top of page

Late Bloomers in Sports

Every child develops on their own unique timeline.

Faith Family Fitness has compiled a wealth of resources for parents, coaches, and youth development leaders to understand late bloomers in youth sports, why the topic matters and the psychological, social, and developmental research that impacts youth with delayed puberty.

 

The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Why This Topic Matters.

Often times the goals of a coach align with the nature for competitiveness and a will to succeed. A successful team may often times be built around a couple of highly successful core athletes, which of whom may be early bloomers. In the pursuit to create elite athletes, those with the most perceived potential (early bloomers) are often given more playing time and more coaches attention than those who are on an average development timeline or a late bloomer..

 

In a study by Horn and Lox cited in Children’s Organized Sport: A Developmental Perspective, they found “Early maturers benefit from positive reinforcement and encouragement, while late bloomers- due to their lack of skill, size or experience- receive markedly less social support and reinforcement” (Brady, 2004, p. 38). In the same article, Brady (2004), cites Matsudo stating that people often predict future athletic success on general physical fitness which favors early maturing athletes over late bloomers.

Boy with Soccer Ball
Little League Baseball Game
Little League Baseball Game

Pubertal Development

Understanding Pubertal Development is the start of understanding what is a late bloomer and may answer the questions, "Why is my child so small for his age?" and "What is late puberty in males?" 

This information may also provide reassurance for parents concerned about puberty in late bloomers, who may wonder when their child may start their growth spurt and muscular development.

 

Puberty is simply defined as the changes that occur physically that signify the onset of reproductive maturation (Hauser-Cram, Nugent, Theis, & Travers, 2014). Normal puberty in boys is forecasted by an increase in testicular size, which occurs between 9.5-13.5 years with an average mean value of 12 years of age (Pinyerd & Zipf, 2005). The starting point and stopping point of the primary and secondary sexual characteristics is quite wide spread. As noted above, the start of testicular enlargement can start between 9.5-13.5 years, but may not reach full maturity till 13.5-17 years.

Delayed Puberty & Pubertal Tempo in Late Bloomers

How Long Does Puberty Last?

Boys undergo puberty at different rates. Some go through the whole process in a couple years where as others may complete the process of puberty over the course of 4 or 5 years. So late bloomers may start puberty at the same time as their peers, but may just be slower going through the process and it is just part of the normal puberty process.

Therefore parents, may not have reason to be too concerned that youth boys will always be smaller than their peers

 

Pinyerd and Zipf (2005) has referred to delayed puberty as being 2.5 standard deviations away from the mean, whereas Lindfors (2007) refers to delayed puberty as being 2 standard deviations away from the mean. That leaves us with a population of 2.5% of healthy adolescents identified as having pubertal delays according to Pinyerd and Zipf (2005).

According to Marshall and Tanner’s research (1970), they stated, “In fact, we have observed several boys who went through a perfectly normal puberty beginning after they were 15” (p. 21).

Soccer Game
Little League Baseball Game
Matial Arts Training

Physiological Differences Late Bloomers in Sports

It is no surprise that late bloomers in sports are smaller in size than their peers and may not have the same strength, power or physiological advantage as early bloomers. Coaches and parents must keep this in mind when tempted to compare their own youth athletes to their peers.

According to Rowland physical growth is “the most important factor in the development of physical responses to exercise during the childhood years” (p. 22-23). More importantly, Rowland points out that differences in rate of growth (defined in the previous section as pubertal tempo) is largely responsible for the differences in physical performance in pediatric age groups.

The difference between a child prior to puberty and one in the middle of pubertal development is quite substantial. “A 16 year old has a three times greater maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 Max) than he had back at the age 5”(Rowland, 2005, p. 23). 

Psychosocial Effects of Late Bloomers in Sports

Late Bloomers socially may struggle as boys tend to compare themselves with their peers and are aware of the developmental differences. This is why it is so critical to support your young athletes that they will eventually catch up and it's just a matter of time.

Several studies have examined the psychosocial effects of late maturation. These studies are significant due to observations that late-maturing boys show evidence of adjustment problems (Pinyerd & Zipf, 2005). Lindfors et al. (2005) found that “late maturation correlated significantly and negatively with ego development and sexuality.” (p. 605). The study found that late maturing boys exhibited lower levels of ego development and a lower self-image stating “psychologically mature boys with delayed puberty are painfully aware and concerned with how they look in the eyes of others” (Lindfors et al., 2007, p. 608).

Boy flexing in mirror.png
Boys Team Warm Up
Boys Team Warm Up

Factors Effecting Enjoyment of Sport

While fun is the reason many kids start playing sports, personal improvement and self perception is a huge factor when it comes to athletes staying in sports. Youth who are late bloomers in sports, may struggle with seeing their own potential and self improvement at therefore may drop out of sport.

 

...It may be concluded that the negative psychosocial effects listed previously due to late puberty may in fact lead to a lower self perception of one’s own ability and therefore minimize the enjoyment experienced by those participants.

Ideas of Early Prediction of Talent

The idea of predicting talent at an early age is the very reason why the discussion of late bloomers in sports is so important. Society has praised athletic achievement from a very early age which not only disservices late bloomers, but also early bloomers and average developers. The truth is, we cannot determine if a late bloomer will become a successful athlete, just like we can't determine if an outstanding athlete at 10 years old will be a state champion in high school.

 

“Outstanding elementary school athletes may not be outstanding in junior high school athletics and outstanding junior high school athletes may not have been outstanding in elementary school athletics”-Medford Growth Study Clarke, 1968

Collection of Trophies
Boys Team Warm Up
Playing Basketball

Conclusion

“Coaches are eager to identify the child with potential abilities in a particular sport so that skill might be nurtured from a younger age.” (Rowland, 2005, p. 29). Although it may appear that young children who are more mature may turn out to be better athletes in the long run. Research is quite clear that there is no early predictors of sporting success or talent and more research has shown the possibilities of late-bloomers even overtaking early-bloomers. Therefore it is advantageous to not rule out a late bloomer athlete.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are late bloomers?

Late bloomers are best described as children who have begun pubertal development later than their peers, or go through the stages of pubertal development at a slower rate than their peers. If you walk into any high school or middle school you will find 13, 14 and 15 year old youth that may look like they are 9 or 19. In most cases, just because youth haven't started or finished puberty at the same rate as their peers, it does not require any special care. However if you are concerned, check with your doctor and read more about delayed puberty here.

When will my son grow taller?

Height increases on average 2.4 inches per year throughout childhood and then slows before puberty before increasing at a rapid rate during puberty. This growth spurt is referred to as Peak Height Velocity (PHV). This growth spurt (PHV) usually occurs between Tanner Stage 3 and 5, which is different for every child. To add even more uncertainty, it was found that one-fifth of boys had not reached PHV even after their genitalia had reached an adult stage (Marshall & Tanner, 1970).

There is no way to predict how fast your son will go through puberty, and thus there is no way to truly predict when they will grow taller. We hope that you will use the information available in our content to reassure your son. Find out more about Tanner Stages here.

My son has not completed puberty at 14, is that normal?

Research has shown that many boys do not even begin puberty til 14, and even if they started puberty at an earlier age, boys can complete the puberty process between 1.5 and 6 years with an average of 4.5 years. We have listed a couple studies on pubertal timing here, but here are a couple key takeaways:

"We have observed several boys who went through a perfectly normal puberty beginning after they were 15” (Marshall & Tanner, 1970).

“While pubertal timing indexes a level of maturation relative to others of the same gender at the same chronological age, pubertal tempo is defined with reference to a child’s own previous development. Some people mature comparatively rapidly (to use an analogy from Aesop, they are developmental hares), whereas others have a slower, more gradual progression through puberty (e.g., developmental tortoises)” (Mendle et al., 2010, p. 1342).

Why is my child small for his age?

Children grow at different rates. We can describe children as early-bloomers, late bloomers and average developers. Walk into any middle school classroom and you will see kids that look like they are much older or much younger than their classmates.

Children who are smaller for their age depends on two factors, the age at which they start puberty, and how fast they progress through puberty. Some youth complete the entire puberty process faster than other children complete one stage of pubertal development. If you believe that your child may be a late-bloomer, we have compiled resources that may help you explain the process to your son. Find out why research on late bloomers matters here.

What are the first signs of puberty?

In most children, physical changes begin in Tanner Stage 2. The first physical change your son may notice is the development of pubic hair and enlargement of the scrotum. In the earlier phases this growth is contained to a small area. Find out more about pubertal development.

At what age does a boy reach puberty?

Children on average start puberty anywhere between 9-14 and may not finish the process til 16-18 or even later. Find out more about pubertal development.

How do you know when a boy is going through puberty?

Your child will first notice changes to his private area, but changes that are noticeable to others won't be visible til later in the process when voice cracking, muscle growth, and body hair become noticable. Find out more about pubertal development.

bottom of page