The Young Female Athlete (Dr. Vicki Harber)
The “one size fits all” concept may work for winter toques and bathrobes; it does not work when it comes to designing a training program for our young female athletes. Although training programs for young boys and girls are largely similar, there are some unique differences that must be recognized.
It’s an important issue because female athletes experience some types of injury at a higher rate compared to male athletes. We think many of these injuries can be prevented through wise training programs that are supported by a healthy nutritional intake.
On the training side, parents of young female athletes should make choices to ensure their daughter becomes physically literate prior to puberty. Physical literacy involves learning fundamental movement skills during the Active Start, FUNdamentals and Learn to Train stages to build a resilient foundation for future involvement in sport.
On the nutrition side, a good relationship with food needs to be established at the earliest stage, during Active Start. During the Learn to Train and Train to Train stages, these positive eating habits need to be reinforced so the young female athlete knows how important it is implement effective fueling practices before, during and after training or competition.
Young female athletes that have not learned how to support their training with good nutritional habits, those that have been training too much without adequate recovery, or those that have specialized in a single sport before the age of 14 years may experience delayed onset menarche. This is the young girl’s first menstrual period – a key event in pubertal development. When this is absent or it disappears, it may indicate some other ongoing conditions that may interfere with the athlete’s training and competition.
I have a complete article on this subject in this month's edition of the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching entitled, “The Young Female Athlete: Using the Menstrual Cycle as a Navigational Beacon for Healthy Development”. You can read the entire article on their website.
Dr. Vicki Harber
Dr. Vicki Harber is a Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education & Recreation at the University of Alberta and a member of the Canadian Sport for Life Leadership Team. Her research examines the metabolic and hormonal responses to physical activity and dietary intake in women. Vicki's background in sport is broad and was a member of the Canadian Olympic Rowing team. She has completed the IOC Sport Nutrition diploma, is a Director with the Edmonton Sport Council, has coached an elite girl’s soccer team and is the author of "The Female Athlete Perspective," a Canadian Sport for Life resource.