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Teenage Clumsiness: Does it exist?



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Adolescence is characterized by systematic and dramatic physical and behavioural changes, the most noticeable physical growth is the rapid increase in stature marked by peak height velocity (PHV). Anecdotally, many people are aware that as youth pass through their adolescent growth spurt there is a perceived period of physical awkwardness; however, there is no scientific agreement as to whether a period of awkwardness associated with the adolescent growth actually exists. Previous research has focused on the development of general motor performance or gross motor coordination. Increases in strength during adolescence may mask the effect of a stage of adolescent awkwardness on general motor performance tasks. To detect adolescent awkwardness it is necessary to measure either performance of skills that specifically do not depend on strength, or body awareness. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether female adolescents’ awareness of their body size and movement was influenced by biological maturation, and whether adolescent awkwardness could be detected in performance of sport specific skills independent of strength. An endpoint matching task was used to measure awareness of foot position in space by measuring the distance (mm) between a reference and matching endpoint position (endpoint matching error (EME)) with eyes either open or closed. The Johnson wall volley and a ball juggling task were used to measure soccer specific skill and coordination. Thirty six female youth soccer players, aged 10-14 years, were recruited. Age at PHV was predicted from measures of age, height, leg length and weight. Three groups were identified: pre-PHV (n=6), PHV (n=5) and post –PHV (n=25). Mean group differences were assessed using ANOVA. It was found that when the endpoint matching task was performed with eyes open there was no significant difference in mean EME between groups (p > 0.05). With eyes closed the PHV group performed worse than the pre-PHV and post-PHV groups. The Post-PHV group significantly (p < 0.05) decreased their EME (22.2 ± 13.9) compared to the PHV group (32.8 ± 17.6) but no difference was found with the Pre-PHV group (27.5 ± 15.7). On the wall volley test the Post-PHV group performed significantly (p < 0.05) better compared to the PHV group but not the Pre-PHV group. The Post-PHV group performed significantly (p < 0.05) better on the ball juggling task compared to both the Pre-PHV and the PHV groups. In conclusion, the results suggest that in the year around PHV body awareness, as measured by EME, may plateau or decrease and that soccer skill performance plateaus. This plateau or decrease in body awareness and soccer skills involving coordination is likely temporary; participants in this study who were > 6 months past PHV had significantly better body awareness and soccer skill performance than those participants who were within 6 months of PHV. The results from the endpoint matching task also indicate that a measure of body size and movement awareness has the potential to be used to measure changes in body awareness during the adolescent growth spurt. The results of this study suggest that teenage clumsiness could exists. However, a definitive study with larger maturity groups followed over time is required to confirm this statement.



Adolescent awkwardness, teenage clumsiness, biological maturity, endpoint matching, body schema, soccer



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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