If you are a coach or trainer that works with high school athletes, you probably have parents asking you what they can do to help their student-athletes succeed. More often than not, they are looking for a sport-specific training program or a particular set of drills that will help their child improve in a certain area. Although this approach can be helpful, a better, more appropriate strategy would be for parents to focus their efforts on the practical avenues they have to help their student-athletes on a daily basis. The ability to contribute at critical points throughout the day; in a way no coach could, can be extremely helpful in forming habits that directly support and improve their child's development. Parents are as crucial to the training process as anyone, as their continued access to their child allows a unique ability to foster and encourage positive behaviors that have a tremendous effect on performance.
Here are some powerful, but often overlooked ways that parents can make an impact and help put their student-athlete on the path to success right now:
Invest In a Reusable Water Bottle
Staying hydrated is the simplest and easiest way to stay sharp, energetic, and to positively affect performance each day. But despite all the information available regarding the benefits of hydration, many student-athletes still leave the house each day without a means to hydrate. Not having a reusable bottle causes many athletes to fall drastically short of their hydration needs. With dehydration having negative effects on both athletic and academic performance, this is a particularly important, but relatively simple issue to address. Parents should invest in a high-quality, reusable water bottle with a large carrying capacity (32oz.+) for their student-athlete to take with them everywhere they go. The high volume provides consistent access to water throughout all daily activities, making it much easier to stay hydrated and perform optimally. The simple act of providing one also allows parents an opportunity to communicate to their student-athlete that their performance is dependent on more than just their effort in practice. It shows them that they need to take accountability for developing habits and discipline that helps them perform effectively and feel well each day.
Replace One Lunch Item Each Day with a More Nutritious One
By making a student-athletes' lunch each day, or being responsible for its content, then a parent has the ability to provide the quality fueling needed to be successful. The lunches of most adolescent athletes are far from ideal, and there are often items consumed that are of questionable value from a sports-nutrition standpoint. Processed foods consisting mainly of empty calories and little to no nutrient density are commonplace. These foods do little to provide sustained energy and can leave student-athletes ill-equipped to meet the energy demands of training and competition. An easy way for parents to make an impact in this area would be to start looking for some of these foods in the lunches their athletes eat. By simply substituting a higher quality item for a lower quality one each day, like almonds for chips, an apple for cookies, or carrots for crackers, exponentially better nutrition can be provided. For example, if a bag of chips at lunch is replaced with something better, then a student-athlete would eat fried food almost 185 times less per year. Multiplied over the course of an entire high school career, that one simple substitution would cause a student-athlete to consume almost 800 more healthy and nutritious options than they would have before.
Spend Money on Sleep
Sleep is a vital and necessary part of our existence, and one could argue that it is one of the most important things we do every day. On the mental side, sleep can help improve memory, learning, concentration, and critical thinking skills. From a physical standpoint, proper sleep has the ability to enhance all the markers of performance, such as speed, power, strength, endurance, and reaction time. It also has the ability to lower our risk of musculoskeletal injury. Both the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have stated that teenagers require between 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Sadly, nearly 73 percent of all teenagers and 52 percent of children ages 6-17 fall short of those recommendations. Additionally, nearly a third report that their sleep quality is poor. Fortunately, sleep is something that we are able to positively affect. Individual financial resources vary, but if possible, parents should spend as much money as they can to provide the highest quality mattress, pillows, and bedding for their student-athlete. Taking it a step farther and purchasing a blackout shade and white noise maker is also a wise investment and can help create the environment needed for a restful sleep at a relatively low cost. Although mattresses can be expensive, it will be the one training tool that a student-athlete will use each and every day. It simply has no off-season and contributes daily, so quality matters. Given the power of sleep to improve nearly all aspects of life, from mental and physical well-being to long-term health, spending money on tools to enhance, it is well worth the investment.
Avoid the Drive-Thru Post-Game
Parents often find themselves navigating their way home in unfamiliar neighborhoods at inconvenient times of day after road games. In this situation, it is very easy and understandable to want to look for a quick option to feed a hungry athlete, and fast-food windows are always an inviting choice. The minutes and hours after a game are a critical time to replenish lost nutrients and jumpstart recovery. Unfortunately, little if any of those nutrients will be found in a drive-thru window. Believe it or not, plenty of other locations are open at the same time and can provide better choices for the recovery needs of an athlete. Most convenience stores, pharmacies, and open-late supermarkets have superior options and are just as fast. Instead of a burger, fries, and a soda at a fast-food franchise, an athlete can stop at a convenience store and pick up chocolate milk, banana, and a granola bar or trail mix for roughly the same price and time investment. An even better option would be for a parent to prepare a post-game snack and bring it with them to the game. Competitions are scheduled events and do not come as a surprise, so it is relatively easy to plan for. A parent could easily make a PB & J, pair it with chocolate milk and a piece of fruit, and bring it to the game. With most sports competing multiple times a week, and dozens of times a year, recovery is paramount, and fast food consumption is not a good way to help the body bounce back. Keep the drive-thru trips confined to championship games or other celebratory occasions.
Take Away the Phones During Homework Hours
Although it is extremely common to have homework assignments that require the use of technology, most student-athletes do not need their phone in order to complete them. Smartphones seem to be almost irresistible to teenagers, and with their whole lives and immediate social circle connected and accessible by one device, they can be an incredible distraction. Their capabilities only continue to grow, and their ability to draw a student-athlete off task has never been greater. The major consequence of unrestricted smartphone access during homework time is usually a decrease in productivity, distracted, less focused work, and an increase in the time it takes to complete tasks. For a student-athlete that already has limited time, this can be a huge and destructive issue. Often the extra time required takes away precious personal time and eats into the hours a student-athlete could be sleeping. Therefore, a good strategy would be for a parent to work with their child to establish some boundaries regarding homework and possibly designate some smartphone free hours each night. Asking them to turn off their phone and leave it on the kitchen table for 1-2 hours a night until all work is completed is a great place to start. A more productive environment can lead to quality work on assignments, enhanced focus, and learning, as well as better habits for academic success. Additionally, with less time need to complete academic assignments, student-athletes will have more time for stress-reducing leisure activities, and more importantly, sleep. Overall, this could help contribute greatly to a student-athlete that is mentally and physically refreshed each day!