Research has shown a gender gap in physical activity across the lifespan but particularly between the ages of 8-13y, with males accumulating a higher percentage of moderate and vigorous physical activity (1). Additionally, for both males and females we observe a longitudinal decline in physical activity, but the age at which physical activity begins to decline is earlier in girls (1). With both of these statistics, we must acknowledge the vital role of athletics for young girls to learn and find sports they enjoy. But it’s also important to note that girls are different than boys, and there are some considerations that must be taken to heart when training young, female athletes. If we can keep these in mind and educate young girls, we can help them be healthy, safe, and enjoy competition for many years.
- Don’t Specialize too Early: This goes for both boys and girls, but the age is slightly different. On average, girls are growing their fastest between the ages of 11-12 (about 1-2 years ahead of boys). When a child hits her growth spurt, she is more susceptible to injury, and her body is literally re-learning and solidifying complex motor patterns that she will have the remainder of her life. It is important that a young girl doesn’t specialize in a particular sport during this time and limit her fundamental movement activities. Specializing too early can increase risk of overuse injuries and reduce general athletic development.
- Growth Spurts and Energy Needs: With a growth spurt comes increased caloric need. It is important that young girls, and athletes in particular are consuming enough calories during this time. Adequate calcium intake is also vital as they lay down new bone. Increased caloric need without increased caloric intake can put female athletes at high risk for injury and loss of menstruation.
- Pelvic and Core Health and Development: This is not often talked about but vital for any young female athlete. Just as the rest of the body grows rapidly during puberty, the areas that house the main core muscle groups (neck, ribcage, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, and pelvis) grow at their fastest. With this rapid growth and in combination with repetitive sports motion, it is extremely common for slight imbalances and compensations in trunk control. Young girls must learn proper core activation sequencing and be educated to speak up if they experience bladder leaking, constipation, abdominal pain or any other colorectal problems. Taking care of these issues sooner rather than later, will promote future health and wellness.
- Model it: Moms, Aunts, Teachers, and Coaches, it is vital that we model healthy behaviors for the young girls in our lives. Regular physical activity, proper strength training, healthful eating habits, and encouraging them that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to!! Young girls will do what they see!
By: Lauren Higgins, M.S., CSCS, FMS-level 1
- Sherar, L.B., Esliger, D.W., Baxter-Jones, A.D.G, & Tremblay, M.S. 2007. Age and gender differences in youth physical activity: does physical maturity matter?. Med sci sports exerc, 39(5): 830-835.