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Physical activity is needed for normal
growth and development and for young people to reach their potential in
muscle and bone development.
Sport is an ideal way to provide this necessary activity, as it also brings psychological and social benefits to young people.
For the best physical and skill development, consideration must be
given to factors related to growth and maturation to help with decisions
about grouping young people for participation and readiness for:
The development of a child is driven by three distinct processes;
growth, maturation, and adaptation. These have important implications
for training and competition.
Growth is the increase in overall body size with
changes in muscle, bone and fat and this affects motor skills. Growth is
Maturation is the genetically programmed series of
changes leading to maturity. These changes occur in the same sequence in
everybody, but there are great individual differences in:
Adaptation occurs as a result of external rather than genetic factors (e.g. intensive training).
The uneven spread in growth and maturation in young people of the
same age makes chronological age of limited value in determining the
developmental status of a young person. This creates challenges related
to opportunity, training and competition.
Opportunities (e.g. being selected to participate) may not be offered
to some young people because of their current developmental status.
Therefore, sport providers must:
Activities should be organised so young people have positive
experiences regardless of their developmental status. Young people and
their parents/carers should also focus on personal improvement and not
comparison with others of the same age.
The result is more young people having a chance to realise their
potential and expansion of the talent pool for future success in sport.
For the most part, training and sport activity is beneficial for the
best possible physical growth and development of young people.
However, it is important to remember that young people differ from
adults in the quality of their tissues and are not able to take the same
Consequently, training must be conducted differently for young
people, particularly if they are specialising and involved in a narrow
range of activities.
Injuries do occur on occasions but fortunately are usually
reversible. There are times during periods of growth when tissues are
For example, it takes considerable time for a bone that has
lengthened to become strong and for the muscles, tendons and ligaments
to grow to the new length of the bone.
The most common problem is soft tissue injuries (muscles, ligaments
and tendons) due to trauma or overuse. Rare problems include the risk
One area of increasing concern is low bone density in adolescent
girls where particular sports require leanness at the elite level (see Making sport safe – junior sport policy).
The high-energy expenditure of intense training accompanied by
restricted food intake can lead to menstrual dysfunction and precipitate
This in turn increases the risk of:
Healthy eating with sufficient energy for training is important to prevent a negative impact on growth and maturation.
For safety, young people in intense training should have qualified
coaches who plan training and competition schedules according to
individual needs. These should be:
Competition is an important part of sport because it provides challenge in applying, testing and developing skills.
However, the great variation in children of the same age in physical
aspects such as height, weight and strength results in the risk of
injury and psychological distress when young people are unevenly
It may be necessary to consider groupings based on criteria other
than age to favour a positive environment for young people continuing in
Handicapping is a way of allowing the participation in open
competition of young people with disabilities, or who are smaller or not
as strong as others.
Some young people are started in hard training early (e.g. five to
eight years) in the belief that this will increase the chances of
developing an elite athlete.
However, early success does not predict success later on. Many world-class adult athletes were not outstanding as children.
Expert opinion is that children 12 years and under should be
encouraged to participate in a wide range of activities requiring a
variety of motor skills before beginning to specialise in a single
sport, event or position.
In this way, the athleticism of young people is improved and late
developers are encouraged to stay in sports long enough to derive
benefit and satisfaction from their eventual maturity.
Some young people have the potential to become elite athletes and so
may wish to train seriously. Their progress is best catered for by:
A well-rounded approach is needed so that their educational and
social needs are not compromised. Consideration should also be given to
the difficulty of predicting at an early age the success or otherwise of
the future adult athlete.
While achieving and responding to challenges, young people must also
have fun. It is not in their best interest to have them concerned at an
early age about whether they are going to make the elite ranks. This
concern could manifest in overdoing training and competition and be
counter-productive. Let them enjoy moving up the pathways to success.
Young people grow and mature at different rates. Understanding the
implications of this can make sports participation more rewarding and
safer for young people if sports providers:
This information is part of a series covering the nine guidelines
outlined in the Junior Sport Framework (JSF) as developed by Sport
The information in this booklet has been reproduced with the permission of Sport Australia.
The guidelines cover topics to address the needs of young people in sport and include:
These booklets outline the main points of the guidelines to assist in
the delivery of best practice in junior sport and to encourage young
people to make a life-long commitment to sport.
A complete copy of the JSF is available on the Sport Australia website.
Do not submit enquiries with this form.