Many parents and coaches are concerned that intense physical
training in young female athletes may slow maturity and impede
growth. After all, you may notice that gymnasts, who undergo
rigorous strengthening exercises, tend to be much smaller
than their peers. This review in the British Journal of
Sports Medicine focused on the limited information available
on a possible link between reduced growth/maturity and intense
athletic participation in girls.
Growth specifically relates to increased body size; maturation
relates to physically attaining adulthood. Both may occur
at different rates between individuals, but while end growth
varies greatly in the population, essentially everyone will
attain biological maturity. While hormonal and genetic factors
largely affect these processes, environmental variables like
sports may also play a role.
After reviewing the related literature, the authors determined
that training does not impact growth or maturity. Rather,
they suggest, "It is more likely that young athletes select
themselves, or are selected by coaches and sport systems,
into their specific sports." Most gymnasts and ballet dancers,
for example, are selected because they mature late; in these
sports, smaller size can be beneficial.
Small hands and feet, a low center of gravity, and short,
compact limbs help gymnasts compete better. In contrast, basketball
players and swimmers may be selected for their sports because
they are generally larger than their peers.
Until more long-term research has been established on this
subject, the available information is insufficient to blame
intense training for reduced stature in female athletes. In
addition, there are a multitude of advantages to getting your
daughter involved with sports, such as increased self-esteem,
cardiovascular fitness, weight maintenance, and participation
in a safe hobby - reducing exposure to illegal drugs and other
Baxter-Jones ADG, Maffulli N. Intensive training in elite
young female athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine
2002:36, pp. 13-15.
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