Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 How to Help Athletes Navigate Between Seasons
(10/10/2019)
 
 
   

Helping Athletes Navigate Between Sports Seasons


In youth sports


Serious student-athletes are being pulled in so many directions now: from academic responsibilities, to school and club sports with seasons that often overlap. Everyone wants those teams to do well, but this can often come at great cost to the student-athletes, who may encounter burnout, overtraining, and mental stress from trying to juggle multiple teams at the same time.

As a coach who focuses on collegiate sports, Celia Slater, former college basketball coach and Founder of True North Sports, often sees athletes coming to college burned out from trying to balance club and school sports. Here she explains how coaches can work together to create stronger, more resilient athletes by sharing the training load, not doubling (or tripling) it.
 
Don’t Force Them to Choose

“We shouldn’t put student-athletes in a position where they have to choose,” says Slater. “We should be creating systems that support the student-athlete and what he or she wants to achieve in sport.”

It is more work — you’re going to have to individualize plans, communicate more with other coaches and talk with parents and athletes more. It might mean relaxing the rules on the number of practices required or working with another coach to create a cohesive strength-training and interval routine. But ultimately, if the goal is to create great athletes versus simply stake your claim on them, extra time and considerations need to be given so they know they can play for both teams.
 
Create Lines of Communication Between Coaches, Parents, and the Athlete

Right now, you may be relying on the athlete to tell you what their other practice and competition schedule looks like, but that doesn’t always work. High-achieving athletes will feel the need to try to satisfy both coaches, and as a result, may end up doubling up on practices, or not telling you that they already did a lifting session or interval workout that day for their other coach.

“Talk to the other coach and come up with a plan that’s healthiest for the individual athlete, which also means including the athlete and their parents in creating a schedule that works for everyone,” says Slater. Make sure it’s clear that communication is necessary and expected. An athlete should feel comfortable talking to you anytime, not just at the start of the season.
 
Think Critically About Your Values Overall

“Are the policies on your team in the best interest of the team or of each athlete?” asks Slater. You may have unintentionally created policies that force athletes into unhealthy situations.

“Athletes are getting pulled in two directions, and eventually, they’re torn in half and will quit, or will pick one or the other. Look closely at your policy and culture and see how it aligns with the values of creating healthy, happy athletes,” she adds. Again, that might mean that your current hard line policy of ‘no missed practices the week before key games’ may need to be relaxed in certain circumstances.
 
Focus on Teaching Self-Leadership

Ultimately, most student-athletes won’t go on to become professional players, but no matter what skill level they have at sport, you can support their ability to succeed in life. “Student-athletes get sport skills at an alarming rate but often miss skills like self-awareness that they need to get through college and life,” Slater explains.

“You have to teach athletes to lead themselves for success later in life. We underestimate how difficult that transition can be, and don’t teach it.” This might mean letting a student athlete create her own schedule of practice, it might mean assigning more leadership rolls, or asking for a certain type of accountability. Remember that the goal of sport at a young age is about creating good people, not just good athletes.
 
Keep a Close Watch for Signs of Burnout

“Many athletes pulled in different directions by club and school teams end up quitting by college,” says Slater. “I think very few of these kids who go through club and school sports get to college and don’t want to play anymore, they just want to finally relax.”

This is avoidable: Be on the lookout for signs of burnout.

Slater adds, “Generally speaking, coaches need to be able to see if an athlete is having a high anxiety level, is depressed, isn’t enjoying the sport anymore.” Those signs may indicate that the athlete needs to take a break from one team, or to cut down on practice or play time.
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Whether an athlete is on a school team, a club team, or both, it’s a coach’s job to help create a healthy environment for all athletes. To develop happier and healthier student-athletes, it’s important to let them play different sports and learn how to balance their interests in a safe, effective way.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 5 Practical Self-Care Tips for Youth Athletes
(9/26/2019)
 
   

5 Practical Self-Care Tips for Youth Athletes 


In youth sports


From dealing with pressure on social media, to balancing academics, sports, and extracurricular activities, teenagers are under more stress than ever.

Amy Saltzman, MD, author of A Still Quiet Place for Athletes, believes that athletes who practice mindfulness develop a more balanced approach to self-care, which ultimately helps them achieve peak performance in sport and in life.

According to Saltzman, “Being mindful means simply being aware of what is happening here and now with kindness and curiosity, so that we can choose our behaviors.” She adds that young athletes who “bring kind and curious attention to all aspects of their health and well-being have an advantage in learning what works best for them during training, competition, and in life.”

Saltzman, a long-time athlete herself, explains that “in the long run, it’s up to young athletes to learn from coaches, parents, nutritionists, athletic trainers, sport-specific articles and books, and most importantly their own bodies, and develop and refine the self-care routines that create the opportunity to perform at their best.”

With that in mind, Saltzman shares five scientifically proven self-care habits athletes can practice to improve their physical health and maximize their ability to compete at their best. 

Prioritize Rest

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, getting extra sleep over an extended period of time improves athletic performance, mood, and alertness.

Saltzman says, “Oftentimes in sports, young athletes are encouraged to push beyond their perceived limits to progress, but pushing too hard and too often can result in injury and physical, mental, and emotional burnout.”

Overtraining doesn’t help anyone. Creating and actively implementing a proper rest and recovery schedule can prevent young athletes from reaching the brink of burnout and injury. By avoiding unhealthy extremes and prioritizing rest, you can help your athlete improve their physical and mental capacity. 

Make Healthier Food Choices

It’s essential to the development of young athletes to fuel their bodies with well-balanced meals of nutrient-rich foods instead of processed foods. In addition to preventing major health issues like osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease, healthier, whole foods develop their brain function.

Saltzman encourages young athletes to “bring their kind and curious attention to what they eat, how they eat, and how their body feels after they eat.” Over time they can take note of which foods complement their physical exercise and build a meal plan around the foods that help their body function at its best.

In general, Saltzman notes that athletes’ “bodies will function best if they eat natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, milk, cheese, and eggs.”

Drink More Water

Saltzman reports that “research shows that exercise performance is impaired when an athlete is dehydrated by as little as 2 percent of body weight. When the athlete loses an excess of 5 percent of body weight, their performance capacity is decreased by about 30 percent.”
Encouraging your young athletes to properly hydrate is essential to their athletic performance and, more importantly, to their overall health and well-being.
Saltzman adds, “It’s especially important for athletes to be aware and properly hydrate when they’re traveling, competing in hot or humid climates, or at altitude.” 

Focus On Conditioning

Youth sports offer athletes a place to improve their bodies’ overall performance and physical capacity. Not all conditioning has to be sport-specific.
Saltzman explains, “Young athletes can benefit by adding age-appropriate, developmentally-paced strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and core strength to their exercise routines. And if young athletes do these activities mindfully (being present and discerningly aware of how their bodies feel, rather than just going through the motions), they will increase their physical, mental, and emotional strength, endurance, and flexibility.”

This self-awareness gives athletes a keen sense of when their bodies need to rest and recover, or hone in on where they need to dig deeper. 
Develop game day routines

For young athletes, game day often requires the parent shuttle or a school bus ride to the game. According to Saltzman, “It is wise for young athletes to develop a game day travel routine that allows them to arrive physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to compete at their best.”
Saltzman recommends athletes create routines that will help them be prepared for game day by:

Creating a detailed game day packing list
Having healthy snacks and plenty of water on hand for travel
Developing a mental preparation habit, such as listening to music, practicing mindfulness, or visualizing their ideal performance during the game
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Saltzman concludes, “Athletes who are actively paying attention to their health and preparation are less likely to suffer from burnout, overuse injuries, overtraining, adrenal insufficiency, and chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Help your young athletes develop a stronger mindset to deal with the stresses of sport and daily life by introducing self-care strategies and encouraging them to practice them daily. 


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 How to Talk About Mental Wellness with Your Athletes
(9/12/2019)
 
   

How to Talk About Mental Wellness With Your Athletes


In youth sports


It can be a daunting task, speaking to your athletes about mental wellness. It’s a sensitive topic and one that can’t be tackled lightly. Knowing that, psychiatrist Dave Conant-Norville, MD, shares some valuable tools and tips on how to start the conversation about mental well-being with your athlete, and how to keep those conversations moving forward.

Understand That Mental Wellness Starts Now

“Mental wellness includes all of the processes that go on in your brain — thinking, emotions, behavior, relationship processing. There’s a lot going on. The idea of mental wellness is optimizing, being free of disease. We want to talk about mental wellness in order to help prevent mental illness,” he adds. “We shouldn’t start the conversation after there’s already a problem, we want people to be mentally well.”
 
Start with the Performance Benefits

Some kids are naturally going to be skeptical when it comes to talking to any adult about feelings and emotions, but Conant-Norville suggests leading the conversation with an explanation of mental wellness as performance-enhancing for sport.

“I always say your health is only as good as your mental health, because it’s the governing factor for the rest of your health,” he adds. “It impairs your physical function. An athlete can’t function optimally without mental wellness. It’s really important to get over the dichotomy of the mind and body, that the two are separate.”

Implement Mindfulness 

Deep breathing and meditation are two of Conant-Norville’s favorite practices for athletes, and it’s one of the fastest, simplest ways to get ‘buy in’ from your athletes. Starting and ending practice with a minute or two of silence or even using a short guided meditation can be a great way to introduce the key mindfulness element of mental well-being into your athlete’s life without adding stress of ‘meditation as homework.’ For parents, this can also be a great after-dinner wind-down that the whole family could take part in.

Provide Other Mental Tools

“Successful coaches help students build a vocabulary around things like stress and anxiety. They teach game-day tactics like how to focus and how to relax and mentally prep for a big game,” says Conant-Norville. “For example, if you’re not sleeping adequately, you’re not going to do well,” he adds

Help athletes create a toolkit, whether it be teaching them about the importance of full nights of sleep, practicing deep breathing exercises that an athlete can use before a key practice, or simply making it OK for an athlete to come to you with an emotional issue.

Create a Trusting Community

Creating a sense of trust and fun goes a long way towards encouraging mental wellness. According to Conant-Norville, it also creates a sense of community and encourages open lines of communication. The team that truly enjoys their time together is the team that can share their feelings.

But, don’t just start a conversation with ‘tell me about your emotions,’ says Conant-Norville. That puts most athletes on the defensive, and likely won’t yield authentic results. The same is true for parents: it’s easy to want to demand an emotional conversation but without that sense of trust, it’s unlikely that your athlete will be open with you.
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Part of opening a conversation around mental wellness is paying attention to warning signs and knowing when it’s time to seek professional help for an athlete.

“Coaches are not therapists. You’re not equipped to treat mental health issues,” warns Conant-Norville. If you suspect that an athlete is dealing with some kind of mental health problem, make sure the athlete gets the help he or she needs from an expert

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Visual Training
(9/3/2019)
 
   

Visual Training


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University and USA Baseball Sport Development Contributor, the process and benefits of visual training in baseball. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.


 7 Things to Avoid When Raising Good Decision-Makers
(8/29/2019)
 
   

7 Things to Avoid When it Comes to Raising Good Decision-Makers 


In youth sports


Young athletes are faced with a constant barrage of decisions, ranging from when they should take a shot to what sports they ultimately want to play. But logical, careful decision-making isn’t always a skill that comes naturally — it’s often a skill that needs to be nurtured. It can be a challenge for parents and coaches to find a balance between helping athletes develop those decision-making skills through trial and error while also ensuring that athletes find some success along the way.

Dr. Jim Taylor, a sport psychologist and parenting expert, has a unique expertise in helping parents and coaches raise well-rounded athletes who not only excel in sport, but who are able to make rational, well-thought-out decisions from an early age. Here, he talks about the biggest mistakes he sees adults make when it comes to raising a good decision-maker.
 
Not Understanding Your Role 

In early stages of development, when a child’s executive functioning isn’t entirely developed, it can be a challenge for them to make a rational decision. You need to pay attention to your child’s maturity levels (which can ebb and flow over time) and adjust your role in the decision-making process accordingly.

“The role of the parent in decision-making evolves as your child grows,” Taylor says. “It starts as dictator, where you have all the power; then it goes to governor, where you’re giving them some options to choose from; then to consultant, where they consult you for feedback on good decisions; then you become a sounding board, where you’re just listening to them puzzle through decisions. You’re progressively ceding control.”
 
Offering Too Much Choice 

“It’s trendy to focus on ownership and agency, letting kids have a sense of control over their lives,” says Taylor. “But they’ll make millions of decisions throughout their lives, they don’t need to make 50 today. It’s exhausting and confusing.”

It’s okay to moderate some of the decisions your athlete needs to make. Taylor adds, “I use the metaphor of forks in the road. Children are constantly faced with forks in the road: it might be just two, it might be ten choices. We need to help our kids learn to recognize the forks in the road, what the options really are and narrow them down.

Research has shown that the more options you’re faced with, the harder it is to make decisions.”
 
Offering Too Little Choice

On the other side of the spectrum are the parents who don’t offer children any agency, whether it’s choosing their sports for them, laying out clothes to wear, and picking their books to read. Coaches can have the same problem, laying out the game play-by-play and micromanaging athletes until they feel like pawns rather than players.

“Don’t make all of your kid’s decisions,” says Taylor. “Once they become old enough to choose things for themselves, we need to start offering some choices.”
 
Offering Choices That Don’t Exist

“Often, we make an attempt to give a kid a sense of agency where none exists, with the hope that they will make the ‘right’ decision,” says Taylor. “That’s disingenuous. Don’t offer them decisions in areas where you’re not actually going to honor their choices.”
 
Saying a Decision is Wrong or Bad

Raising a good decision-maker doesn’t mean raising a child who always makes the right decision, just one who is capable of being decisive, weighing both sides of an argument, and coming to a firm conclusion. If a child chooses soccer when you think he should play baseball, don’t tell him that was the wrong decision.

“Decision-making is a skill, it comes with experience, but it takes confidence. So when you allow a kid to make a decision, it’s not just about that specific decision. It’s about boosting their ability to make a decision later on,” Taylor adds. “You want them to sometimes make bad decisions because that’s how they’ll learn to make good decisions.”
 
Letting Your Child Avoid Decisions

If you’re the parent or coach of a child who’s obedient to a fault, that may not be an entirely positive thing. “There are some kids who are naturally risk-averse and don’t want to make the wrong decision,” says Taylor. “That fear of failure can be problematic down the road. They start attaching fear to making bad decisions.”

Start pushing the child to make small-scale decisions. Rather than picking your child’s clothes because he or she can’t decide what to wear, Taylor suggests offering two options (the red shirt or the blue shirt). That way, your child is still making a small decision, but it likely won’t be paralyzing.
 
Not Talking About Decision-Making

Making a choice might seem obvious to you as an adult, but kids need to be taught how to make decisions and that doesn’t come naturally. “Talk through decisions, look at how to list the options, and discuss the costs and benefits of each. Talk about which is the right thing to do. Talk about what is in your kid’s best interest,” says Taylor.

Taylor recommends following up on decisions: have the conversation with your athlete a few weeks after a decision to check in on how that choice looks now. “You can’t go back in time to change that decision, but if you have a period of reflection and talk through it, you might not make the same decision again.”
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Remember, you’re a role model for your athlete. Decisions are ultimately made based on core values, and to raise an ethical decision-maker means walking the walk.

“Teach kids to be deliberate about decisions,” Taylor says.

“Whatever you value, you’ll make decisions that align with that. If you value winning at all costs, you might take performance-enhancing drugs. If you value sportsmanship, you won’t. And those values may transfer to your kids,” says Taylor. “Instilling healthy, positive values in kids is the foundation for making those good decisions.”

And while it can be maddening waiting for a child to make a decision when you’re trying to tick an item off of your to-do list, remember that you’re not trying to raise someone who can make abrupt decisions. You’re trying to raise a child who can make measured, carefully considered decisions.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.