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Effect of Puberty on
Adolescent Athletes

Effects of sports training in adolescence on growth, puberty and bone health.


Athletic training in adolescent females is important for their well-being; indeed, it may have both positive and negative effects on some physiological processes, as growth, reproductive axis and bone health. Adequate physical activity likely exerts neither a positive nor a negative effect on growth. By contrast, intensive training and insufficient diet may have a negative influence on growth, probably due to energy deficiency and impairment of the growth hormone-insulin-like growth factor-I axis; net long term-effects of such alterations remain to be established.

Adolescents who perform regular athletic training present with normal or slightly advanced sexual maturation, because increased strength and power associated with earlier maturation advantage them. However, intensive training and inadequate energy intake may induce delayed menarche and menstrual dysfunctions.

The consequent hypoestrogenism, in association with the nutritional deficiencies, may affect bone health. On the contrary, regular physical activity increases the amount of bone mass gained during childhood and adolescence mainly at the bone sites which are trained.

Since the number of adolescent females involved in strenuous sports from an early age is increasing, physicians must be aware of such effects, explain to girls and their parents the 'right' sports training and appropriate dietary regimens, and recognize problems due to excessive training as soon as possible. These issues should not be a cause of lesser involvement in athletic participation of young people.

Puberty Can't Be Ignored
       Puberty can be an awkward and embarrassing time despite the constant bombarment of ads, movies, and TV shows that have sexual themes. It is necessary for parents to provide children with the facts of puberty. in a non threatening environment, to help them understand and handle these physical changes when society norms and expectations have changed so much since when you experienced puberty?

Stages of Puberty
       Sure, most of us recognize the telltale signs of puberty — hair growth in new places, menstruation, body odor, lower voice in boys, breast growth in girls, etc. But we may not fully comprehend the science behind all of these changes. Here's a quick look at how it works.

       Puberty usually begins after a girl's 8th birthday or after a boy turns 9 or 10, when an area of the brain called the hypothalamus starts to release gonadotropin hormone (GnRH). When GnRH travels to the pituitary gland (a small gland under the brain that produces hormones that control other glands throughout the body), it releases two more puberty hormones — luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

       The physical, emotional, and mental changes that happen next depends on gender:

  • Boys: Hormones travel through the bloodstream to the testes (testicles) and give the signal to begin production of sperm and the hormone testosterone.
  • Girls: Hormones go to the ovaries (the two oval shaped organs that lie to the right and left of the uterus) and trigger the maturation and release of eggs and the production of the hormone estrogen, which matures a female's body and prepares her for pregnancy.
       At about the same time, the adrenal glands of both boys and girls begin to produce a group of hormones called adrenal androgens. These hormones stimulate the growth of pubic and underarm hair in both sexes.

Sports and Recreational Activities are Affected by Puberty   
       The changes experienced by adolescents affect a child's relationships with their parents, siblings, social groups, school peer groups, employees and the boss at a part time job, and even participation at church and other groups such as sports.

       Preadolescent girls may have happily played on a soccer or softball team in grade school, now in middle school sports are “no longer fun” and she seems obsessed with her looks instead. She isn't alone: Research from Women's Sports Foundation reports that beginning in middle school and through high school, girls experience a 23 percent decline in sports participation, compared to 10 percent for boys. In addition, a report released by the Girl Scout Research Institute reported that 40 percent of girls age 11 to 17 whom they surveyed said they don’t participate in sports because they don’t feel skilled or competent, and 23 percent don’t participate because they feel they don’t look good doing so. Source - E-How Living Well.

       Dan Saferstein, a psychologist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and author of Win or Lose: A Guide to Sports Parenting, "says parents need to step back from being so emotionally vested in their child’s sports performance. “It’s important not to get too caught up in trying to get your child to be a better athlete. Some parents think they are going to be the variable in getting their kids to excel. Be supportive as you would be in anything."

Recommended Reading:

Developing Personality Traits and Character Traits


Problems and Solutions

How frequently do sports injuries occur? Sports and recreational activities contribute to approximately 21 percent of all traumatic ... Bicycle- and sports-related injuries also affect older children and adolescents, ... Before puberty, girls and boys suffer the same risk of sports injuries.

Sports and Recreational Injuries - Kid
Involvement in sports and recreational activities are important for children and teenagers. ... Prior to the onset of puberty, the risk of sports-related injury between boys and girls is the same, as they are approximately the same size and weight.  During puberty, boys are injured more frequently and severely than girls. Girls more commonly suffer from a torn knee ligament called the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, common in any sport with a lot of twisting, jumping or pivoting — basketball, soccer, football, volleyball, skiing. 


Psychological Problems and Solutions

Pediatric Health and Injury Issues


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Effect Of Puberty on Adolescents
The Puberty Talk
Teenage Athletes & Puberty
PDF  Puberty
PDF  What Happens During Puberty
PDF  Puberty Information Resources
PDF  Puberty & Sports in Female Adolescents
PDF  Female Gymnasts: Training & Growth
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The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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