Use Challenges to Hone Mental, Physical Toughness
Athletes of any age are ramping up for spring and summer sports. The off-season for many youth can leave them without a place to practice or a squad to scrimmage. After all, volleyball kids don’t have access to the gym during basketball season, and baseball kids can only dream of green grass in the midst of wintery weather. But now is the opportune time to make pre-season changes to your exercise, nutrition, and personal routines to increase your chance for a successful season. Think of these small challenges as a chance to hone your mental and physical toughness in pursuit of bigger personal goals:
Switch from soda to water. If you drink a lot of soda, start with small changes. Swap your first soda of the day for a bottle of water, or set a goal of drinking one soda a day or a maximum of two a week. Even if you do not consume a lot of soda, remember this is a mental toughness exercise and you know water is better for your body.
Eat two pieces of fresh fruit each day. Your nutrient intake will ratchet up with this simple step. Start with a banana in the morning and you’re halfway finished. Make it a priority to increase your protein and fiber intake in addition to the carbs many of us eat every day. Examples of protein are dairy, meat, eggs, and beans and other legumes. Fiber is easy to consume in the form of apples, carrots, and whole-grain breads and pastas. It can take several weeks for a revamped nutrition plan to take full effect, so start now and your body won’t be playing catch-up two weeks into the season.
Put your phone down. If you can’t do it yourself, get your parents to help. Start with an hour a day, phone-free. Many young people discover a whole new outlook on life when their phone is not as readily available. Make smart choices about how you spend your newfound time: get ahead on reading assignments that will be tough to keep up during the season, make good lunches for the week and stack them in the fridge, or actually talk to your parents about your day. If you just can’t put your phone down, use it to call your grandma who always finds time to come to your games.
Are you a bit bored with your off-season training program? Try something new. Take a risk and ask someone to be your new workout partner or work together to develop a diverse, even co-ed, workout group. Baseball kids in the weight room can collaborate with track kids to plan every-other-day weight training and road runs. A volleyball player can ask a swimmer to teach him or her a pool workout and vice versa. Most young people will never be surrounded by as much sports diversity again after they leave high school. Take advantage of this chance to try new activities and talk with people whose interests are different from yours.
Get good quality sleep. Remember that time away from your phone? Stop screen time an hour before bed and don’t sleep with your phone. Teens need good uninterrupted sleep to regulate growth and hormone levels, not to mention rest and recovery from physical exercise and schoolwork. Both your body and brain need proper rest for peak performance.
This appears to be a simple task list until you try to complete all or most of the challenges. Give them a try and see how small changes can make a big difference. You don’t have to settle for a boring off-season. Think of it as an exercise in creativity and mental toughness.
Sally Egan, LAT, CSCS, is a ThedaCare licensed athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Shawano Community High School.