Recently I was asked by a good friend and colleague of mine the following question.
"At what age should you start developing movement patterns for the purposes of injury prevention?"
In my opinion, this was a significant question in light of the fact that there as been ongoing discussion on several forums as to what minimum age would be most appropriate for the application of the Functional Movement Screen.
Since many of the athletes I work with fall within the 12 to 21 year old age range, it seems only appropriate that I address this question.
Here are some tidbits of information that may assist in clarification:
Childhood ranges from 6 to 9 years of age and is marked by significant physical changes that in general, exhibit a linear growth. Development is typically somewhat predictable.
Adolescence, in contrast, ranges from 10 to 16 years of age and is marked by dramatic and rapid physical changes.
When considering the appropriate minimum age, it is also important to understand the differences between growth and maturation.
Adolescent growth spurts generally occur between 13 and 15 years of age in males and between 11 and 13 years of age in females, while the age of maximal rate of growth (aka peak height velocity) generally occurs approximately 1 to 2 years following the commencement of sexual maturation. These variables may indeed influence motor learning and control.
In general, young children lack the motor skills required to adequately run, jump, and throw. With growth and maturation of the neurological and musculoskeletal systems, so do the development of these skills. The adult forms of these skills are generally acquired between 6 and 10 years of age and while the nervous system reaches 90% of its adult size by the age of 6 and full maturation by puberty, ultimate skill development depends highly on practice and training.
Gender differences do occur with motor performance with boys generally outperforming girls in run, jump, and throw performance. Further, males generally demonstrate continual improvement until early adulthood while improvement in females often slow by age 14...likely a result of proven decreases in levels of physical activity. It should be noted however, that in general, females tend to perform better than males on fine motor tasks.
Through an examination of the Long Term Athletic Development stages from the Canadian Sport for Life resource, it is apparent that the Learn to Train stage (Boys 9 - 12, Girls 8 - 11) is the stage at which adolescents should be developing and refining all movement skills, since the brain is capable of highly refined skill performance.
Interestingly, those who may be classified as "late developers" actually have an advantage since this learn to train stage is actually lengthened in this population.
During my graduate education experience, I had the privilege of working closely with Joe Baker, Phd of York University who's primary focus and interests lie in optimal human development. When asking his opinion of this topic, his response was:
"...‘lack of consensus’ is a good way to describe most of the recommendations regarding training and rehab issues with youth and adolescent athletes. It’s clear that there are significant and persistent problems with this population but no real consistency in the recommended approach to deal with them. The immature motor system is part of the explanation but it also relates to the motor system’s interaction with the still developing cognitive and physiological systems. Adolescent athletes are at a stage of development that is almost constantly in flux making a ‘one size fits all’ approach very difficult...Unfortunately, I’m not sure of any rehab recommendations for this population."
So in consideration of the above information, my recommendations would be as follows:
The following information was derived primarily from the text, "Scientific Foundations and Principles of Practice in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation" by Magee et al as well as the Canadian Sport for Life website.
For more information on youth development please visit the International Youth Fitness Association and Canadian Sport for Life.