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Puberty and development

Puberty and development

Puberty marks a time of transition and transformation from childhood to adulthood, known as adolescence. During adolescence young people are building a body that is more physically and mentally capable than ever.  

Navigating puberty, and learning to adapt to changes within their bodies, may alter the experience of and performance in sport, particularly in females. 

Research shows that young women want to be active and they understand why physical activity is important for their health. However, during puberty and adolescence, they experience a complex range of personal and social factors in their lives that influence their involvement in sport and exercise.  

In New Zealand, there is a drop-off in participation and engagement during puberty, more so in young women aged 12-17. 

See the full section on puberty and development in the Balanced Female Health handbook or read a summary of key points below. 

Mental wellbeing

Adolescence and early adulthood are key phases during which mental illness and mental health issues can develop. When working with young people in community sport as coaches, instructors, or parents, it is important to build your understanding of how you can support young people’s mental wellbeing.

As coaches, instructors or parents you can:  

  • Encourage young people to know when they need help  
  • Identify their support people  
  • Encourage good sleep and recovery habits 
  • Know that everyone has bad days 
  • Acknowledge that it’s OK to not be OK 
  • Support them to be active in ways that benefit their mental wellbeing 

Consider this

Understanding female health is critical to being able to respond to the needs of young women and provide support for them to be physically active in a way that promotes their health and wellbeing.

Physical changes 

During puberty, rapid upward growth (the growth spurt) and altered body shape challenges the co-ordination of young people. Young people may experience changes to:  

  • Running and landing mechanics 
  • Co-ordination and reaction times 
  • Strength and movement control 

This is because the brain takes time to catch up with the physical changes and improve participant skill development. Challenges to physical capabilities may affect females more so than males due to strength differences (from testosterone) that support changes to body shape and movement control. 

Puberty can temporarily affect performance in sport. This is more prevalent in females and can be a time of confusion and frustration for the young person, as well as coaches, instructors, and parents. 

As coaches, instructors or parents you can:  

  • Normalise conversations about female body changes and development 
  • Create environments where young people can feel safe, happy, confident and valued 
  • Focus on long-term development 

Did you know?

The grow spurt occurs quicker in females than males but, as their bones grow longer, they don’t necessarily grow stronger at the same rate.

Emotional and social influence changes 

Young women may choose to participate in sport or be physically active less frequently during adolescence for a range of diverse reasons.

Changes to participation can be due to: 

  • Being busy, too tired or lacking motivation for physical activity 
  • Feeling unsupported or unsafe in their environments  
  • Altered confidence around physical capabilities 
  • Changes to body image and body confidence 
  • Perceived social judgement or acceptance 
  • Changes within social groups and friends who engage in sport and active recreation 
  • Feelings that activities are less fun or too focussed on performance  

As coaches, instructors or parents you can:  

  • Support young people to feel empowered about having a conversation about their bodies  
  • Support young people to make smart choices 
  • Encourage and foster positive peer relationships and team culture

Consider this

Encourage downtime outside of sport and support other hobbies, relaxation and social/ family connections. Time away from sport helps with recovery and maintains enjoyment and enthusiasm.

If you require an accessible version of any content on the site please contact us and we will be happy to assist.

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