Side Note: Although I did submit a lit search, when I write I like to gather sources as I go that way my sources match up with what I am currently writing at the moment. I also don’t have much on my research paper yet so I have much more to do!! I plan to go in at the end and insert photos, videos, hyperlinks and all that.
Gymnastics and Childhood Development
Have you ever noticed how elite athletes have the same kind of body type? How all runners grow to be lean and tall and gymnasts are short and muscular? I found that my curiosity about this peaked when we were brainstorming ideas for our own research topics. We got on the topic of child body builders and how scary that are. Then I started thinking to myself, “I wonder what that does to a child’s body? That can’t be good right? I mean look at gymnasts. They are so petite and strong but that can’t be good for child development can it?” Funny how I stumbled upon my research topic in casual conversation.
First, I wanted to refresh my mind on child development. Healthy childhood development means that a child can grow socially, emotionally, and educationally (“Childhood Development”). These developmental stages involve taking your first step, saying your first words, having your first growth spurt, and many more. But how are these various stages effected bye those who are thrown into a world of elite athletes and who are prodigies of it? Is speeding up your development as an athlete good or bad for you?
There are three distinct categories of puberty. Growth, Maturation, and Development (Baxter-Jones, et al). Growth is the actual body size increase, maturation refers to more of the hormonal change and change in sex organs. Lastly, development refers to the behavioral aspect of a growth spurt and the mental maturation. All of these processes occur simultaneously but also occur at different speeds (Baxter-Jones, et al).
Stunted growth can be caused by the over use of a gymnastics life style, or just in general an overly active life style for a child. Obviously for any person to excel in their sport, they have to start early. There is no getting around that. But this all takes place during, before, and after a normal development of puberty. The Female Athlete Triad is a syndrome that can be caused when three conditions occur together. One of the symptoms is a reduced percentage of body fat. For young girls this is very concerning as it can lead to amenorrhea which is the lack of a menstrual cycle. This can also occur do to a lack of caloric intake and unbalanced diet (“The Female Athlete Triad”).
The second aspect of the triad is osteoporosis. This is low bone mass and high fragility due to the lack of a menstrual cycle and other hormones such as a lack of estrogen. During your adolescents, this is when you are growing the most, especially your bones. So being exposed to osteoporosis at such a young age can be detrimental. Stress fractures can be caused easily and that also makes it very difficult to heal (“The Female Athlete Triad”).
The last category of the triad is eating disorders. A decrease in caloric intake can lead to an eating disorder as well as the pressures of the sport itself. Young girls are growing up being told to look a certain way and if you want to be an elite athlete and want to be in the Olympics, you sometimes will do what you need to do to fit that mold. The key with this triad is being able to recognize that an athlete is suffering from this. Letting them know that proper nutrition as well as rest can enhance their performance can be the push that they need to make a change.
Baxter-Jones, Adam D. G., et al. “Growth and Maturation in Elite Young Female Athletes.” Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review, vol. 10, no. 1, 2002, pp. 42–49., doi:10.1097/00132585-200210010-00007.
“Child Development.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2018, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/facts.html.
“The Female Athlete Triad .” Acsm.org, www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/the-female-athlete-triad.pdf.