Can Gymnastics Stunt Growth?
Gymnastics and other sports like it for example tennis, swimming, ballet and figure skating demands the athletes to be specialized in their sport from a really young age. Younger children are practicing tough training programs so as to reach levels of elite and international competitions.
Joseph Baker’s Study on Specialization of Sports from an Early Age
There was an early study done by Joseph Baker so as to test the fact that if specialization in a sport from an early age is really needed for success later on in life. His study compared athletes involved in multiple sports to athletes who specializes in only one. And as per the study it was seen that one can be an expert in a particular sports after a major time investment and deliberate effort.
There is one study which has proven that specialization from a very early age can restrict total motor development. It also lowers one’s chances of taking part in any other sports. This is the reason why that gymnasts aren’t very good in sports related to endurance and why swimmers roll their ankles during the time they are playing basketball.
On the other hand, a soccer player who also is into gymnastics will be having a lot better endurance due to his/her floor routine and will also having really strong knees and ankles. Cross training will help a lot in sports where mental and physical skills can translate well with each other.
Baker has thus recommended to start specializing in a sports after an athlete becomes adolescence. But then there is another problem related to Baker’s suggestion which is if a figure skater or gymnast waits till he/she turns twelve then they are already late by five years and will have little to no chance in competing in elite level or even when they are in college.
Children should be encouraged by their parents to try all varieties of sports and should start specializing when they are at least 12 – 13 years old. But because some sports will need the athlete to show their best performance at early age, a suggestion or practice like that can restrict a young athlete from reaching their full potential and become part of the elite group. Well we cannot point which of the options are right or wrong as per say rather it is up to the family and the athlete that which option they would go for.
So does Intensive Gymnastic Training actually cause Athletes to be short?
Some experts believe that puberty can be delayed and growth can be stunted due to intensive training. Erlandson did a study back in 2007 where they tracked the growth and maturation of female gymnasts, tennis player and swimmers who are in their adolescence and becoming adults soon. They checked them once for three years and did a follow up routine after ten years.
The result of the Erlandson study that none of the athletes from any of the three sports that has focused on were victims of stunted growth or delayed maturity due to intensive training. Gymnasts were smaller in comparison to the stature of tennis players and swimmers but the swimmers despite following the same intensive routine as the gymnasts and the tennis players were part of taller 50th percentile.
Studies have found that intensive training doesn’t even cause delay in menarche also because 92% athletes reached it before they take retirement from their respective sports.
Young athletes are selected based on their skills, size and physique to top-level teams. When they don’t fit the mould they are not encouraged to continue with that particular sport for very long. Selection of better suited people are often done subconsciously mainly by the coaches and the parents, the former giving more preference to ones who are better suited physically to the sports and the latter encourages their children to take up sports which they think their children will do good without much effort. This definitely doesn’t mean that any sports which has majority of short athletes can’t have a taller one but the number of accommodations that will have to be made for that one person who doesn’t fit into the norm and also the amount of adjustments that the athlete will have to make are very tough.
The Story of Michael Phelps’ height and his career in Gymnastics
This is exactly what happened to Michael Phelps who at the age of 13 was 5 feet which was a totally average height. He was told by most people to take up basketball or volleyball even ballet because he was “too tall” for the gymnastics. But he had to face a lot of massive problems due to his tall frame as the coaches had to constantly raise the bar to accommodate him. By the age of 15 when he became 5’7” his gymnastic career was over only due to the fact that his tall frame was becoming an issue.
Gymnastics is one of those sports where you actually hold an advantage by being shorter in comparison to your tall peers. A taller frame meant that more strength was needed to show skills similar to those of the shorter ones which can be done by lesser strength.
So taking it in Darwin’s perspective one can say in sports like gymnastics, it better for you if you are smaller in size and in swimming its better if you are taller in size. So it is actually very foolish to think that gymnastics make athletes shorter because it doesn’t. And if intensive training perspective is taken into account then an article by Bass and Associates (1998) have proven that doing exercises related to weight bearing in pre-pubertal years is really advantageous because of the improvement of bone density due to it. The only risk the young athletes will face is the injury due to excessive training but that is when parents and coach are supposed to keep them in check.
So in conclusion we can say that it is actually that taller athletes face a lot of issues why doing gymnastics thus they tend to stop doing it after a certain age or they go forward or change to some other sports where they can be better at thus making gymnastics end up mostly with shorter people.