, weight, strength and speed.
It will happen when it happens. For boys, the average age of the growth spurt is about two years behind the average age for girls. If you haven't noticed, 5th - 7th grade girls frequently skew taller than the boys their age. The growth spurt is why.
The age that the primary growth spurt starts can vary tremendously. Almost all kids will hit the spurt between 8 and 16 years of age. By 16, almost all have reached their adult height, though muscular development will continue for a bit longer.
The average age of the growth spurt for girls is 10 and for boys is 12. The male growth spurt results in greater growth during the growth spurt and explains the average height of a male exceeding that of the average female.
Why do we go through this "spurt"?
In a word, it is tied to puberty. As our bodies begin to produce specific hormones in greater quantities, the body responds with an acceleration in the rate of growth. During this cycle, adolescents can gain several inches in height over the course of a single year.
In terms of growth spurt averages, girls grow 9 inches and gain 15-55 lbs during puberty. Boys grow 11 inches and gain up to 65 lbs.
Are there mini-growth spurts?
There are multiple "seasons" of childhood where kids seem to grow faster. Interestingly, studies show that they grow fastest in the spring. Kids typically grow 1-2 inches per year prior to the growth spurt, but even in the same child, this annual growth can swing considerably from year-to-year.
Signs that your youth is in their growth spurt
Foot Growth - The foot is usually the first sign of the growth spurt. At younger ages, you'll buy new shoes every 6-9 months. During the growth spurt, you could be sizing up ever 3-4 months!
Joints - Joints can also precede long bone growth, resulting in knobby looking limbs and shoulders. Don't worry, everything catches up over time.
Width - Boys shoulders spread, and for girls, it's the hips (really).
Appetite - Need I say more? Especially boys, but girls eat more too. Appetites go through the roof and you begin to wonder where they are putting it. Don't chastise them. The increased intake is because the body is asking them to provide more to fuel the growth.
Frequent snacking - They may feel hungry almost hourly. Make the snacks healthy and you can positively fuel the growth. Left to their own devices, they will fill those hunger pangs with hollow foods that don't help anything.
So how can you help them through this time?
I'll leave the hormonal, attitudinal, and emotional conversations to someone better qualified.
If you want to help them develop physically and athletically during this time, I recommend the following:
1. Feed them well - Lots of protein (60-80 grams/100lbs of weight)
2. Feed them often - Don't let them get super hungry and "binge" eat
3. Keep Healthy Snacks available - Hide the chips, cookies and cakes. Pick up nuts, fruits and jerkies.
4. Seek Athletic Training - In many cases, kids have to retrain their bodies to move during puberty and the growth spurt. The added frame and height is foreign and they must learn how to move athletically all over again.
The growth spurt is a fantastic period for young athletes. They see themselves become quicker, stronger and more powerful. Don't forget that it is a period where the wrong foods can limit its impact and that proper fueling and training can maximize the positive athletic changes that come about as a result of this time.