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Effects of intensive training on growth and maturation are not established
Parents, coaches, sport administrators, healthcare professionals, and the broader public have been alarmed by reports that intensive physical training in female athletes, initiated at young ages, may delay subsequent growth and maturation, and perhaps even reduce final adult stature.
GROWTH, MATURATION, AND DEVELOPMENT
Whereas growth specifically refers to the increase in the size of the body as a whole, and of its parts, maturation refers to progress towards the biologically mature state. Maturation differs from growth in that, although various biological systems mature at different rates, all individuals reach the same end point, becoming fully mature. Maturation therefore has two components, timing and tempo. Development refers to the acquisition of behavioral competence and is culture specific. Growth, maturation, and development occur simultaneously and interact. Growth and maturation are characterised by individual variation and, although under genetic and neuroendocrine control, environmental factors, including sport, may also have an influence.1 Our understanding of the effect that sports training has on the growing child is limited because of the difficulty in distinguishing the independent effects of training from those of normal growth.2 Only when a child is repeatedly measured from childhood through to adolescence can independent effects be identified. To date, there are limited numbers of such longitudinal studies, and hence most of our knowledge has been gained from cross sectional studies. The cross sectional nature of such studies obviously has made inferences that training delays puberty or reduces adult stature problematic.
On average, young female athletes from most sports have statures that equal or exceed the median for the normal population. Female basketball players, volleyball players, tennis players, rowers, and swimmers have been to shown to have mean statures above the 50th centile of the reference populations from 10 years onwards.3 However, …
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