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The Impact of Size Differences: Youth Sports and Ergonomic Needs

ergonomics Feb 22, 2023

As a mother, a strength coach, and a consultant in workplace ergonomics, I've seen firsthand the importance of accommodating different ergonomic needs and physical abilities as well as how size differences can impact athletic performance and safety, especially in youth sports.

During middle school sports, I am constantly amazed at the wide range of size differences among boys due to differences in genetics, puberty timing, nutrition, and physical activity. These differences can have a huge impact on a youth athlete's ability to perform and be resilient against injury. 

As an example, taller boys may have an advantage in basketball because they can reach higher to grab the ball and shoot over defenders. In contrast, shorter boys may have an advantage in soccer or lacrosse because they have a lower center of gravity and can maneuver more easily.  Don't get fooled into assuming the bigger and taller are better all around athletes.  Boys who grow tall over a short period of time often lack in coordination and agility as their motor learning systems play catch up with their longer limbs.  Just like boys who are heavier playing football may have an easier time with tackling but that requires catching the smaller, more nimble boys first.

Even with full grown adults in the workplace, you will have a range of body types and sizes to accommodate for when working to create a safe and comfortable work environment.  This is easier to do in the office setting where you can provide adjustable chairs and desks and in the manufacturing setting where you can improve a stationary workstation.  On the flip side, there are more challenges to accommodate in uncontrolled work environments where heavy equipment/machinery is engineered for an average size male and confined spaces abound that provide a better place for smaller workers to excel. Educating and encouraging workers into roles that fit their strengths can help prevent injuries and increase productivity and job satisfaction.

Overall, in the case of youth sports, coaches and trainers should be aware of size and developmental differences and adjust their coaching and training strategies accordingly.  Likewise in the industrial athlete world, managers recognizing and working with differences in physical ability, size and strength can help create a safer and more productive work environment. By providing appropriate job placement, training, support, and equipment, employers can help all sizes of workers excel in their chosen profession.

Lori F.

*The photo included was at our son's 7/8th grade lacrosse game over the weekend of his teammate number 13 who ran some circles around the bigger boy but had a hard time stopping his shots on goal.

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