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Have you ever watched junior sport and observed the differences between the height and weight of children and adolescents participating?
While size differences are also evident in senior sport, at a junior level some participants may have a performance advantage over their peers purely based on the timing of their adolescent growth spurt.
In recent research conducted by Dr Paul Gastin from the Centre for Exercise and Sports Science, the level of biological maturity has been shown to influence running performance in junior Australian football.
“We have clearly demonstrated that more mature players in an age group have a performance advantage over their less mature peers," he said.
"They are taller, heavier and faster. Most significantly, this translates into enhanced performance on the playing field.”
Results were observed across the football development pathway (U11 - U19) and then confirmed in a follow-up study looking more closely at the U15 age group where differences are greatest.
Dr Gastin, who has just returned from the European Congress of Sport Science, where he presented the findings.
“At a junior level, differences in size and maturity can unfortunately result in undesirable outcomes such as selection bias, differences in skill and fitness development, injury and drop-out," he said.
“Coaches, sports administrators and parents need to be aware of these differences and junior sport inequalities, and strive to implement programs that cater for individual needs.
"Late maturers will eventually catch-up, so it’s important not to further disadvantage them in their developmental years only to find they have dropped out or moved to a different sport.”
The research contributes to a growing body of research from Centre for Exercise and Sports Science in Australian football and field team sports.
This includes multi-disciplinary and cross-faculty work at elite (AFL), junior elite (TAC-Cup) and junior recreational levels.
Slider photo of Joel Selwood courtesy of the AFL. The image cannot be reproduced without the permission of the AFL.