We have all seen the awkwardness that accompanies a period of growth for youth athletes. Some of us have even experienced it. The fastest runner on the team begins tripping over his or her feet. The once graceful dancer is all arms and legs. The number-four batter moves down in the lineup because he or she can’t get the timing right.
Adolescent Growth Spurts (AGS)
According to the book Bright Futures in Practice: Physical Activity, published by Georgetown University, a temporary decline in coordination and balance may occur during puberty because of rapid growth. In many cases, this decline is not only demonstrated through sports performance, but also in regular physical activity. This experience can be frustrating for coaches, trainers, youth athletes, and parents, particularly if this decrease in athleticism is interpreted as a lack of skill or effort.
“Based on sports fundamentals, AGS training should focus on movement-based strength, overall fitness, speed and agility, plyometric work, and instilling confidence.”
Knowing that adolescent growth spurts (AGS) and the accompanying athletic awkwardness are normal in this phase of puberty does not make it any easier for the youth athlete. As well as physically affecting sports performance, AGS can also affect athletes socially and mentally. It can also have detrimental effects on core strength, postural control, and performance – including skill, speed, coordination, and agility – as athletes struggle to adjust to their rapidly growing and changing bodies.
Youth athletes need to know they are not alone in experiencing a lack of coordination and balance during and after growth spurts. In her article, Hockey Training During the Adolescent Growth Spurt, Kelly Anton explains:
At their fastest, boys grow by four inches a year and girls by two-and-a-half inches a year. As height increases, the center of gravity lifts. This happens so quickly that the brain does not get a chance to calculate the new rules for balance. On average, boys grow fastest between 14 and 15 and girls grow fastest between 12 and 13. Girls finish their growth spurt at 18 while boys need another two years before they finish growing at about 20.
Adolescent coaches and trainers recognize the physical changes that occur during AGS can decrease overall skills, speed, coordination, and agility. Coaches, trainers, parents, and athletes must also be aware of the athlete’s susceptibility to training injuries, especially during and after AGS.
How to Deal With AGS
The good news is that coaches and trainers who are aware of AGS can help alleviate and reduce athletic awkwardness by incorporating specific aspects of training into practices and training sessions. The Soccer Speed & Agility Clinic ebook, published by the Soccer Fit Academy, addresses these particulars of training. Although this book is geared specifically to soccer players, the common-sense approach of training through AGS is applicable to youth athletes of every sport.
Based on sports fundamentals, AGS training should focus on the following five factors:
- Movement-based strength
- Overall fitness
- Speed and agility
- Plyometric work
It is important to note that while AGS is considered phased training, the fundamentals may be used separately or may be merged. The emphasis in AGS training, as opposed to a regular training session, is that particular attention is paid to the execution of proper biomechanics through all aspects of training for a growing athlete.
Progressing from this point, coaches and trainers can start to increase the load and intensity of the drills as athletes become stronger and more confident in the movements.
1. Movement-Based Strength
Beginning with movement-based strength, coaches and trainers should look at the basic movements of the specific sport. Across the board, most movements will center on running, squatting, jumping, lunging, pivoting, and rotating. The object in this phase of training is to make these movements more rhythmic in nature through repetition, through recruiting correct movement patterns, and through building confidence in movement strength.
After these movement patterns are mastered, speed is added, with specific attention paid to performing drills without losing form. Progressing from this point, coaches and trainers can start to increase the load and intensity of the drills as athletes become stronger and more confident in the movements.
2. Overall Fitness
The second phase of AGS training is overall fitness, which is defined as the level of play that allows an athlete to perform optimally. Pre-season conditioning is largely responsible for the overall fitness of an athlete, the focus of which should be optimal athletic performance late in the game and late in the season. In addition, fitness largely contributes to decreasing sports injuries.
3. Speed and Agility
In off-season training, building a strong speed and agility base follows closely with the first two goals of training through AGS. 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. Again, stressing the repetition of correct movement patterns, with a gradual increase of speed and intensity, is key to developing speed during and after AGS.
“The athlete must believe in his or her training, his or her abilities and skills, and his or her past experiences in order to prepare for and perform well in an event.”
Plyometric exercises are the final physical phase of AGS training. As discussed earlier, this area can be merged into other areas of training, especially with strength training, to help develop explosive strength, speed, and agility.
Confidence is taught and worked on throughout all phases of AGS training. The athlete must have confidence in the hours spent mentally and physically preparing for the event – the repetitions, the workouts, and the coaching.The athlete must believe in his or her training, his or her abilities and skills, and his or her past experiences in order to prepare for and perform well in an event.
Take Time to Work the Basics
Speed and agility, as well as other sports skills, don’t just reappear after growth has slowed or stopped. That means coaches and trainers must understand how to retrain athletes in their movement patterns. To do this, the training program must emphasize movement, rhythm, and coordination over strength, fitness, and power.
This is not to say that strength, fitness, and power are not important. They are absolutely essential to an athlete’s optimal performance, but in relation to sports performance and AGS, they must come after the athlete’s mastery of movement, rhythm, and coordination.
By implementing a training program that accommodates AGS, coaches and trainers can alleviate coordination and balance issues, decrease athletic awkwardness and injuries, and help young athletes reach optimal performance levels.
1. Georgetown University. Bright Futures in Practice: Physical Activity, 2001. Accessed 10/19/14.
2. Anton, Kelly. “Hockey Training During the Adolescent Growth Spurt.” Accessed 10/19/14.
3. Soccer Fit Academy. Soccer Speed & Agility Clinic eBook. Accessed 10/16/14.
4. Bright Futures at Georgetown University. Physical Activity Developmental Chapters: Middle Childhood.Accessed 10/19/14.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.