Although athletic prowess is not a requirement for playing football as any Sunday morning park will testify, the physical demands placed on individuals at the highest levels of the game are significant. To this end the players’ development as athletes will enhance their chances of achieving a standard of football career which matches their skill and understanding of the game.
The coach ignores athleticism at their peril but in young players it is not the be all and end all; there is after all no guarantee the prepubescent athlete will still be able to perform in late teenage years and that the late developer will not end up with the athletic physique of an Adonis.
The complexities of coaching children who are experiencing a constantly changing process of simply ‘growing up’ can be difficult for the coach as well as the player.
This review is not prescriptive but merely raising awareness of the physical corner and its influences as a feature of player development.
It is not suggesting that current education provides the coach with all of the intervention tools in this particular physical toolbox. That said, recognition of the needs of the player, if discussed sensitively with all concerned, may offer the player support which could be highly beneficial.
Football ability will ultimately determine where players’ are to play. However, there are many influences on the final outcome and in this respect it is sensible to consider the physical contribution.
The level of coach education required to fully support players in all of “The 4 Corners” can be extensive. This article reviews the physical changes alongside the impact growth has on other areas, (e.g. technical, psychological and social development). Consequently, how we interpret ‘growth’ when described in conjunction with ‘maturation’ and ‘development’ has to be defined.
‘Growth’ is an increase in the size of the body as a whole or the size attained by specific parts of the body e.g. an increase in cell numbers, and/or an increase in cell size.
‘Maturation’ is more difficult to define than growth and is often described as the process of becoming mature.
Maturity in a physical sense varies with the biological system considered, for example:
Sexual maturity is a fully functional reproductive capability.
Skeletal maturity is a fully formed adult skeleton.
Maturation therefore refers to the tempo and timing of progress toward the mature state.
This is the fundamental distinction between “growth” and “maturation”.
Physical growth focuses on size
Maturation (in a physical sense) focuses on progress in, or rate of, attaining size
‘Development’ is a term often used in conjunction with, or involving both. Growth and maturation for this review also denotes a broader concept of progress, e.g. these features also interact to mould the child’s self-concept, the manner in which the child evaluates and perceives themselves. This is an indication of the range of influences that physical change can have on other areas and it should be reasonably clear therefore; that no one set of isolated phenomena describes a player’s growth, maturation and development.
Growth of the human body involves many complex processes many of which are outside our control. As such, understanding the basic changes at a more simplistic level may reduce our concerns regarding the complexity of growth. The growth phenomenon which impacts the developing player in football seeks to reflect the differences which arise from player to player. During the first two decades of life virtually all physical growth changes that are necessary for adulthood have become established. The timing of these changes and the rate at which changes take place vary enormously between different players. Bone growth (as with other structures up to full maturity) is constantly changing, albeit usually at a very slow rate. The changes are generally acceptable and will normally be accommodated by most children on a day to day basis. As such, even over some weeks, the process is gradual to the point of being insignificant from the player’s perspective.
Bone growth variations produce some irregular patterns which are mostly involving the growth of long bones, e.g. the bones found in legs and arms. Average height outside the growth spurt period may increase 5 centimetres per year. This tempo can be easily absorbed by players and their adaptations remain small to the point where the changes have little adverse effect on training and playing performances.
However, this pathway of change may go through more dramatic periods for some players. None more so than throughout the ‘adolescent growth spurt’. This phase generally occurs between twelve and fourteen years in boys and usually two years earlier in girls. During this period, skeletal height may increase to twice the rate previously experienced and by 11 centimetres per year. The change may be fast or slow, smooth or erratic and chronologically early or late; it’s these variations that make growing up the truly individual factor it surely is.
(Malina and Bouchard 1991)
The way we manage change in young players through difficult periods is a vital part of their development process and should be seen by the players as an encouraging and supported experience in football.
The variations in maturity, body size, strength and skill can also affect behavioural development both psychologically and socially; these factors can have considerable consequences throughout growth.
Response to any given stimulus may be as varied as shown here.
Understanding these differences at least offers some explanation as to why we get a particular response from one player and something very different from another.
Managing difference within training programmes is important. Producing sessions for varied stages of development and response is beneficial. As is striving to meet the individual needs of the players in order for them to participate and progress.
Given such variability among children and young players, it is necessary to provide appropriate activities whenever possible and to enhance the opportunity for learning and enjoyment in training.
Skeletal growth in early teens is capable of quickly undergoing change, e.g. children growing taller. Other structures (muscle, tendon and ligament) undergo slower change and this is often in response to bone growth, (for a given period these associated structures may be compromised, e.g. flexibility may be reduced whilst injury risk may increase). These adaptations may present problems for some players more than others when the rate of change is fast. The differences between the afore mentioned early or late change or the smooth or erratic experience has significant variability and may affect the players performances.
With these growth features arising during the early teens, we need to look at other periods which support effective and influential change. These are times when less change offers more favourable responses to the stimulus of conditioning players. For example; the late years of nursery school and throughout the primary school ages present opportunities for developing the foundations of movement, e.g. agility, balance, coordination and speed (the a, b, c’ s). This gradual period of growth allows children to adapt more easily to these activities whilst growing up. Although height and weight gains are more obvious to the naked eye; it is the less obvious features that have to be considered when judging responses to growing up. Children learn and adapt through these phases and the impact on the technical, psychological and social development cannot be ignored.
Given that football is a competitive physical game, physical size and strength are advantages that can offer dominance over opponents, (these benefits can also have adverse outcomes – we will come back to this discussion) therefore players who are physically mature may enjoy early success but this may be at the expense of other factors. For example
Do the early physical developers learn the same lessons as the physically late developers?
Do the early physical developers feel the need to concentrate on developing the foundations of; agility, balance, coordination and speed at the younger ages?
Does the ‘catch up’ period apply to all players at different ages?
Consider the goalkeeper – is this tall player different? Genetics influence height whilst the player’s lifestyle and behaviours will affect development.
Early developers often demonstrate:
good passing techniques which could be affected by other influences – e.g. strength
exceptional power to weight ratio – e.g. masters the body
less change and adaptations to undergo during mid teens
early confidence which may be derived from comparing with other same age players
Late developers may be:
demonstrating poor body power to weight ratios
relearning distances and angles – often very quickly during mid teens
clumsy and out of proportion – particularly as goalkeepers
uncoordinated as goalkeepers regarding fine and gross body movement
adjusting to ball speed – depth and width assessment
making questionable decisions – sees it, but body and mind out of sync
self-conscience of full body image
adjusting to speed of nerve transmission and reaction time
trying to master the body and the mind
learning to cope with external and internal forces – opposition miss-match
coming to terms with the complex mix of The 4 Corners
SOME TIPS AND HINTS
Do consider the social, emotional and cognitive stages of development.
Do ensure that all players have solid foundation skills.
Do modify expectations of player’s, coaches and parents in accord with maturity.
Don’t mistake levels of physical maturity for maturity in other areas
Don’t assume current success as an indicator of proficiency
Don’t over burden players that represent the more extreme early or late developer
In reviewing ‘difference’ it would be remiss not consider age as an influential factor.
This dimension at school ages reflects a bias towards selecting the older player in any year classification and is referred to as the ‘Relative Age Effect’ (RAE) or ‘Seasonal Bias’.
The benefits of being older within a year group often includes
Peer age group
A recent study of 8,000 schoolboy players in professional clubs demonstrates this phenomenon:
Sep to Dec – 56% of those in professional clubs
Jan to Apr – 28% of those in professional clubs
May to Aug – 16% of those in professional clubs