The 14U and 16U age groups can include players with a wide range of physical and mental maturity. On the physical side, players born on the same day can be physically +/- three years different in physical maturity. This can have a dramatic effect on performance. This picture shows three players on the same team from the same birth year at one of USA Hockey’s District Player Development Camps. All three are good players, however, each may have advantages and disadvantages based upon their individual rate of growth.
Kids that grow rapidly may face some coordination issues. Tasks that were previously mastered may become more awkward. For example, a player's skating stride may change and his ability to maneuver might diminish. It takes time for the athlete to catch up and fit into his or her new body. This has implications on the ice. Coaches need to recognize these issues and be prepared to help players move through this phase of development.
On the other end of the spectrum, the late-maturing player can be smaller than his teammates and opponents. This also can be a disadvantage in a contact/collision sport like ice hockey. The interesting thing is that the late-growth spurt child stays in the “skills development” window longer, allowing for the potential to more easily acquire hockey skills. The small, late-growing player may have the potential to be even better in the long run than the early maturer. Coaches and parents need to encourage the late-growth spurt child and prevent them from becoming discouraged.
It is important for both coaches and parents to understand where each child is within the normal growth process and how it is affecting the child in the short term. Be patient, as it is not until ALL of the kids reach physical and mental maturity that we really know who will be the best players.