One of your players all of a sudden appears uncoordinated, slower than normal, off-balance and struggles to perform skills you thought were mastered long ago.
It takes no time at all to accurately diagnose the problem – Growth Spurt.
When trying to identify the reason a young player is struggling, this is by far the easiest. There’s no need to list the physical changes needed to identify a player going through a growth spurt. It’s safe to say you’ll know it when you see it.
Awkward is the best word to describe this phase of a player’s development. Everything is awkward. They are awkward in the way they run, the way they stop running, change directions, kick a ball, fall down, but their social and school life is awkward, as well.
The more impatient coaches among us have probably learned by now that pulling a kid aside and telling them “Hurry up and finish growing” doesn’t work. Luckily, there is some helpful information for coaches and parents on how to assist adolescent players continue skill development through that awkward stage.
The player’s performance at this stage in life is influenced by the rate of maturity, which is out of everyone’s control. And anyone who has ever seen a 13U or 14U soccer game knows all too well the rate of physical maturity varies wildly.
Players who mature early have a physical size advantage and often perform better than late-maturers. They experience more early success due to a physical growth advantage. It has little to do with advanced skills. Conversely, late-maturers experience failure and frustration because they are physically behind their friends, teammates and classmates.
Late-maturers often catch up to or exceed the performance of early-maturers by the mid-teen years, but only if they have stayed with the sport. Some drop out because of a lack of early success or, worse, are cut from the team.
Here’s the important part: a study by the U.S. Soccer Federation which “tracked ‘outstanding’ kids in elementary school found that only 25 percent were still outstanding in later years, suggesting that early success does not predict later success.”
What can we do to help balance the development of both the early-and late-bloomers?
Too Confident, Not Confident Enough
The player that towers over the opposition, is coordinated and can run away from the other team, can gain some misplaced confidence. The smaller, late bloomer, while possibly a more skilled player, can lose confidence because they are slower and have a difficult time playing among the taller trees.
Both have to understand the circumstances of this particular moment in their development.
US Soccer’s report on growth spurts suggests we “help early-maturers keep success in perspective as late-maturers will often catch up with them. Encourage the early-maturer to develop good technique and take on new challenges. Additionally, take active steps to keep late-maturers involved as they often leave sport because of low perceptions of competence due to little early success. Encourage and recognize individual improvement and avoid comparing athletic performances.”
It is also a good idea to be sure to find time for the smaller, late-maturers to be successful. Your team will play teams that provide great match-ups for your late-bloomers to have enough time and space to thrive.
Specific Physical Activity Helps
An article on Breaking Muscle, a sports science website, tell us that coaches of teams full of players going through growth spurts should be sure training sessions include overall fitness, movement-based strength, speed and agility and plyometric work.
- Movement-based strength includes running, squatting, jumping, lunging, pivoting, and rotating. Through repetition, these movements will be more rhythmic, which helps with overall strength and coordination.
- Speed and Agility. The article on Breaking Muscle says, “As athletes progress through growth spurts, they must relearn how to control their bodies in direction changes, changes of pace, and acceleration situations. They must relearn their balance points and readjust their center of gravity.”
- Plyometric exercises can help develop explosive strength, speed, and agility.
The danger for coaches is to forget the big picture and count too heavily on the big, tall early-bloomer and discount the smaller late-bloomer. Both have to be given equal, vastly different, attention.
Just remember, they won’t be growing forever, and you’ll know when it’s over. The player who one day resembles a baby giraffe trying to run, now reminds you of the young Forrest Gump when he breaks out of his leg braces.