Children of the same chronological age can differ by several years in their level of biological maturation. Growth, development, and rate of maturation is the result of a complex interaction of genes, hormones, nutrients, and the environments (physical and psycho-social) in which the individual lives.
This combination of factors regulates the child's physical growth, neuromuscular development, sexual maturation, mental, cognitive, and emotional development, and general metamorphosis during the first two decades of life.
Puberty is characterized by numerous physical changes by which a child's body matures into an adult body capable of reproduction. These events occur over a number of years and include major changes to height, deposition of fat, bone and muscle, transformation of the brain, and acquisition of secondary sexual characteristics (e.g. breast, genitalia, pubic and auxiliary hair growth).
The terms “growth” and “maturation” are often used together and sometimes synonymously. However, each refers to specific biological activities.
- Growth refers to observable step-by-step changes in quantity and measurable changes in body size such as height, weight, and fat percentage.
- Maturation refers to qualitative system changes, both structural and functional, in the body’s progress toward maturity such as the change of cartilage to bone in the skeleton.
Development refers to both biological and behavioural contexts. In terms of the biological, “development refers to the processes of differentiation and specialization of pluripotent embryonic stem cells into different cell types, tissues, organs and functional units” (Malina, Bouchard, & Bar-Or, 2004, p. 5). For behavioural, this term “relates to the development of competence in a variety of interrelated domains as the child adjusts to his or her cultural milieu – the amalgam of symbols, values, and behaviours that characterize a population”.
>> Learn about the next key factor: Sensitive Periods
To read the entire Canadian Sport for Life - Long-Term Athlete Development 2.1 resource paper, click here.