Body changes during the Adolescent Growth Spurt (AGS) can temporarily diminish a player’s overall skill and speed and increase vulnerability to injuries.
The effects of AGS and its effects on core strength, postural control and performance—coordination, skill, speed, quickness, agility and technique—can be enormous while athletes struggle to adjust to their rapidly changing bodies.
New Shoes Again?
At their fastest, boys grow by four inches a year and girls by two-and-a-half inches a year. It’s no wonder teenagers are clumsy—their bodies shoot upwards at speeds their brains can’t keep up with. 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.
Medical aspects of AGS must also be noted. Shin splints, stress fractures and growth-plate injuries such as Osgood-Schlatter Disease are prevalent during the periods of fastest growth. Training regimes need to accommodate this; they should be temporarily modified during extreme growth spurts.
AGS starts at the outside of the body and works in. Hands and feet are the first to expand. Needing new shoes is the first sign. Next, arms and legs grow longer, and even here the “outside-in” rule applies. The shin bones lengthen before the thigh bones, and the forearms before the upper arms. Finally the spine grows. The very last expansion is a broadening of the chest and shoulders in boys, and a widening of the hips and pelvis in girls.
All of these considerations, combined with normal adolescent hormonal and emotional changes, can lead to lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. Adolescents need to be assured that they will regain their technical control and skills when the AGS has ended.
Skating in Spurts
The AGS has a negative impact on the learning process in general. During AGS, kids lose coordination and skill. Core strength, postural stability, concentration, technique, explosive power and foot speed are also affected.
During growth spurts kids don’t have the biological base of one-legged strength or the muscular endurance to get into a good skating position.
- On-ice practices should focus on skill and technique rather than on power.
- Off-ice work should include two-legged and one-legged exercises for coordination, balance and agility.
- Exercises to improve core strength and postural stability are critical.
- Heavy strength/power workouts should be postponed until the muscles are stronger.
Speed and explosive power should become part of skating patterns around puberty. The three to four years just after puberty are the most critical for developing foot speed and explosive power. Players can do on-ice and off-ice exercises for foot speed and explosive jumping (power), but always from a position of good knee bend and good posture.
It is very important to continue training for technique, power, quickness and foot speed during and after the AGS. Many players lose these qualities during their periods of rapid growth. While patterns are fairly well defined by puberty, the elements of explosiveness, quickness and efficiency can be improved after puberty and for several years beyond, as long as players have a solid base of skating mechanics and quick feet.