For the past several years, we've been recording growth data for our adolescent cross country skiers in our club. This is recommended practice for clubs in Canada. The data gathered is interesting and diverse. It really happens - each child has their very own unique growth curve. Some adolescents are early, some are later, and a lot of somewhere in the middle of the normative data. Its good information. The challenge is not in the gathering of the data but in what to do with it.
How can growth data influence athlete development plans. There is certainly lots of information out there about measurement protocols and interpreting the findings to indicate readiness for windows of trainability. There is a lot less information easily available for coaches about how to individualize training plans for kids experiencing peak height velocity (PHV) or pre PHV. I've been thinking about this for awhile because I recognize there are lots of variables at play. Group size, social groupings, coaching expertise, family variables, club culture, yearly planning, structural realities, among others.
What can we do with growth data - here are some of my reflections
- share it with kids - probably one of the most useful and easy action items - kids are interested in how they are growing relative to peers; they are interested in understanding how their bodies grow and how that affects what they are ready for. I do a weekly strength session with the 12-13 year olds I coach, and the boys in particular have natural interest in moving beyond body weight exercises to doing what the high school age athletes are doing. I have found that when kids can see some data about limb length relative to standing height they understand in a different way how their bodies aren't ready to do that kind of work.
- post it in the team room - it creates some awareness for parents and kids that as a club we are paying attention to some details about their children and their readiness for various types of physical training.
- differentiate physical training - according to the literature, this is the ultimate reason for recording growth information. It is also really difficult to do when chronological age directs so many other variables in our sport. I have tried a few strategies to differentiate instruction and I'll admit, not with the regularity or accuracy that data seems to imply. The question that I ask myself when deciding on what best to focus on in training sessions is 'where can I get the biggest return on investment?' I have found that for example, although flexibility or technical instruction is identified as a window of trainability for pre peak height velocity athletes, athletes experiencing PHV can benefit as well from flexibility or technical instruction. Differentiating focus based on developmental characteristics is important, but of more importance in my mind are a number of other variables including some of the following: team culture - kids improve because they want to and they improve more in positive, fun environments where they are challenged and recognized; quality instruction - kids improve because they have good models, coaches use the right tools and sequence skill development based on individual variables.
So, is it worth it to gather growth data every quarter on your 11-17 year olds skiers? Ya, I'd say so - but it is important to note that having appropriate expectations of what you will do with the information is important in sustaining the effort of data collection over time.