London, July 7 (IANS) Grouping young tennis players according to their physical maturity rather than their chronological age could help us develop future tennis champions, suggests new research.
Boys and girls can vastly vary in their rates of growth and maturity during adolescence.
Those who mature early are taller, quicker, bigger and stronger, giving them a significant advantage over their late maturing peers.
"Tennis is a sport that favours youth who are taller and mature earlier than their peers. Our data show that this selection bias impacts girls from the age of 10 and boys from the age of 12," said Sean Cumming, Senior Lecturer in Health at University of Bath in England.
"Every extra inch in height of a player increases the velocity of their serve by five per cent. At the elite level, it is quite common to find junior players, especially adolescent boys, who are six foot or greater in height," Cumming noted.
This means that later maturing players are often overlooked in the elite tennis selection process.
"While early maturing boys and girls have initial advantages, the pressure to win can lead them to play to their physical strengths at the expense of their technical development," Cumming said.
"In contrast, talented, yet late maturing players might be excluded or overlooked by talent spotters on the basis of physical characteristics that are not fully realised until adulthood," Cumming explained.
The research team, which includes mathematicians from Bath's Institute for Mathematical Innovation, is developing new statistical methods to allow practitioners to better assess and account for individual differences in biological maturity and help ensure players are evaluated on the basis of their physical development, and not just their chronological age.
The team published its research in the journal Pediatric Exercise Science.
"The challenge for those working with young tennis players is to look beyond differences in maturity, and recognise those players who may have the greatest potential for success as an adult," Cumming said.
Now the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the governing body for the game of tennis in Great Britain, is collaborating with scientists at the University of Bath to use statistics to avoid selection bias towards early maturing players, a university statement said.
Gill Myburgh, a Strength and Conditioning coach at the LTA also sees potential benefits in periodically matching players by maturity status, rather than age, in training and competition.