Understanding the growth spurt: Shaping PE for the next generation

Mr W. I won’t forget him in a hurry. He became my year 9 PE teacher and he saved me from a fate worse than death….Netball.

A whole term of it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against netball per se – but all it did for me was highlight my inadequacies.

I enjoyed ballet dancing, so on a sprung floor to music my footwork was spot-on, but netball and it’s ‘stick your landing foot to the floor’ and ‘don’t travel with the ball’ rules were absolutely not part of my movement repertoire. What else did ballet give me that netball didn’t? Jump height and lots of it. Surely this ability should have made me better at netball. But nope, far from it. Why? Because I was small.

Smaller in height and stature than the other girls in my year and, no matter how hard I tried, or how high I could jump and reach, I just couldn’t get there. And I really did try. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt small, and inadequate and struggled to keep up with your peers? Maybe you’ve experienced these feelings during your own traumatic year 9 phase, or are witnessing it in your own students now.

How did I manage this mismatch of prowess to my peers? Did I seek counsel and a calm conversation with the PE staff to find a resolution? Of course, I didn’t. I did what any self-respecting teenager would do: huff and cry, deliberately become sullen, refused to stick to the rules of the game, gave up trying, even threw a can of highly coveted Charlie Red body spray (it was the late 90s) in anger. What a treasure I was. That’s when Mr W stepped in and changed the course of my PE experience forever. He allowed me to join the boys’ basketball session. Suddenly, I could play to my strengths of speed, skill, tactics and agility. He understood and acknowledged my capabilities and limitations. The result: I was a completely different child.

Fast forward two decades and I’m now a musculoskeletal physiotherapist working with teenagers who are just like I was then (“takes one to know one”, I guess). My experiences have led me to reflect on the importance of understanding the growth spurt process – interestingly, a topic I didn’t receive much formal education on during my training. The more I speak to people across sectors, the more aware I am that this gap seems to be a trend. It’s leaving us, the custodians of a generation, with little preparation to address the specific needs of adolescents. My life experience has taught me that recognising and accommodating the changes that adolescents go through during this crucial phase is pivotal to shaping their relationship with physical activity and sport. To dive deeper into this topic, I’m keen to learn about experiences beyond my own lens, I’ve initiated an online survey aimed at UK PE teachers, and I’d love your input.

The Growth Spurt: A turning point

The growth spurt is a unique phase in a young person’s life, marked by significant physical and psychological development. Understanding the changes and challenges during this phase is crucial for PE teachers, as it is for all of us who interact with this group. Some students might flourish in physical activity and sport, while others may face difficulties.

Mr. W’s Lesson: Acknowledging Individuality

Mr W’s impact on my life was significant because he recognised that one size doesn’t fit all. He allowed me to explore my potential in an accommodating setting, rather than forcing me into a mould that didn’t suit me. This raises the question: As PE teachers, how can we acknowledge our students’ unique capabilities and limitations generally but also, especially during the growth spurt?

The Online Survey: Your Voice Matters

I’ve seen the consequences of neglecting the importance of the growth spurt phase in my role as a physio. It has a lasting impact on physical development, athletic abilities and lifelong engagement. Your participation in this survey can help us understand how to support adolescents during this critical phase better. The aim is to explore different PE teachers’ strategies, experiences and insights in dealing with students facing challenges due to their changing bodies. Your responses will be invaluable in uncovering best practices that can be shared among the PE teaching community, contributing to an environment where every student can thrive.

In conclusion

The growth spurt is a pivotal phase in a young person’s relationship with physical activity and sports. Recognising individuality and adapting teaching methods is key. Your participation in the survey can help us support students during this critical phase, inspiring the next generation of teachers, coaches and students. So, are you ready to join this journey of discovery? It will take just 10 minutes. Please click this survey link and share your experiences, insights and strategies for shaping PE during the growth spurt.

Thank you for being part of this transformative movement between physio and PE education. Let’s ensure that every student’s growth spurt story is a tale of triumph and not frustration.

About the Author

This guest blog has been written by Gemma Parry, a physiotherapist and musculoskeletal researcher with over 15 years’ experience across the health and education sectors. Gemma holds a PhD in movement assessment and the adolescent child, a MSc in Sports Rehabilitation and a PGCert in Higher Education. She is currently a growth and maturation project lead at The University of Bath in conjunction with Podium Analytics. Want to find out more about the impacts of the growth spurt and PE for your pupils? Contact [email protected] for more information.

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