06 Dec 6 Ways Your Young Athlete Can Set Goals for Physical Wellness

6 Ways Your Young Athlete Can Set Goals for Physical Wellness

If you have an active young child, please take a moment to read this article.

While it’s tempting to set goals for your children around specific athletic performances, goals that are oriented around wellness can make them both a stronger athlete and a healthier human. Simple changes to their daily routine, like making more time for sleep or eating the right snack after practice, can have immediate and long-term benefits, including helping them recover faster, avoid injury and improve their strength and endurance.

Here, Dr. Michele LaBotz, a TrueSport Expert and sports medicine physician, shares 6 simple goals to set around sleep, recovery, nutrition, and strength training that will improve their overall wellness and support your athletic goals.

1. Get Enough Sleep
Did you know that teenagers are supposed to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night for optimum health, not the 7 to 9 hours recommended for adults? And did you know that children 6-12 years old should get 9-12 hours of sleep each night? That’s right: They need more sleep. “More and more evidence is coming out on the importance of meeting these sleep recommendations for injury prevention, athletic performance, and overall mental wellness,” says LaBotz.

If your child is currently getting less than these recommended amounts, LaBotz warns they may be chronically sleep deprived. The trick with chronic sleep deprivation is that they do not actually feel tired. Although cutting back on sleep for a night or two may make them feel drowsy, going with less sleep over longer periods does not create that same feeling. They may feel well-rested, but their body is not. When you are chronically sleep deprived, your body sends false messages about how awake you feel.

The challenge for many young athletes is that between school, sport, family, and friends, it often seems there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. However, for athletes looking to optimize performance and minimize injury, LaBotz emphasizes that making sleep a priority is key. If your child is not consistently getting the recommended amount of sleep, pick a week (or two) where you are going to follow a sleep schedule based upon the clock, and not on how tired they feel. They may need to gradually build up sleep time over a few days, but after experiencing the changes sufficient sleep can deliver, most athletes feel that it is time well spent!

2. Get Enough Recovery Time
If they are on a travel team and a school team, they may accidentally fall into the “no recovery days ever” trap, says LaBotz. This isn’t good for their body, which means it’s also not good for their long-term development as an athlete. You should have at least one recovery day per week, even if it means skipping a practice to make that happen. This is important for maximizing their physical and mental performance and reducing the risk of injury.

Often, coaches aren’t aware of how much extra work they are doing with the other teams they are on, and if they did, they wouldn’t recommend training as much as they are. Talk to your coach or athletic trainer about what the current total training load looks like and find out if your child should be skipping certain sessions in favor of time off or less intense active recovery.

3. Prioritize Strength Training
“For the vast majority of sports, strength training should be part of training,” says LaBotz. “It should be built into your training week rather than an addition to everything else you are already doing.” If your child is not currently involved in strength training, set a starting goal of doing strength work twice a week for 20 to 30 minutes.

If your coach hasn’t built it into your training plan already, talk to them about how you can best fit it in. You may also want to talk to an athletic trainer to help you build a routine that hits all the major muscle groups. Focus on technique and not just on how heavy the weights are! Remember, strength training should be part of your training for sport, and not just an “added on” activity.

4. Find A Recovery Protocol That Works
Some athletes love to foam roll their legs after a workout. Others prefer hopping in an ice-cold bath to soothe sore muscles. Some prefer doing an easy yoga flow. Find what works and feels good for your child, and make time for it in your routine, says LaBotz. Set a goal of doing a few minutes of active recovery, particularly after a hard workout.

5. Improve Your Post-Workout Refueling
“For athletes who are training every day, it’s important to have a snack that’s rich in carbohydrates and includes a little bit of protein after practice,” says LaBotz. If you typically have dinner within 30 minutes of finishing practice, that’s usually plenty. But if it’s longer than that before you’re home and at the dinner table, you should have a snack on hand that your child can eat when practice is over.

“Make sure they have something in their locker or something in their gym bag they can eat or drink right after they are done,” says LaBotz. This could be as simple as half of a sandwich, a carton of chocolate milk, a handful of trail mix, or some cheese and crackers. (Get more locker-friendly ideas here.)

6. Have A Life Outside of Sports
If they are so busy playing sports that they never have time to see a movie with friends, or to participate in any other extra-curriculars, it’s time to set a goal that actually takes your child away from sports. “You should have variety in your life,” says LaBotz. This variety protects your mental and physical wellness, as well as reduces the risk of burnout in sport.

In addition to setting goals for athletic performance this season, consider setting some that focus on overall wellness. Goals around sleep, recovery, strength, and nutrition will ultimately make it easier to achieve your athletic goals — and make you a stronger, healthier human in the process.

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