Q: [Adolescents] My son has been very clumsy lately. Could this be from growth spurts?
A: As we watch our kids grow up, we see varying stages of their development that excite us. We see them get taller, their feet and hands grow, they get stronger, amongst other things.
With this development, we as parents expect more from our kids. What we tend to forget is that as they physically grow, it takes time for the rest of their bodies to catch up. Major growth spurts in adolescents occur between 12 and 16 in boys and 11 and 15 in girls. “During this time of growth, a child’s arms and legs are longer, hands and feet are bigger, making them harder to control until muscle strength and coordination catch up,” [according to] Dr. Chris Koutures, 2008 USA Olympic Team physician. This lag in strength and coordination turns into a child that now looks clumsy at times and does not perform as well in sports and other activities, leaving both the child and parent bewildered.
When growth spurts occur, what are we as parents, coaches and athletic trainers to do? As the body grows, typically, the bones elongate faster than the muscles do. This causes a decrease in flexibility and mobility, which can lead to both decreased performance and increased injuries such as muscle strains. So start stretching one to two times a day. Ken Martel, technical director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, notes that a good skater’s mechanics can go haywire seemingly overnight – so get back to the basics. Things that your child found easy prior to the growth spurt may now be difficult, so sometimes we need to simplify the process and take a few steps backwards in order to progress. This [is] also a time to get back to basics in the gym, focusing on squat mechanics on both two and one leg. Start the squats with little to no resistance and slowly progress the intensity with proper mechanics being the key. Balance, coordination and core exercises should also be a major focus at this time of growth.
Dealing with growth spurts can be trying at times. Understanding that there may be short-term regressions and being patient are some key points to long-term development.
Chris Phillips is an athletic trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, with over 20 years’ experience in professional hockey, football and soccer. Phillips has worked with hundreds of professional, Olympic and Hall of Fame athletes and is the owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Lake Forest.