Playing a lot of sports simultaneously does not mean your child is a multi-sport athlete and that they will gain the benefits of being a multi-sport athlete. They are probably doing more damage than good to their bodies. Unfortunately, today’s club system almost requires it if your child wants to play more than one sport. We should note, this isn’t recommended, but because it’s become so wide-spread, there is a need to understand the best practices for this new trend and how to educate your child and yourself to keep your athlete as healthy and safe as possible.
We enlisted the help of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) and their public awareness campaign, At Your Own Risk, to devise a list of best practices if your child is a multi-sport athlete.
*We know it can be challenging to incorporate all of these into already hectic schedules, but as parents, we must sometimes make the tough decisions to do what’s best for our kids.*
6 Things All Multi-Sport Athletes Should Do
- Get 8+ hours of rest per night. If your athlete is playing simultaneous sports, sleep is one of the first things to go, and it’s one of the MOST important things they need to be doing. The juggling act of balancing school and one sport is hard enough, but when you add in a second sport, the child will go straight from school to afternoon practice and then directly to evening practice. This can mean homework, dinner, and downtime is getting squeezed into a very abbreviated night; when an athlete should be going to bed, they are just starting their homework. Sleep is all about repair, both mental and physical. When an athlete doesn’t get enough sleep, they are more prone to injury and illness. And the lack of sleep won’t just affect their health, but also their performance. It’s been scientifically proven to lower reaction time, accuracy, and sprint times. Whereas adequate sleep (8+ hours) results in fewer mental errors and extended playing careers.
- Incorporate active recovery & foam rolling techniques each day. “Foam Rolling,” or the more technical term, Self-Myofascial release, is a fancy term for self-massage. When done correctly, this simple action can release muscle tightness, ease muscle soreness, correct imbalances, increase range of motion, and assist in the prevention of injury. It is essential to recognize that not all stretching is created equal, and recovery tools like a foam roller CAN be effective when used correctly. An athletic trainer will provide you with the proper indications, techniques and correct your form to optimize your results: An athlete should never foam roll on “cold muscles.” It is essential to have an active warm-up combined with foam rolling and stretching. Decide which foam roller is right for the job. They range in size, density and price. Have a backup foam roller in the car and encourage your athlete to roll out inbetween their activities following the guidelines they have been given
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is foundational, in that everything else an athlete does during training, competition and recovery is at least somewhat dependent upon their fluid intake. A good rule of thumb for athletes is to divide their body weight in half and drink at least an ounce per pound of body weight throughout a typical day (e.g., someone weighing 160 pounds should drink 80 ounces of water a day). A simpler way for most athletes (or anyone) to drink enough water is to remember the Rule of 8: Eight times throughout the day, drink a big glass of water (eight total)
- Take two days completely off each week – of ALL sports. Their bodies need this time to heal and repair to maintain a hectic school schedule and multiple sports. When you exercise, tiny tears form in the muscles that will eventually help the power grow bigger and stronger as it heals. The recovery time is when the body adapts to the stress that was placed on it during exercise. This is when the real effects of training take place – not when the athlete is exercising. Biologically, your body is the only thing that heals your body! And then there’s the mental side – playing simultaneous sports is not just physically wearing down athletes. It’s also mentally exhausting them. Imagine going from a full day of school, having to be ‘on’ attentive and actively listening, social pressures, mental pressures, then right to an organized sport. During this sport, the athletes are again expected to perform physically. Still, they need to be mentally sharp with varied drills and game scenarios they are mastering, then add in another practice on top of that. I’m getting tired just writing this. It’s no wonder so many kids are burning out both mentally and physically. Giving a young athlete two days off sports a week is ideal, but one should be mandatory for any multi-athlete. The relaxation will go a long way in trying to maintain such an active lifestyle.
- Eat food that promotes recovery and gives an athlete fuel. The saying, “you are what you eat,” 100% pertains to simultaneous athletes. If they don’t put proper nutrition into their bodies, they will break down eventually. A good analogy is to think of their body as a car. If you fill-up the tank with the wrong fuel, you ruin your car! Also, what happens if you forget to put gas in the tank and keep driving? Your car dies. Your car can’t run on empty, and neither can your body. For the simultaneous athlete, this fueling the body can be hard to accomplish as they are often running from practice to practice. But with a little planning ahead, you can avoid the fast-food/Starbucks drive-through, and instead, have snacks ready in between that will help your athlete heal and recover and energize. Here is a comprehensive list of recommended foods for athletes maintaining and expecting a high level of output from their bodies.
- Pita and hummus.
- Rice crackers and peanut butter
- Whole grain toast and almond butter
- Cereal and skim milk
- Greek yogurt, berries and granola
- Protein shake and banana
- Multi-grain bread
- Sweet potatoes
- Chocolate milk
- Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
- Rice cakes
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
- Cottage cheese
6. Listen to your body and mind. Parents need to check in with their child consistently; ask questions, and pay attention to all the subtle and not-so subtle-clues. Because even if they aren’t saying it, you will know when they need a break. This could be mental or physical exhaustion or burnout. They might not be comfortable asking for time off, but that’s when you need to do your job as a parent and step in. It might seem at the time to be a big deal to miss a week or two or even more of practice and games. But in the big scheme of life, I promise you. This is not going to make or break their sports careers. But it could make or break their bodies and minds. Talk to them about what burnout feels like and looks like and encourage them always to let someone know how they are feeling; parents, athletic trainers, coaches, or all of the above. Then, we need to respect this and make sure they get the time off they need. Otherwise, you might find your child another statistic in the 70% of kids who quit sports by age 13.