Injury Prevention in Young Elite Footballers | Part 1 - Growth Spurt
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Young elite football players between 10 and 19 years of age are at a high risk of injury incidence. On average rapid growth occurs around 11.5 years of age for girls and 13.5 for boys. Once puberty begins, both boys and girls go through their adolescent growth spurt (AGS). These changes and the ages at which they occur can have an impact on young players' sports performance.
Impact of adolescent growth spurt
During adolescence, motor coordination, muscular performance, and endurance all undergo marked development. This significant impacts athletic performance in both positive and negative ways. While increases in body size, muscle strength and hormones can improve athletic performance, there may be a temporary decline in balance skills and body control during the AGS.
The rapid increase in height and weight during young athletes' peak growth velocity (cm/y) affect the body's center of gravity. Sometimes, you may observe that the teen becomes a bit "clumsy" as the brain tries to adjust to this higher observation point. This phase is especially noticeable in sports like football which requires good coordination, balance and body control. In addition, longer arms and legs can affect kicking the soccer ball, catching with a glove, changing speed and direction, sprinting and jumping.
Research on injuries in academy youth football
An audit of injuries across 38 English football club youth academies was conducted and showed that there was an average injury rate of 0.4 per player per season. The average time period absent for each injury was 3 weeks with an average of 2.31 games missed per injury. Competition injuries accounted for 50.4% of the total, with 36% of these occurring in the last third of each half. Strains (31%) and sprains (20%) were the main injury types, predominantly affecting the lower limb, with a similar proportion of injuries affecting the thigh (19%), ankle (19%), and knee (18%).
Understanding growth plates
Children's bones differ from adults'. Growth plates as indicated in the picture on the left are the areas of new bone growth in children and teens. They're made up of cartilage - a rubbery, flexible material and it is more delicate than the surrounding bone, muscle, tendons or ligaments. Most growth plates are near the ends of long bones. They are the weakest during AGS. Injuries such as fractures or stress fractures to the growth plate can limit the ability for the bones to grow properly.
In adolescent football players, certain types of injuries occur during specific phases of growth and maturation. Growth related conditions, including Sever’s disease and Osgood-Schlatter’s disease, accounted for 5% of total injuries, peaking in the under 13 age group for Osgood-Schlatter’s disease and the under 11 age group for Sever’s disease.
Remember, puberty is only temporary
It is important for both young players and parents to stay positive and seek out coaches and physiotherapists who are experienced in the nuances of puberty and adolescent growth spurt (AGS). As young footballers of the same age or grade can differ greatly in size, physical maturity, and abilities, sports physios who are aware of the AGS can help reduce athletic awkwardness by incorporating specific aspects of training into practices and training sessions.
Breathe Physio and Pilates specialises in injury prevention and strength and conditioning for young football athletes. Please refer to our Sports Physiotherapy page for more information. You are also welcome to contact us on (07) 3061 7128.
Winnie Lu, B.Phty (Uni of Qld)
Souths United Football Club Physiotherapist
Book an appointment with Winnie here.
1. Nikki Rommers, Roland Rössler, Ian Shrier, Matthieu Lenoir, Erik Witvrouw, Eva D’Hondt, Evert Verhagen, Motor performance is not related to injury risk in growing elite-level male youth football players. A causal inference approach to injury risk assessment,
Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2021.
2. Price RJ, Hawkins RD, Hulse MA, et al, The Football Association medical research programme: an audit of injuries in academy youth football British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004;38:466-471.
3. Suanne Kowal-Connelly, MD, FAAP, Effects of Puberty on Sports Performance: What Parents Need to Know. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sports/Pages/Teens-and-Sports.aspx.
4. O'Brien J, Finch CF. Injury prevention exercise programmes in professional youth soccer: understanding the perceptions of programme deliverers
BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2016;2:e000075. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2015-000075.