Teen Growth Spurts and Sports

A growth spurt can be tough on a tween or teen athlete.

Teen growth spurts are tough on sports
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Among the many joys of puberty is the growth spurt. For kids who play sports, the growth spurt has its pros (greater height and power!) and cons (a lack of coordination, for one). Here's what to look for and how to help your tween or teen as puberty suddenly packs on the inches and pounds.

When Does the Teen Growth Spurt Happen?

In girls, the growth spurt usually starts when puberty does. This is usually somewhere between ages nine and 12.

Growth peaks about two years after the process starts (usually around the time a girl gets her first period) and stops for good about two years after that.

In boys, puberty starts a little later, usually at around 11 or 12 years old. As with girls, the whole process takes three or four years to complete. In boys, the growth spurt starts with the hands and feet. They grow first, followed by the arms, legs, and torso.

And what do we mean by "spurt" anyway? After speedy growth in the toddler years, kids typically slow down to a growth rate of about two to two-and-a-half inches a year. But during puberty, they might grow as much as three to three-and-a-half inches a year (girls) or four inches a year (boys). No wonder it's disorienting!

How Does the Growth Spurt Affect Sports?

If your child plays sports, look out for the growth spurt for three big reasons.

First: Injuries. Overuse injuries, like sprains and strains, can happen more easily during a growth spurt.

The bones are growing faster than the muscles and tendons, which means those tissues can get stretched out and strained more easily. Some kids develop knee pain, such as Osgood-Schlatter disease, or heel pain, such as Sever's disease. Both of those can be related to the combination of overuse and rapid growth.

That fast, uneven growth can also lead to injuries from falling or other problems with coordination.

Second: Equipment. If you can avoid it, don't invest in expensive sporting equipment right now. For example, I chose to get a less expensive boot for my daughter's figure skates when I bought them prior to her growth spurt. Of course, this isn't always safe or avoidable (and believe me, I still spent plenty on the boots!). But it's something to be aware of when you're shopping.

Third: Changing abilities. It takes some time for kids to adjust to their growing bodies. During the growth spurt, their balance and coordination can suffer. Kids must get used to a new center of gravity. Even some sport-specific skills, like ball handling, can be affected.

What Sports Skills Should Kids Work On Now?

The first step is to keep growing athletes safe. Lots of muscle stretching and strengthening can help prevent overuse injuries (although there is no guarantee). Some coaches find that going back to basics is important during this time.

They make sure that their players are working on basic fitness and the fundamental skills for their chosen sport.

Then, as kids get used to their new size and strength, they can work on becoming faster and more powerful in their sport. It's also critical to build their confidence during what can be a very frustrating time. Help your child understand that what she's experiencing is normal. If she keeps up her hard work, she'll come out of this experience stronger than ever.

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