Youth and Adolescent Athletic Development

Injury rates of youth and adolescent athletes is on the rise (especially in females) and the demand for "here and now" type training is setting youth athletes up for failure. These injuries are often preventable and cause by puberty, development, sport specific training and overuse. Undersatnding how the body develops and reacts to physical activity is paramount to keeping youth athletes injury free and performing at a high level. The common phrase with youth athletes is "They just need to get stonger" that statement maybe true but there is a right way to do that and PROFORM prides itself on developing athletes for long term success.

PROFORM is a firm believer in the Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) pathways. This is set of stages that tell you what a person or athlete should be doing at different ages and stages of development.

LTAD can be best described by looking at the way we teach kids in the school setting. We teach kids things as the appropriate times and stages of development i.e. we do not teach calculus to 3rd graders. Unfortunatley when it comes to physical development we do not apply the same philosophy. Too often coaches or unqualified trainers are asking kids to do things way above their neuromuscular maturity.

To learn more watch the video at the bottom of this page, follow the link below or Google LTAD

As children grow and develop in a normal environment, they completely balance themselves by running, jumping, pushing, pulling, throwing, and kicking things. Most children, once they gain body control, can pass the Functional Movement Screen with minimal difficulty. During adolescence and puberty, asymmetrical growth occurs between the legs and the upper torso. This imbalance brings about changes in the child’s movement patterns. The lower extremity almost always demonstrates stiffness in the hips and ankles, including tightness in the lateral hip musculature and hamstrings. This creates an obvious awkwardness to adolescent movement. Many adolescents are unable to rebalance themselves after puberty while some continue to display the same movement patterns through adulthood. It just so happens that most court and field sports are begun during the adolescent years, thereby imposing a secondary demand onto the movement system.




Youth sports injuries are on the rise and the age of athletes affected by overuse injuries seems to be getting younger. Youth athletes often begin competitive sports as early as age 7 years, with some participating in organized sports activities as early as age 4, if not sooner. Youth sports injuries are the second leading cause of emergency room visits for children and adolescents, and the second leading cause of injuries in school.

Children and adolescents ages 5 to 14 years account for 40% of sports related injuries for all age groups. The highest rates of injury occur in sports that involve contact and collision, and about 62% of sports-related injuries occur during practice. Consider the following statistics: 28% of football players, 25% of baseball players, 22% of soccer players, 15% of basketball players, and 12% of softball players in organized sports will sustain an injury between the ages of 5 and 14 years old.

Physical activity is necessary for normal growth and development in children. However, when the activity level becomes too intense in a short time period, tissue breakdown and injury can occur. In the past, overuse injuries were more frequently seen among adult recreational athletes, but are now appearing much more frequently among youth. Overuse is considered excessive and repeated use resulting in injury to the bones, muscles, or tendons involved in the action. The single biggest contributing factor to the increase in youth sports injuries is the focus on more intense, repetitive, and specialized training along with year-round participation at much younger ages. Some of the risk factors that may predispose youth athletes to overuse injuries are: sport specializing at a young age, training errors, imbalance of strength or joint range of motion, anatomic misalignment, improper footwear, preexisting condition, growth cartilage less resistant to repetitive microtrauma, and intense repetitive training during periods of growth. Immature bones, insufficient rest after an injury, and poor training and conditioning also may contribute to overuse injuries.

Proper functional movement is critical in avoiding overuse injuries, as slight changes in form may cause additional stress. Youth sports related injury severity also increases with age. Children who are less developed than a more mature child of the same age and weight are at increased risk for injury. Before puberty, girls suffer more sports injuries than boys, whereas during puberty, boys suffer injuries more severely than girls. One in every 100 high school female athletes will tear her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Female athletes are four to eight times more likely to tear their ACL than their male counterparts.

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) should be frequently administered to assess the potential risk for injury in an athlete. It attempts to identify imbalances in mobility and stability during movement patterns exposing the athlete’s compensatory movement problems, and allows the clinician to identify movement flaws that may cause injury. It is also used to help direct a treatment plan for injury prevention based on the findings of the testing process. The FMS can identify muscle flexibility, proprioceptive deficits, and strength imbalances along with previous injuries that have been acknowledged as significant risk factors for injury.

Youth sports overuse injuries are avoidable. With education, prevention, and common sense, clinicians can help adolescents enjoy the process of growing up playing sports. Sports are a fundamental part of health and development for adolescents and should be a positive experience rather than riddled by preventable and avoidable injuries.

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