What is Maturation?

Maturation is quite simply the process of becoming mature [3]. To understand maturation properly, we must realise that each child differs at the timing and tempo of this process. Timing refers to ‘when’ maturation begins, while tempo refers to the ‘rate’ at which it progresses.

We typically discuss maturation as the process from early childhood, to adolescence and then to full adult stature. Childhood is generally regarded as the time until which one reaches adolescence. The start of adolescence begins with the onset of puberty where hormonal and physical changes begin to occur. Initially, rapid changes begin to occur with increases in height, weight, stature and the development of secondary sex characteristics.

Up until puberty, there are few performance differences between genders. The adolescent stage usually begins sooner in girls (8-19 years) than in boys (10-22 years) , but up until puberty, there are few performance differences between genders. However, significant changes begin to emerge between genders after puberty due to circulating androgens (testosterone). Testosterone causes boys to develop larger arm girth and larger shoulder breadth in comparison to girls, while increases in hip breadth are alike . Similarly, during this rapid growth spurt boys will have greater fat-free mass than girls and a smaller increase of body fat.

How does Maturation affect Performance?

Maturation plays a significant role in motor skill development, strength, power, and even has implications on injury-risk in young athletes. Understanding maturation and how it impacts youth performance is of great benefit to coaches and parents.

Research indicates that childhood is an ideal and opportunistic time in which to maximise motor skill proficiency. This is due to the natural and accelerative rate at which the brain and central nervous system mature in the child. Therefore, this vital time frame should be utilised by introducing children to a broad array of foundational movements, as well as exposing them to a variety of stimuli. If such foundational movements are developed before adolescence, it is believed that the athlete will be better-equipped when faced with more complex motor skills during a later developmental stage.

As athletes reach adolescence and adulthood, they are less sensitive to developing new motor pathways, which therefore makes it more difficult to teach certain movement skills. As a result, youth athletic development programmes should be thoughtfully designed and carefully delivered in order to ensure the programme has maximal effect. Moreover, young athletes should be exposed to a range different stimuli, however, this must not be delivered in a random or poorly thought-out format. Instead, the goal and focus of training sessions should be to develop gross athletic motor skill competencies through a challenging and playful environment.