Most youth sporting organizations have age classifications for most sports programs. For example, an organization may break their age categories into the following:
This classification system uses chronological age to separate youth in effort to level the playing field. In reality however, there is a distinct difference between chronological age and biological age. Biological age refers to the stage of physiological growth and development that the individual is at. For instance, two different 13 year old boys can be born in the same month, but can develop and mature at significantly differently times. One may have already hit puberty and acquired some adult male characteristics. The other athlete may not yet have reached this stage of physical development and therefore, individual training type, intensity and duration may not be appropriate for the athlete with a younger biological age. One parameter used to assess a child’s biological age status is with the peak height velocity. Peak height velocity simply refers to the maximum velocity of growth in stature during adolescence (i.e., when the athlete is going through his main growth spurt).
Some recent research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine evaluated injury incidence among high level soccer players based on timing of their adolescent growth spurt. A total of 26 soccer players between the ages of 11 – 13 were followed for a 3 year period around their peak height velocity. Throughout the 3 year follow-up period, injuries were documented according to the guidelines of the FIFA consensus statement. Following the evaluation period, the researchers divided the athletes into early and late maturing groups.
Statistical analysis revealed that late maturing players experienced a significantly higher overuse injury incidence compared to the early maturing group, both in the year before and the year of peak height velocity (3.53 vs. 0.49 overuse injuries/1 000 h of exposure and 3.97 vs. 1.56 overuse injuries/1 000 h of exposure, respectively).
Based on these results, the authors caution coaches and trainers to be mindful of the training loads they put on players who are late developers, as these individuals appear to be more at risk of injury between 13.5 – 14.5 years of age. In order to maximize development and minimize injury risk, the authors encourage coaches to structure training programs based on relative maturity. This may involve reducing playing time in competitions and reducing volume and/or intensity of strength and conditioning work.
Van der Sluis, A., et al. (2015) Importance of Peak Height Velocity Timing in Terms of Injuries in Talented Soccer Players. Int J Sports Med, Ahead of print.