Nutrition information isn’t hard to find these days on the internet. What’s hard is sifting through all of it and building a safe and reliable nutrition plan for our young athletes.
One of the keys to that plan is feeding them before they play a game. In the old days, we were told to consume a lot of carbohydrates. The “carbo load” was essential. We’ve since learned that the “load” needed some refinement. And maybe we were placing too much emphasis on what we ate before we played.
This article from sportsnutritionhq.com certainly thinks so. Titled “Solving the Pre-Game Meal Misunderstanding Once and For All,” the article says that the pre-game meal gets too much attention. Instead, we should see it (and eat it) as part of a comprehensive nutritional plan.
The writer tells us, “…while yes, the choice you make for your pre-game meal can have a huge impact on your ability to perform just hours later, it’s just as important to look at the contribution the last few days’ worth of eating can have on the game you’ll play today.”
If your athlete has erratic eating habits, a nutritious pre-game isn’t going to do quite what you hope. The article’s author offers his “7 Sacred Principles of Pep” and then goes on to list his “Five for Fueling” pre-game meals. Check them out.
I’m not sure this article ends the discussion “once and for all,” but it goes a long way to informing us that a consistent, on-going nutritional plan will help all young players perform at their best.
With baseball and softball and spring soccer right around the corner, American Association of Pediatrics has just released its revised “policy statement on baseball and softball.” One of the statement’s authors, Dr. Joseph Congeni, adds that parents and coaches “should be familiar with ‘an ounce of prevention’ guidelines.”
Since baseball and softball reign supreme in spring, the AAP focuses their precautionary attention on overuse arm injuries due to throwing. Pitchers need to be monitored closely. In an earlier post we explored this issue in greater detail, and a reader noted that coaches can’t be responsible for knowing if his or her pitcher has thrown for another team. When kids play for multiple teams, parents need to inform the coach how recently the kid has pitched and how many pitches he or she threw.
Coaches and parents need to be sure that kids wear proper protective equipment and make sure games aren’t played in extreme weather conditions. Most of all, says the APP, we need to remember that kids are “not just ‘small’ adults.” They’re bodies are still forming and are more vulnerable to certain types of injuries.
The APP guidelines won’t surprise parents and coaches and probably are precautions you take already. This article from Health.com provides all of them. I have to admit that I’ve never ensured that I had “quick access” to an automated external defibrillator while coaching a game, but apparently that is recommended. The rest of the advice covers what most of us do already, but the reminder is worth reading and heeding.
Here’s to a great season.
You might have heard about this story already, but we felt that it deserves attention as a cautionary tale and a reminder to parents that sometimes we can get too wrapped up in the outcomes of kids’ games.
Last week at a CYO 6th grade basketball game in Springfield, Mass., an assistant coach of the losing team allegedly attacked the head coach of the winning team – stunning everyone, including the winning coach. When the pair wrestled to the floor, knocking kids and parents out of the way, the alleged attacker bit the rival coach’s ear, tearing off a piece of it.
Timothy Forbes has been arrested and faces some pretty severe charges. The winning coach was rushed to the hospital and later released. The local CYO, obviously embarrassed by the incident, stated this week that beginning next season parents attending games must sign a code of conduct agreement. Violate it once and you’re banned from attending games.
It’s a shame, of course, that such a rule is even necessary. But we’ve all seen parents lose their manners at games. And the kids have seen it too, just as the kids at the Springfield game witnessed the fray. In the heat of competition, tempers sometimes flair, even when the games involve elementary school kids. As adults, we bring the disappointments and frustrations of our day to the games, and a few questionable calls from the ref can be a convenient place to vent those emotions.
It’s not that the alleged attacker is some kind of monster or that, in calmer moments, he doesn’t know all the platitudes that have been issued since the event. Yes, he knows that it’s just a kids’ game; he knows that youth sports are about fun for the kids; he knows parents are expected to act like civilized adults and that his behavior was disgraceful.
What he apparently didn’t know that when parents realize they’re getting too involved in the game and that their feelings have spiked far out of proportion to the contest itself, then they need to excuse themselves. If the coach simply had left the gym and walked around outside for a few minutes, I’ll bet he’d have calmed down, regained his perspective, and realized that his feelings were ridiculous.
Instead, he’s now in jail. His life likely has changed forever in a really bad way. He has imprinted in the minds of a gym full of kids a terrible event that they’ll probably never forget. He has embarrassed himself and the CYO organization, the parish where the tournament was held.
It does no good for the high and mighty to add their tsk-tsks to the story. What will do some good is for adults to monitor their emotions and their actions. Kids’ games are too easy a target where we can aim the frustrations in our lives. Go to a game in a foul mood and we can find ourselves unleashing that mood on refs and coaches who really have nothing to do with our feelings.
Even if you’re the coach – just leave. Give yourself a timeout. Regain your composure and your perspective. Come back in when you’re ready to make the game about the kids again, and you’re ready to help give those kids a fun experience rather than a model of exactly how not to act.
For over a decade, coaches and parents have been aware that pitchers at the youth level should avoid throwing curveballs. The motion is bad for their young arms, we were told. Reports of Tommy John surgeries being done on the elbows of kids still too young to drive proved the theory.
Or maybe not. A recent report from the University of North Carolina commissioned Little League International and USA Baseball find no evidence that curveballs are any tougher on young arms than fastballs. This article that appeared in Sunday’s New York Times supplies the particulars and links to several studies on the subject.
Dr. James Andrews, the Svengali of pitching-arm surgeries and the founder of the American Sports Medicine Institute, says the new report doesn’t refute studies ASMI has done on the link between throwing break balls at an early age and the prevalence of arm injuries at the youth baseball level.
In fact, the new study was commissioned to verify studies the ASMI already had done. Breaking balls have been outlawed in Little League for a few years now, and coaches I know advise their pitchers not to throw them even when warming up. But maybe we need to rethink this approach.
At least according to docs. Despite this new report and his own research, Andrews hopes that breaking balls will remain on the verboten list. He says he performs seven times more arm surgeries on kids than he did 15 years ago.
Dr. Tim Kremchek, an orthopedic surgeon in Cincinnati and the Reds’ team physician decries the conclusion and the attention its attracting. He says that watching kids throwing curves makes him sick and that he performs 150 elbow surgeries every year.
Perhaps, says Andrews, the study doesn’t account for the pitching mechanics of a typical kid throwing curves. He also feels that the epidemic of bum arms can be linked to the number of pitches kids are throwing now compared to in the past. Kids play on multiple teams, extending the traditional baseball season through traveling teams and multiple tournaments.
Little League rules enforce pitch counts in games and the frequency of pitchers taking the mound, but Andrews wants even stricter guidelines, such as an innings-per-year limit. It’s not hard today for a kid to pitch for his Little League team one day and then for a different team in a different league the next.
Andrews also wisely wants a rule that states when a coach relieves a pitcher who has reached his pitch count limit, the kid can’t be moved to catcher. Experienced coaches have seen that situation many times–the battery mates simply switch positions, which, while respecting the letter of the law ignores the spirit of it.
Where do you stand on the issue? Despite the studies, I’m staying in the ounce-of-prevention camp. Maybe breaking pitches aren’t the main culprit, but it’s not hard to conclude they’re an accessory in the crime. If anything, the studies cast an even harsher light on the problem of overuse. When kids play for multiple teams, they need to pitch only for one of them. And coaches need to know how much a kid is pitching and resist the temptation to use that pitcher no matter the circumstances.
No gathering of coaches ever seems to end before at least a few horror stories about sports parents have been told. And sometimes those parents are also coaches (though never ones who are present at the time, of course).
The nightmarish sports parent has become a cultural stereotype, and we’ve all met them, but in my experience they have been few and far between. More often we see parents who are genuinely acting out of love for their kids and are genuinely trying to be helpful to them. They want their kids to succeed and to be happy. They’re just blind to the fact that for most kids in youth sports success and happiness aren’t always connected.
And truth be told, we’re all guilty from time to time of offering more ‘help’ to our kids than they want – or need.
Yesterday someone forwarded this very insightful article from thepostgame.com that covers the traits of Nightmare Parents as well as Ideal Parents in the world of youth sports. It also speaks to those of us who fall somewhere in between – and I’ll wager that’s most of us.
The article should catch your attention right away with the response from hundreds of college athletes who were asked about their worst memories from playing youth and high school sports. The “overwhelming” leader: riding home from the games with their parents.
And we’re not talking about parents berating their kids about poor play or being in any way abusive. The examples of what parents say probably will sound familiar to you because you’ve said some of them yourself. According to a couple of guys from Proactive Coaching, offering any sort of critique of your child, of teammates or coaches or even referees right after a game is not a good idea. Their advice: tell your child “I love to watch you play” and leave it at that. Let sports be their own thing, not yours.
The writer goes on to offer five symptoms of the Nightmare Parent. The one that resonated most with me – as a parent and as a coach who has observed other parents – focuses on when a win or a loss means more to you than it does to your child. As the writer states, when you’re still depressed after a loss while your child is off playing with friends, clearly having forgotten about it, then you need to back off. The same hold true, I would think, for being thrilled by a win. Our pleasure should come from seeing our kids happy. When they move on to the next thing, we should do the same.
As for the traits of an ideal parent, they’re pretty much the ones you’d expect – being supportive and positive, giving your child the opportunity (and the space) to come to you for help. The one that’s toughest for coaches to manage is the advice about playing only one role at the game. The writer’s point is that parents sitting in the stands should try to coach their child. But what if you are the coach? We usually are there at the game as both a coach and a parent, playing a dual role, and striking that balance is not always easy.
The takeaway on that thorny dilemma seems to be forget about the game after it’s over. Like any parent, move on to the next thing. At the next practice you might want to address mistakes and praise good plays, but in the mean time, let it go. When the game ends, we’re not coaching anymore. We’re the same as any other parent. Of course, right after you’ve focused all of your attention on every play of a game, it’s tough to turn it off, I know. Believe me, I know. But we need to avoid rehashing the game or mentioning the play of our kids or other players.
Take a look at the article. It offers a very smart and entertaining glimpse at a world we all know well.
In today’s youth sports world, kids are being told to specialize in a sport, where they can concentrate all of their time and effort and training. The thinking behind that approach – by focusing on one sport a kid has a better chance of excelling, perhaps leading to a college scholarship and even a professional career.
I recall some years back that a kid on an opposing team that we faced frequently had begun playing only basketball – in the fourth grade. At that age he also had a personal trainer. No question, the kid possessed amazing skills. Even my team’s best defenders had no chance of stopping him. He’s in high school now and, from what I heard recently, he’s playing two sports: football and baseball. I wondered if specializing in basketball at such a young age burned him out on the game.
Here’s a very short video featuring Heisman Trophy-winner Sam Bradford explaining that he played multiple sports as a kid. He says this approach kept him busy and kept him from getting burned out on any one sport, because after a season he went on to a different sport.
Beyond burnout, playing multiple sports helps kids develop into better all-around athletes, serving them well if they decide while in high school to focus on one sport. Here’s a short video hosted by Ken Crenshaw, athletic trainer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who advises kids to play multiple sports. He says playing a single sport year-round is “not the best for developing good athletes.”
Specialization also can lead to injury. In this post on a blog titled sidelinesportsdoc.com, Dr. Dev K. Mishra cites a study presented at last year’s meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine in which 154 athletes with an average age of 13 were given sports physicals or treatment for injuries at Loyola University. He writes, “The injured athletes had a significantly higher average score on a sports specialization scale than athletes who weren’t injured.”
The author offers parents the following recommendations:
- Encourage your son or daughter to play multiple sports until they are through puberty.
- Watch them closely for signs of injury.
- Get help early for a suspected injury.
- Be especially careful of specialization in individual sports such as swimming, tennis, gymnastics, and dance.
A gifted high school athlete hoping for a college scholarship might want to specialize in one sport to improve his or her chances. But until then, they are better served playing multiple sports. They’re less likely to feel burned out and less likely to be injured. They’ll also develop into a better athlete. All good ideas for parents to keep in mind at the youth sports level.
A friend of mine told me a cautionary tale about attending an elementary school sports banquet that featured former MLB all-star Buddy Bell as the guest speaker. Bell talked about his major league career that followed in the footsteps of his dad, Gus, who spent 15 seasons as an outfielder in the National League.
He told the audience of kids and parents that his father never pushed him toward a professional baseball career. Gus was supportive, sure, teaching the fundamentals to his son, who also learned a love for the game. Other than building that foundation and keeping sports fun for our kids, he told us, there’s nothing we can do as parents to guide our kids to professional sports.
The advice was surprising, given the source – the son of a major leaguer. And Buddy’s sons David and Mike both went on to play in the majors too, if not with the same success as their father and grandfather. But most of the parents got the message – keep it fun for the kids, teach them the basics, and let fate take its course. If you press too hard or foster dreams of big league success, you can ruin the experience.
After finishing his talk, Buddy asked the audience for questions. A dad immediately stood up and asked what he could do to help his son become a major leaguer. Buddy, along with everyone in the audience, stared in stunned silence at the guy. Had he not heard what Buddy has just finished saying?
Sure, the ambitious dad had heard it all, but that advice had changed nothing for him. Some parents want professional sports stardom a lot more than their kids do, despite the tremendous odds against it ever happening.
I’ve been reminded of that story recently by a pro athlete who apparently beat those odds – New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. A Harvard graduate of Asian-American heritage, Lin was not the prototypical NBA player and had seen little court time until the Knicks suffered some injuries, and the coach was forced to use him. What followed, as we all have heard, was the stunning rise to fame of a benchwarmer. Suddenly every long-shot kid in youth sports (and many of their parents) found reason for hope.
In this article from Forbes.com, writer Bob Cook tells his readers that Lin’s success should not be used to foster unrealistic ambitions in kids or their parents. He writes that Lin’s story has created an unfortunate situation for sports parents – renewed hope that any athlete with the determination to succeed can do exactly that. Even if your kid is not the star of his or her team, if given a chance they can shine far more brightly than anyone ever expected.
Cook’s response: not really.
The Lin story, says Cook, creates false hope – whether it be for the bench-warming scrub on her school softball team or even for the kid who is tops on his school basketball team but lacks the size and speed to succeed at higher levels of competition. Could it happen? Sure. Will it? Very unlikely. And, as Buddy Bell told his audience, there’s nothing you can do to improve the odds. Let the kids learn the basics and have fun.
Stories like Lin’s are such outliers that hanging any personal ambitions on them is like hoping you’ll win the lottery so you can retire next year. And, as Cook makes clear, Lin’s rise to fame hasn’t been quite as unlikely as most of us assume. He was picked as the best player in California as a senior in high school. Yes, he was passed over by college recruiters and even by NBA coaches, but he always had the goods. When the opportunity to play regularly arose, he had the ability and had done the preparation to succeed.
It’s an underdog story, sure, and an inspiring one. We all can enjoy it and continue to root for him. But those who use it as proof that anyone can achieve their goal through determination and perseverance are setting themselves up for a lot of heartache and disappointment – unless they truly possess the talent necessary to succeed. They also risk ruining a kid’s true “glory years” in youth sports, having fun on the field and being part of a team.
As Cook suggests, it’s better for parents to share with their kids the joys of playing youth sports – a fleeting time in their lives, one full of memories that they’ll always remember, especially if we let them have fun rather than pressure them to strive for achievements beyond their abilities.
When we were growing up, our parents took an interest in our sports activities – if we had good parents. Maybe your parents even helped coach the teams you played on. But I’ll wager that your parents were not as involved as you are.
At the risk of generalizing, parents today take a greater interest than their parents took. We want to be supportive of our kids and be involved in their lives. That’s what a good parent does. But sometimes we can cross the line into being too involved. We become helicopter parents – constantly hovering.
That approach can be as harmful to our kids as neglect. And it’s easy to fall into that pattern – and just as easy to be blind to it. And to rationalize it. We can say that we want to be there for our kids, to help them succeed and fulfill their dreams. But kids are entitled to live their own lives, and too much involvement can smother those dreams. I’ve seen kids quit sports as a result of a parent being too active – either pushing for better performance or simply placing too much emphasis on the kid’s activities.
I wish I could offer a foolproof way of assessing if you’re too involved, but I don’t know of some psychological yardstick that lets us know when we’re being constructively supportive and when we’re going too far.
But I did find an informative article by Dr. Patrick Cohn, who appears to specialize in sports psychology. He writes a blog titled “Youth Sports Tips for Parents” that is well worth checking out for advice on a variety of sports-parenting-related topics. In the linked post, he takes on the subject of parents who are too involved.
Here’s the paragraph that I found most meaningful: “It’s . . . important to let the child lead you. You don’t want your child to play sports to fulfill your dreams. When kids play only to satisfy their parents, they often feel pressured. It’s difficult to play freely and intuitively. What’s more, they generally drop out of sports, and then miss all its great social, emotional and physical benefits!”
Youth sports can be a vehicle for parents to hang onto their own youth. We need to be sure that we’re supporting our kids’ goals rather than our own. Also, youth sports provides parents with a sense of community as we meet the parents of other players, developing friendships and a new social circle. And there’s no denying that among parents a pecking order develops based on how well the kids perform. Again, we need to make sure that our involvement prioritizes the needs of our kids, rather than our own.
Helicopter parenting also can arise from fear – of our kid’s failure because somehow we haven’t helped them make the most of their opportunities. Another motivation: our own parents didn’t make time to be involved in our activities and so subconsciously we try to right the wrong by getting involved, maybe too involved.
All of those factors arise from our needs and issues as parents and as people. If you’re wondering if you might be helicoptering, evaluate yourself before looking at your child or at other parents. By evaluating your own needs, you can more easily assess how much your involvement is helping your child, which should be our top priority.
We’ve talked about the value of stretching in previous posts so I’ll assume you’re all believers in the importance for young players to stretch as part of their warmup before practice or games. While it’s true that young muscles are more elastic than those of adults, they still need to be warmed up before put into action. Players also should stretch after a game or practice to help their muscles recover.
But even parents and coaches who understand the importance of stretching before and after athletic performance sometimes have questions about exactly how to do it correctly. I coached one season with a dad who insisted that the kids stretch first, but his idea of proper form was based mostly on how major leaguers stretch on the field before games, which isn’t always the best way, especially for young players. He mostly told them, “Stretch out, guys,” and let them do their own thing, offering just enough advice to do some serious damage.
The kids would be twisted into pretzels, stretching way too far and bouncing up and down as they stretched. I had to put a stop to that – calling the coach aside and letting him know I was concerned the kids would get hurt. He grudgingly turned over the warmups to me.
Not that I was an expert by a long shot. But I knew enough to know that the players needed to run a bit first in order to increase blood flow into the muscles. Then the stretched needed to be controlled, focused on a single move. And the stretch should be smooth and steady, stopping when the muscle resists. When it does, hold the stretch there and take a deep breath, which may release the muscle a little bit and allow a slightly deeper stretch. Yanking a muscle or bouncing in a stretch can cause a pull.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is a short but useful article by a professional physical therapist on the right way to stretch. He emphasizes the importance of holding a stretch long enough for it to really work. He writes, “After 10 seconds of stretching, the nervous system will sense the change in muscle tension and begin to relax. Only then can the true stretch begin.”
So if your players are contorting in crazy positions and rushing through a series of stretches, holding each one for only a few seconds, stop them and show them how to do it correctly. It’s a lesson they’ll remember and will use throughout their athletic careers – and probably long after.
Parents love the post-game snack. Kids like it too, but probably not as much as the parents do. As this funny blog post at imperfectparent.com titled “Snack Insanity” presents oh so clearly, “the organized snack thing has clearly gotten out of hand.”
Now, I’ve seen blog posts and articles on the topic before, and, yes, they tend to overstate the case. They also tend to rhapsodize about how “back in our day” we were grateful for a drop of lukewarm water. And this writer is guilty of a little bit of that thinking, but not a lot. She makes some good points and entertains along the way with some humorous (and insightful) observations about the phenomena of the “snack thing” that any sports coach or parent will recognize and enjoy.
She also makes a great point: “could it be that the purpose of the organized snack is to give all the parents a chance to contribute? With a team snack schedule in place, no parent is left behind. Every parent gets her or his chance to be snack lady, or snack man, and thus feel like a contributor.”
Parents do contribute in a lot of ways. There is the constant hustle to get the kid to this practice and that kid to that practice. And then we have to go and buy snacks too? None of it is difficult. Doing all of it sometimes is. Snack time, yes, adds a social element to the end of the game and let’s things wind down a bit. But as parents we need to keep it in perspective. A small healthy snack is fine–and is all that’s necessary. Then we all can rush off to the next kid’s game.