Young players, especially teens, go through growth spurts and sudden mood and behavioral changes. Both boys and girls experience these types of changes, though girls will mature a bit earlier than boys. Girls typically experience maturation between eleven and thirteen years of age, while boys go through their peak growth between ages thirteen and sixteen. Also, girls will progress through their adolescence more quickly than the boys. This is often attributed to the fact that boys end up significantly taller than their female counterparts.
As a coach who is leading and therefore responsible for young players, it’s critical for you to have a good understanding of how growth and development affects your players.
So what exactly do we mean when we talk about growth and development?
Growth is specific to increase in height, weight, and other physical changes. During puberty, growth occurs in the longer bones of the arms and legs, while the trunk of the body widens through the midriff, shoulders, and hips.
Certainly, you’re familiar with terms like gangly, lanky, and lacking coordination. These and other descriptions are often used in reference to younger teens. However, finding their feet (pardon the pun), shouldn’t take too long. The players just need some time to adjust to their new bodies.
How can you spot growth spurts? Take a look at these seven signals that indicate a player between the ages of twelve and sixteen is either experiencing or about to enter a growth spurt:
Arms and legs suddenly become disproportionately long.
The boys become more muscular.
As girls enter womanhood, their bodies get rounder due to a natural increase in body fat.
Because their bodies are out of sync, coordination becomes poor.
Note that girls’ height increases prior to weight gain, whereas with boys the reverse is true.
Acne will appear on some kids’ faces and other parts of their bodies.
Facial and body hair start to show up.
Eventually, puberty slows down. Males will reach full maturity at around eighteen to twenty years of age, while females reach full maturation between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. Their parents will play a large role in determining how fully a player matures, both through genetic contribution and through diet and exercise, and overall lifestyle.
Is playing soccer good for players in these age groups?
A coach must understand the development process and be able to identify both the advantages and disadvantages that puberty incurs on the players, the team, and the game. It’s especially important to know that not all players will go through these spurts at the same time, or at the same ages.
It’s beneficial to adapt your training program and use techniques and skills that are appropriate for the players. For example, if one player suddenly becomes a bit gangly and loses coordination, then practicing intricate footwork, close control dribbling, and tuning work might only frustrate that player and make soccer training suddenly seem a lot less appealing because it’s become more difficult.
However, you should also train players to their strengths. If they’ve become bigger and stronger, then you have a golden opportunity to work on challenging for the ball or longer range passing.
What adjustments can be made to training sessions?
Some coaches regard adolescence as an ideal time to engage in “proper training,” based on the belief that since players have recently acquired more adult-like bodes, they require longer periods of practice and fitness training. However, between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, rapidly developing bodies are changing, adapting, and undergoing severe structural changes. This causes the body to be especially vulnerable to stress, which is commonly experienced through training and playing.
Injuries common to kids in this age group are stress fractures and joint injuries. This is due to developing bones and joints that have been subjected to repeated strain and impact.
Here are a couple of pointers:
Always make sure you facilitate solid warm up sessions that include jogging as well as both static and dynamic stretches.
Keep the focus on technical aspects of training.
Avoid excessive demands on physical framework.
Don’t overdo fitness training.
Keep an eye on the players’ progress and development during their growth spurts.
Pay attention to any problems that may be associated with growth or overindulgence.
You should also be aware of the fact that during these types of growth phases, the lengthening of bones is usually greater than the lengthening of muscle, which puts the muscles under more strain. If that strain is ongoing, then damage can occur and osteochondritis may occur. Symptoms of osteochondritis include localized pain, tenderness, and swelling. These symptoms commonly occur just below the knee joint (Osgood-Schlatters disease) and at the base of the heel (Sever’s disease). When young players complain of any such symptoms, you should counsel them to seek medical advice immediately.
Do note that this is just a general overview. We are not medical experts and if you are concerned about the health or well being of any of your players, you should consult a medical professional.
Am I supposed to keep tabs on all the sports that all my players play?
You might encourage players to keep a sports, fitness, and exercise journal. This way, they can record their physical activities. You can review their journal entries to get an idea of how often they are engaging in activities that may cause physical strain. Check our templates section in the downloads area to find a sample sports and diet log.
The important thing is for you, the coach, to keep your players’ development in mind. They will need plenty of rest (the body needs time to repair and continue its growth). Make sure there is a proper off season when the players get a break from playing soccer. This is vital because it’s something that you have control over, so whatever you do, limit the number of summer tournaments that your players participate in.