Longitudinal Changes in the Physical Development of Elite Adolescent Rugby Union Players: Effect of Playing Position and Body Mass Change

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: The well-being of elite rugby union players has been intensely scrutinised in recent years. Understanding the longitudinal development of physical traits in junior players, alongside the moderating effect of simultaneous increases in body mass, can aid in improving programming and ultimately help junior players prepare for the demands of senior rugby. The purpose of this study was to investigate the longitudinal physical development of elite adolescent backs and forwards in a professional rugby union academy. Methods: A total of 15 players (age, 17.0 [0.2] y; body mass, 90 [14] kg; height, 183 [9] cm; n = 7 backs, n = 8 forwards) completed anthropometric measures and 3 primary performance assessments (countermovement jump, Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test level 1, and 10-m speed) at baseline, year 2, and year 3. Mixed modelling was used to assess player development over time and differences in this development by playing position. Magnitude-based inferencing was used to assess the uncertainty in the effects. Results: There was a substantial increase in countermovement jump height for both groups combined (0.9, ±0.4; standardized improvement, ±90% confidence limits; most likely substantial). Forwards exhibited a moderate-sized decrease in speed (−1.0, ±0.5; very likely substantial), and there was a large difference between groups with regards to speed change with backs outperforming forwards (1.5, ±0.9; very likely substantial). For forward, body mass change had a large negative association with 10-m speed (−1.9, ±0.7; most likely substantial) and Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test level 1 change (−1.2, ±0.9; very likely substantial). Conclusion: These findings provide novel normative data for longitudinal changes in junior rugby union players and suggest that coaches should account for changes in body mass when targeting increases in speed and aerobic fitness.

Casserly, Neville, and Ditroilo are with the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Grainger is with Hockey Ireland at the Institute for Sport and Health, University College Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.

Casserly (niall.casserly@ucdconnect.ie) is corresponding author.
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