With the fall sports season starting, middle and high school athletes face challenges like never before. Competition for playing time and athletic scholarships is at an all-time high. Parents are equally challenged in trying to ensure their kids perform their best in school and on the playing field. To help, here's my suggested game plan:
Blow the Whistle at Bedtime. Studies show that students need nine hours of sleep but only get about seven. Set a consistent "lights out" time for turning off the computer, cell phone and television so young athletes get the rest they need. Consider docking texting and gaming devices away from their bedroom to reduce late-night distractions.
Fuel the Burn. Active young athletes need at least 3,000 calories per day for peak performance, so they need to eat very frequently. Help them maintain energy throughout the day by sending them off to school with healthy, high-carb, low-fat snacks such as energy bars, trail mix or dried fruit to munch at their desks (if it's ok with the teacher). Students with early morning workouts should eat two breakfasts - one before the workout and one before school. So, send athletes to practice with a snack to help them recover and refuel.
Be Proactive About Hydration. Staying hydrated during the school day is challenging. In fact, studies show that many student athletes start their sports already dehydrated, making it difficult for them to catch up during activity. For safety and performance reasons athletes need to be hydrated no matter what the season, and water isn't enough because it doesn't hydrate as effectively as a sports drink that is scientifically formulated with fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates to rapidly replace what athletes lose through sweat and provide energy to keep them at the top of their game.
Use Sports Sense to Power Schoolwork. Great athletes are disciplined, focused and dedicated. Help young athletes channel these qualities to manage their schoolwork as well. Encourage them to use free time at school to review notes or knock off smaller assignments. Also, coach them to tackle the tough stuff first. Young athletes will be tired after sports, so they should finish priority and difficult homework earlier in the day.
Don't Forget the Fun. Youth sports may be increasingly competitive, but the top reason kids play sports is to enjoy the game. Look out for warning signs that students are struggling to enjoy the experience, and work with them to find a solution. Warning signs include: complaints of sickness at practice or game time; slow return to practice after injury; nervousness, anxiety or anger before, during or after the game; practices well but plays poorly.
Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, Producer/Director of the PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer," and author of "Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports."