Fall Sports: Parenting Your Child Athlete
Fall sports are in full swing, often leading to new challenges for families. No longer are we worried about the high heat index (hopefully) or whether our kid is in good enough condition to keep up with intense practices (most are in better condition by now). Most of us are getting into the routine of balancing the season with all our other family activities, but it’s never a bad idea to stay on the look-out for obstacles.
Keep the focus on providing good nutrition for your young athlete. Make sure they have access to healthy, regular meals and snacks: carbs are important, but so are fats and protein to maintain muscle and energy over longer periods. Hydration is still very important, even with cooler temps. Water remains the best option as sports and energy drinks have lots of unnecessary calories, caffeine, etc.
Help keep an eye on your athlete’s gear. Has he chewed through his mouth guard? Do her shoes still fit properly? Think about keeping an extra layer around for when the temp drops in the evening (sweaty kids can get cold quickly). Make sure the older kids who may be running outdoors, etc, have light colored/reflective type clothing for good visibility as the sun starts to set earlier.
Overtraining can be an issue for competitive kids. Encourage your young athletes to keep their training to five days per week, with a couple rest days. If you can, limit them to one competitive sport/team at a time. Help them think of alternative ways to maintain their fitness: cross-training helps work muscles differently and keeps from over-stressing the same ones. Overtraining sometimes leads to overuse injuries—when you’ve worked a part of your body too hard. These usually require one main thing to help heal: time. Often, the doctor may require the athlete to sit out for five days. This may not be well-received, but will most likely help avoid worsening the injury or leading to long term problems. (I always say that keeping a child out of one game is better than wrecking the entire season).
Burnout is something that we are seeing more of as kids are becoming more involved in very competitive athletics. This may show up as moodiness, loss of interest in their sport (or other activities), a sudden drop in performance and even physical pain and fatigue. Help your children avoid burnout by encouraging them to set positive goals. Not just aiming to win every time, but focusing on their effort, too. For example, pointing out that they made a great defensive play, etc. Later in the season, parents often are feeling some burnout too, with overwhelming practice schedules, shuttling kids in five different directions, etc.
Sportsmanship is perhaps the most important factor in sports. Kids learn so much more from being involved in athletics than just how to play a game. Attending their events and showing respect to coaches, officials and other teams helps them absorb lessons that are hard to teach in practice. Helping them see it isn’t always about winning, but about having fun, trying something new, learning to work together, etc.
Occasionally, we’ve reached the point where our kids are ready to quit their sport. In these cases, it’s important to investigate why: is it a conflict with a coach, another player? Do they feel they aren’t getting enough playtime? Are they not performing up to their own expectations? Alternatively, are they involved in an ultra competitive environment and have become stressed, or have they lost interest? Are they feeling overwhelmed by trying to balance too many things: between their sport, school work, church, family, scouts, going out with friends, and on and on? Talk to your kids to see how they feel about the situation. Help them make some short-term goals/compromises to encourage them to try to work through the issues. Sometimes we can learn to have some long-term success even if the short-term is feeling unsuccessful (just because it’s not a winning season doesn’t mean the team hasn’t greatly improved, etc). However, if they aren’t able to work through things, it may be ok to allow them to take a break and try something new.
These blogs were written by members of the CHI Health Pediatrics team.