upUgo : Sports and Fitness for Children


Growth and maturation is a common terminology we come across when it comes to sports training for children or athletics and children fitness. But do both these terms mean the same or are they different, and why is it such an important component to be understood in the process of training children for fitness and sports? 

So let’s dive into this topic and get an overview of this whole process.

Growth and maturation are two very different biological processes, and I’ll explain each of them separately.

Growth :

Growth refers to changes in body size which is height, weight, and fat to muscle ratio. External growth reflects the multiple internal changes occurring simultaneously within the child’s body. As legs and arms gradually lengthen, the heart and lungs will enlarge to deal with the higher oxygen demands of the growing muscles. There is a progressive increase in height for children until the age 14 for girls and 17 to 18  for boys. The typical female is slightly shorter than the typical male until they enter puberty, and girls enter puberty two years earlier than boys do, providing them with a brief height advantage. However, adult males are on average 12 centimeters taller than the adult female for two reasons. First, teenage boys grow for two additional years before entering puberty, and second, boys grow faster than teenage girls during puberty. Height is 80% inherited, while the remaining 20% is influenced by environmental factors such as nutrition, sedentary behavior, and disease. The importance of height is primarily sport-specific, it is a prerequisite for success in sports such as volleyball and basketball. However, being tall is typically a disadvantage for endurance runners as it hinders their athlete’s body fitness. Normal weight is associated with height, although obesity in children and young adults can change this relationship. Even though females stop growing in terms of height by age 14 or so, their weight continues to increase slightly after that. This added weight is usually fat and can be a disadvantage for teenagers associated with sports or undergoing sports training.

Maturation :

Maturation refers to the child’s progress towards sexual maturity. An increase in hormones,

such as testosterone, estrogen, and growth hormone, stimulate additional internal structural growth, further enhancing the physiological and physical capacity of the child. Muscle mass is particularly affected by hormones. There is a rapid growth period for a child during the first couple of years after birth, then the speed of growth gradually slows down until approximately the age of 9 for girls and age 11 for boys. Then again there is a very rapid acceleration of growth that begins at the onset of puberty. The period of accelerated growth in both height and weight is referred to as the growth spurt or peak height velocity ( PHV ). On average, girls enter into the growth spurt around 9 years of age and boys enter around 11 years of age, with the most rapid phase of growth lasting two to three years. About two years after peak height velocity, the rate of growth slows and finally stops. Maximum peak height velocity ( MPHV ), occurs at a mean age of 13.5 years for boys and 11.5 years for girls. In girls, menstruation begins around one year after peak height velocity, indicating that most of the growth spurt has finished. In boys, the adult voice appears about one year after maximum peak height velocity, and this indicates that the rapid phase of growth is ending. Before completion of the growth spurt, most of the increase in physical work capacity and specific movement skills acquired for both boys and girls is due to growth and maturation. A training effect is possible, but this is thought to be predominantly due to improvements in the nervous system that enhances coordination of the muscle fiber firing and sequencing. After puberty, the continued increase in physical work capacity and sports specific capacity is due to fitness training and sports. Now since each child has his/her own genetic ceiling, progress towards their genetic ceiling slows when the influence of growth and maturation is removed. After the young adult’s adaptation capacity is close to their genetic ceiling, they can continue to improve their performance by focusing on refining specific movement skills or sports capabilities and maintaining the level of physical work capacity with appropriate sports and fitness training.

Significance of Difference:

The significance of difference with respect to the physical performance of children is highly pertinent to some of the primary differentiators between Growth and Maturation enlisted above. As a child undergoes these changes there are possibilities of the child losing certain coordination factors temporarily with chances of injuries becoming high if training loads and methods are not modified appropriately. Therefore it is critical as a parent or a coach to take these factors into consideration when their children participate in any form of Physical Exercise or Sport to ensure a smooth transition for children in terms of health and fitness.

( All inputs in this article are validated with scientific research from Sports and Exercise science specialists )

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