Every now and then I get a question from an athlete or parent that stops me in my tracks.
This was no exception.
Not that this is an earth-shattering question that I’ve never heard before…because of who asked it and the way it was delivered.
One of my soccer athletes, with deep concern in her eyes, asked if she could talk:
“Coach Dave, I don’t know what to do. In my last game my legs felt tired, heavy and my thighs were tight and sore.”
“I feel out of shape and I’m like, how could this be?”
This is a major concern and I’m so proud of her for coming to me prior to our workout.
You see, in my gym, we harp on our athletes to communicate with us…constantly. Without knowing what’s going on in their world we can’t help. It takes maturity, and we foster that by reminding them and by being super open to conversations and questions.
Our athletes know that when we ask them how they are doing, we really want to know. Here are some of the things we want to know from our athletes every time they step foot in our facility:
- Schedule including changes to practices times and days.
- Game and tournament schedule.
- What is going on at school? Standardized testing, exams etc.
- How you are feeling mentally.
- How you are feeling physically.
Everything on this short list has a major impact on how they will perform in the gym and on the field as well. Our job as their sports performance coaches is to put them in a position to succeed, based impart, on this information.
So, what’s the answer to our athlete’s question?
I explained to this young champion that she experiencing the signs and symptoms of over-use. Now, before I dive into what to do about it I’ll explain what will happen if the current pattern continues and why I’m so proud of her for speaking up.
What she is experiencing is a very common occurrence even amongst our youngest of athletes.
OVER-USE used to be called over-training.
This term used to be much less universal and relegated to those elite athletes that were training too often or in the gym too much.
A more accurate definition for today’s young athlete includes games, practices. The result is what this young athlete is experiencing.
– 2-3 games per week plus 2-3 practices per week.
– Legs start to feel heavy.
– Start to feel slow on the field.
– Timing seems off.
– Feeling tired or out of shape on the field.
In the mind of a young competitive athlete the tough process turns to training harder, training more, increasing intensity at practice, lifting heavier loads or more reps in the gym.
Fast Forward a few more weeks…
…Feel more tired
…Slower decision making
…Slower on the field
…Performance on the field suffers
This pattern easily continues in a downward spiral and the result is never a positive one. This will affect your young athlete mentally and physically. Worst case – major injury.
Don’t believe me?
Just look at the team(s) you are around. How many injuries occur at a younger and younger age…you know the type of stuff that never happened when we were younger?
All too often the result is severe strains, sprains or over-all burnout. Remember our kids should be playing sports…not working sports.
What to do.
We all know, really, what to do. However, the landscape of youth sports far from supports that. Here’s 5 things to
- Take time off.
- Eat well/Drink Water
- Get Sleep.
- Get in RECOVERY workouts.
- Build a strong foundation
When the situation arises similar to my example in this article, they need to take a little time off now, so they are not forced to take a lot of time off later.
Let me be very clear. They will not fall behind. They will not lose their spot on the team. I’m not naive. I realize some coaches will actually have an ‘attitude’ with you as or your child. Tough cookies.
Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with this first hand with many of my athletes over the years.
Your child’s best interest and health is at stake.
Also, think more is not better. BETTER is better. Frequency is only a part of the equation for over-all development. So is quality, and consistency over time.
For the sake of not turning this into an article about nutrition. eat whole quality sourced foods and eat them often. A common myth is that young athletes need very little calories compared to adults. Feed the machine!
Recovery workouts will help keep their mind sharp, regain range of motion and flexibility and aid in getting them firing on all cylinders.
Building a strong foundation starts in the gym as well as at home by developing great habits based on overall health and wellness. Time away, sleep, nutrition and emotional wellness are all habits that can be worked on consistently.
Playing sports does have an emotional impact as well. After all, we call it a game DAY for a reason. There’s an emotional ramp up, competitive emotion and ramp down for every competition.
Recovery is not just physical. It also must be emotional.
To expound on the emotional side of this equation in a super succinct yet impactful way, I’ve asked (she’ll never admit to this) one of the best youth strength coaches on the planet to give her insights.
Erica Suter is based out of Baltimore, Maryland and is a true professional coach, published writer and exercise science geek like myself. Take it away Erica!
Thank you, Dave, for allowing me to come along for the recovery ride.
Though this sounds like an oxymoron, recovery should be an oscillating ‘ride.’
There will be times when youth athletes go hard, train beyond their max, and push themselves to new heights. In fact, in order to perform at a high level, players must lean into discomfort so they can withstand the rigorous demands of the game and build resiliency.
On the other hand, there will be times when youth athletes take a step back, chill out, and refresh themselves. To that end, kids can only churn out productivity and intense training for so long, until their bodies scream, “please, no more!”
This isn’t rocket science, folks.
With anything in life – from work, to school, to sports – true high performance is an undulating process.
It’s a nice blend grit and relaxation. Tenacity and rejuvenation. Hard work and mindfulness. Hustle and play.
I mean come on. Ever had a deadline for work that was due by end of day? Sure, you may have been able to pump out work for two hours, until you had to take a break to peruse Facebook or play internet video games for another few hours.
Ever had a calculus exam at the end of the week? Sure, you may have studied for a few hours and crammed your brain with equations, until you had to leave your room to go to the movies with friends for a bit.
Ever trained for a marathon? Sure, you may have run your tail off for several weeks in your training, until you had to cut back and do cross training or mobility work.
More cogent to my point, recovery must be a natural component of all facets of our lives. But while we’re on the topic of youth sport performance, I want to discuss what it looks like beyond what Dave discussed from a physical standpoint.
Emotional recovery is a different beast that isn’t talked about in the strength and conditioning world as much as I’d like.
Yes, muscle soreness has its way of waning performance, but so does mental fatigue.
How do athletes mentally recharge? How do they tap into their emotional health more?
Here are a list of things to get you started:
– Go to the beach
– Leave the country
– Learn a new language
– Converse with a friend (no phones)
– Put your phone on airplane mode
– Ride a bike
– Eat healthy
– See a comedy show
– Sit still
– Read a book
– Play an instrument
– Learn photography
– Laugh with friends
– Give hugs
– See live music
I’d be remiss not to mention athletes can spend as much time in the recovery whirlpool as they want, but if they have serious emotional issues, the whirlpool only acts as a Band-Aid.
Of course, I will be the first to refer out to a sport psychologist for deeper issues, but get started on any from the list above.
In fact, have your athletes do more activities that immerse them in the present moment, inspire them, and make them smile or laugh. Of course, I am sure their primary sport does all of these for them, but it is imperative to find activities outside of that space, too.
I want to normalize recovery as much as possible, especially broadcasting it on social media and openly discussing it.
Too many people are publicizing their grind and #NoDaysOff that it’s no longer inspiring. It’s sickening.
So, with that, I urge you to #OwnYourRecovery. Feel free to use the hashtag, too.
Thank you for your knowledge and insight Erica. It is going to take coaches, clubs, parents and players alike to change the paradigm of recovery and how it relates to success on the field.
I urge you, yes you the one reading this, to step up and help our young athletes.
As a parent it starts with the ability to say no when your son or daughter is showing signs of needing a break due to a demanding schedule of games and practice sessions.
Coaches, club DOC’s and club owners will need offer better, not necessarily more as well as forecasting tournaments with league play, cup play etc. to minimize risk of overuse.
Players will need to have parents and coaches that foster the courage to speak up. With this, players need to communicate without feeling like they are being weak or “just not it shape”.
For our kids to have the best chance at success we collectively must cycle rest and recovery into the equation.