Effects of Puberty on Child Athletes


Prepubescent Body Goes Through Many Changes

Puberty affects boys and girls differently.

Growing up is a trying time for most kids, but can be especially challenging for the child athlete.  There are significant physical and psychological changes the prepubescent body experiences as it enters this stage of growth.

Today, many girls are experiencing their first menses as young as eight or nine years of age.  Many boys are beginning to enter this period of change between the ages of eleven and thirteen and a half.

Several of the changes brought about by this time period are easily recognizable and expected by parents.  For instance, a boys voice will crack and then change.  A girl will begin to have breast buds then breasts.  

Both sexes begin to grow pubic hair, hair in their armpits and even their voices will change.  Typically puberty is accompanied by increased sweating, body odor, pimples and mood swings.

Athletes may be more affected by these changes than their non-athletic counterparts.  There is a significant increase in the number of injuries experienced by adolescents going through these changes.

Coordination is often affected when a child is going through this time of rapid growth.  During a growth spurt, a child may grow as much as three – five inches. 

Oftentimes, this sudden increase in size may be accompanied by a temporary decrease in athleticism.  The child may appear awkward.  They may appear as if they are no longer graceful or in control of their movements.

They may appear to lose their coordination.  Even a child’s balance may seem to be affected as they are learning to  adjust to all numerous changes that their bodies are going through.  The danger is that  the formerly gifted young athlete may not recognize his temporary lack of coordination and this lack of care may result in injury.

Girls have to deal with the additional stress of menses and all of its accompanying hormonal changes..  We won’t even go into the question of why so many girls soccer shorts are white? 

Increased Risk of Growth Plate Fractures During Puberty

These tend to be very common during this life stage.  Growth plates are the region of growing bone tissue located near the ends of the long bones.  Growth plates are most weak during times of rapid growth, such as puberty.  Once a child has finished growing and reached his/her adult size, the growth plates will be replaced by regular bone that is less likely to fracture.

Growth plate fractures can be very serious.  In certain instances a fracture can result in something called a growth arrest.  This can cause  the permanent end of a bone’s growth.  There are a variety of issues that can be effectuated by this.

For example, if a long bone in the leg is affected, the child could end up with one leg shorter than the other. In some cases, only a portion of the growth plate is damaged resulting in an uneven growth pattern.

Increased Risk of Concussion

More boys seem to suffer from concussions in soccer than boys.  Some experts suggest that the increased hormones associated with puberty may result in athletes, young men in particular, displaying more aggression in their play.  When this is coupled with a body that is suddenly larger and more difficult to control, accidents and injuries can occur.