An Individualized Longitudinal Approach to Monitoring the Dynamics of Growth and Fitness Development in Adolescent Athletes

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Till, K, Cobley, S, O'Hara, J, Chapman, C, and Cooke, C. An individualized longitudinal approach to monitoring the dynamics of growth and fitness development in adolescent athletes. J Strength Cond Res 27(5): 1313–1321, 2013—This study evaluated the development of anthropometric and fitness characteristics of 3 individual adolescent junior rugby league players and compared their characteristics with a cross-sectional population matched by age and skill level. Cross-sectional anthropometric and fitness assessments were conducted on 1,172 players selected to the Rugby Football League's talent development program (i.e., the Player Performance Pathway) between 2005 and 2008. Three players of differing relative age, maturational status, and playing position were measured and tracked once per year on 3 occasions (Under 13s, 14s, 15s age categories) and compared against the cross-sectional population. Results demonstrated that the later maturing players increased height (player 1 = 9.2%; player 2 = 7.8%) and a number of fitness characteristics (e.g., 60-m speed—player 1 = −14.9%; player 2 = −9.9%) more than the earlier maturing player (player 3—Height = 2.0%, 60-m sprint = −0.7%) over the 2-year period. The variation in the development of anthropometric and fitness characteristics between the 3 players highlights the importance of longitudinally monitoring individual characteristics during adolescence to assess the dynamic changes in growth, maturation, and fitness. Findings showcase the limitations of short-term performance assessments at one-off time points within annual-age categories, instead of advocating individual development and progression tracking without deselection. Coaches should consider using an individual approach, comparing data with population averages, to assist in the prescription of appropriate training and lifestyle interventions to aid the development of junior athletes.

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