More on Developmental Age

LTAD looks mainly at two types of “age”. The first is chronological age, which refers to the number of years and days elapsed since birth. This is the typical definition of age used by schools, sports and recreation programs.

The second is developmental age, which refers to the child’s stage of physical, mental, emotional and intellectual maturity. Two children of the same chronological age can be several years apart in developmental age.

For example, we have all seen 13 year old boys who have started their growth spurts and ones who have not. They look very different and they often have very different capacities for physical activity (e.g. strength, stamina, speed). 

Figure 4 Maturation in Girls and Boys (Adapted from "Growing Up" by J.M. Tanner Scientific American 1973).

LTAD requires the identification of early, average, and late maturers in order to help to design appropriate training and competition programs for each athlete. The beginning of the growth spurt and the peak of the growth spurt are especially important to program design.

Peak Height Velocity (PHV) refers to the point in time where a child is growing at the fastest rate – the peak of their growth spurt.

PHV in girls usually occurs at about 12 years of age. Usually the first physical sign of adolescence is breast budding, which occurs slightly after the onset of the growth spurt. Shortly thereafter, pubic hair begins to grow. Menarche, or the onset of menstruation, comes rather late in the growth spurt, occurring after PHV is achieved. The sequence of developmental events may normally between the ages of 10 and 14 or even more years earlier or later than average. 

Figure 5 Maturity Events in Girls (Modified after Ross et al.1977)

PHV in boys is more intense than in girls and on average occurs about 2 years later (around 14 years of age). Growth of the testes, pubic hair, and penis are related to the maturation process.

Boys experience a large gain in strength about a year after PHV as a result there is pronounced late gain in strength characteristics of the male athlete. As with girls, the developmental sequence for male athletes may occur 2 or more years earlier or later than average.

Figure 6 Maturity Events in Boys (Modified after Ross et al.1977)

Early maturing athletes may have as much as a 4-year development advantage over their late-maturing peers. Eventually, the late maturers will catch up when they experience their growth spurt. 

Currently, most training and competition programs are based on chronological age. However, same-age athletes between 10-16 years can be 4-5 years apart developmentally. This means that training and competition programs may serve some of them well, but work against the needs of others.

In addition to chronological age and developmental age, LTAD also considers training age and sport training age.    

Training age refers to the number of years an athlete has been training in a variety of sports, beginning with the early sampling years prior to the growth spurt.

Sport training age refers to the number of years an athlete has trained in one specific sport. 

The tempo of a child’s growth and maturation has significant implications in sport. Children who mature at an early age have a big advantage during the Train to Train stage compared to average or late maturers.

However, after everyone has had their growth spurt, it is often later maturers who have greater potential to become top athletes – provided they were still given quality coaching during the difficult period when they were lagging behind their peers in development. 

>> Learn more about the next key factor: Sensitive Periods.