Understanding the Stages of Your Child’s Growth and Physical Development

Understanding the role of physical development for junior athletes is crucial in creating a successful pathway for future success and continued participation in sport.

Firstly, with the increase in exposure to technology in schools and at home, children have increasingly spent more time inside sitting on the couch than spending time outdoors participating in unstructured play.

Secondly, there is a misconception that in order to become a top level athlete, our 8 year olds need to start playing one sport and master that one sport from an early age. This is referred to as early specialisation. 

growth and development

As a result, many children fail at simple movement literacy from balancing on one leg, to running, jumping, throwing, catching and being able to handle their own bodyweight with squatting, pulling themselves up on monkey bars and performing a push up to name a few.

Due to this issue, providing a platform for the development of fundamental movement skills becomes very important to ensure junior athletes become well rounded so that we provide them with every opportunity to do what they want when the time comes to make a decision later on in life.

This decision may vary from joining a college program overseas to participation in weekend social sports.

The only way children will continue to participate in sport is if they enjoy it and are good at it. 

Junior Development Programs

The goal of any junior development program should be to develop the most adaptable athlete for future success in their chosen endeavours.

So, what should we do to ensure that junior athletes are working on the right things at their age? 

The term peak height velocity (PHV) is defined as the period of time where a child experiences their greatest acceleration in growth and stature. For boys, this usually occurs around 13-14 and girls 11-12.

It is very important for parents to understand how physical development might change depending on the child’s stage of growth. Of course, PHV is not the only factor that affects physical development but it provides a general guideline.

PHV is an estimation based on equations developed through longitudinal studies tracking the growth of hundreds of children over many years. Based on today’s date and their estimated PHV, we can determine their predicted maturity offset, or how far in years they are away from PHV.

Athletes can be simply split into 3 groups, pre-PHV, PHV-circa (during) and post-PHV.

During Pre-PHV

We may see children for example on the soccer field more talented than others. In my opinion, these athletes are no stronger or more powerful than their opposition. They are simply able to coordinate and use their body at a much more effective level. Therefore the goal is to expose children to a large variety of gross motor skills they lack competency in or just do not have exposure to in their sports.

These are simple skills children should learn as a part of growing up from running to jumping, throwing, catching, landing, etc. By doing so, we increase their capacity or ceiling for physical learning by giving them more tools in the tool box to execute whatever drill or movement their coach may want to develop later down the track.

At the same time, we must appreciate that strength development plays a very present part in modern day sport. You will not find many elite sporting programs where strength development is not integrated in the program in some way. As a result, exposing pre-PHV athletes to simple gym based movement patterns is beneficial to increase their confidence in the gym but more importantly, competency in controlling their own bodyweight. 

The development of strength in junior athletes until PHV are from predominantly neuromuscular adaptations. In other words, they are getting stronger by rewiring their brains to move more efficiently and therefore “stronger”.

Athletes in PHV-Circa

Are the young athletes who come back from summer holiday and have grown 3-4 cm becoming almost unrecognisable. These athletes are growing at such a high rate that we may see skill decrease due to their lack of understanding with how to control their changing bodies as well as growing related injuries starting to occur.

Consequently, the goal for this group is to nurture growth.

Education with parents/carers around nutrition for growth, recovery, sleep quality, and how to monitor their training volume is highly valued. At the same time, physical development should begin to ramp up.

Continuing to work on motor skills that may be more structured in nature (plyometrics, global stability, unilateral control). Gym based movement patterns may also start to become more complex by changing movement variations, using different gym equipment, increasing load.


By the time athletes reach Post-PHV, they have had years of unstructured and structured training, they have been exposed to gym based movement patterns and refined fundamental motor skills.

This is the point where emphasis on strength, hypertrophy, power, agility can begin to become front of mind.

The development of strength in junior athletes post PHV now gears more towards morphological adaptations. In other words, hormonal changes in their body during PHV allows for an increase in muscle fibre size and therefore they are getting stronger through physical changes in their body.

This long term athlete development model quashes the myth that gym and strength training is bad for kids. In fact, when we look at how different strength training can be at various stages of development, one may argue strength development should begin as early as possible. 

In Summary

The goal of any junior development program should be to develop the most adaptable athlete for future success in their chosen endeavours whether that be elite sports or participation in physical activity.

Increasing their physical literacy will increase their chances of continuing to live healthy physical lives in the future.

If you would like to learn more about junior development at Precision Athletica, our screening process with the Junior Athletic Movement Assessment and how we can assist in the physical development of your child please contact our Exercise Physiologist Justin.

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