Youth who are successful at early ages are often the ones who enter puberty earlier than their friends. They gain confidence early as they are able to outperform other youth on a regular basis. If possible, these young athletes should be given opportunities to be challenged and train or compete with others of the same maturity level. They should remember that many of their physical advantages will eventually disappear as their peers grow and catch up. In the haste of quick growth and easy sports success, many of these adolescents do not spend the necessary time continuing to perfect their skills. Big mistake! It is still important to concentrate on perfecting the skills of the sport or activity. If your teenager performs better with unrefined raw skills simply because she is bigger and stronger than the other players, she may be unpleasantly surprised when peers catch up and perform better because they have attained a higher skill level.
One of the most dangerous aspects for early maturing children is when their winning ways become expected. Coaches and parents become excited about a child’s abilities, but the pressure gets turned up when everyone else catches up, becomes the same size, and winning is no longer easy. This pressure can be turned up so much that it causes the child to overtrain and become injured or emotionally shut down and lose heart completely. Hence, the high school star who never produces during college sports or quits because of burnout. Finding opportunities to have your athlete compete or at least train with those who are similarly developed may help lessen these pressurized risks.
If your child’s growth spurt is not early or just right, it is late. Latebloomers or late maturers fall into 3 categories—small, overweight, and tall. Late bloomers who are small need guidance about changes to expect as they start to mature and grow. In the meantime, one of the ways to prevent unrealistic expectations is by directing them to sports that are not as dependent on physical size, such as swimming, tennis, martial arts, running, diving, soccer, and gymnastics. Late-maturing kids who are largely overweight may appear perfect to fill the football linebacker position or girl’s heavyweight wrestling spot, but their late maturity increases their risk of injury. Even with all that size, they still have bones with immature growth plates and less strength to protect themselves from the opponents of the same size who have already gone through puberty. Late bloomers who are tall may be recruited for the volleyball or basketball team, but until they reach puberty, they may not have the strength or endurance of their peers. The “clumsy teenager” phase may also affect their performance while their teammates have already passed through that stage. Your child should not be held at fault. These circumstances can often be hard for active youngsters to understand, especially if adult figures do not offer correct knowledge, information, or positive support. Knowing what is happening is the first stage of avoiding a potential crisis.
It should be clear now that the physical aspects of youth play a strong role in their ability to participate in sports and exercise. Adolescents are going through such phenomenal changes, self comparison, and identity investigation that sports do not need to be another straw on the camel’s back. Please do not get hung up on developmental deficiencies you can do nothing about. This is not the Da Vinci code. There is no secret to crack. Just understand the process. Understand the stages. Cheer their smallest success. Cheer their best effort. Support them doing exercise. Support them doing sports. Support their athletic and nonathletic endeavors. Support them as your children—period.