12 Things Coaches & Parents Do For Young Athletes That Don’t Help.
Parents, coaches and volunteers contribute to their athletes’ participation in various ways. However many “support initiatives” are harmful. Let’s explore.
From the supportive role of the parent at a young age (registration, organization, getting equipment, getting kids to practice on time) to the investment of time, effort and money of the coaches and volunteers. It is safe to say that these contributions come from a good place, from trying to do good for our young athlete.
Being supportive however has its limits.
A recent article by Coach Erica Suter brought up a great topic. We know Coach Erica well, aka the FitSoccerQueen from our interview in 2020. She is energetic, committed, knowledgeable and does great work with young athletes. The topic of her article, was the things you think are good for your youth athlete but aren’t.
It focused on 4 things that are often suggested for our athletes but are harmful. The Physical Movement adds on 8 more that we unfortunately see too frequently. Adopting best practices based on latest research helps us contribute to our young athletes’ experience.
Here are the 12 things done for young athletes that don’t help:
1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. (NSAID).
When injury or soreness occurs, we reach for the aspirin. NSAID are members of a drug class that reduces pain, decreases fever, prevents blood clots, and in higher doses, decreases inflammation. These are most commonly sold as Aspirin, Motrin , Advil.
From Coach Suter’s article:
“More and more studies are showing these pills delay bone and connective tissue healing. Sure, they may alleviate a temporary moment of pain, but looking at long-term, they disrupt the natural healing process for the child.
Adding on to the disaster, they can also impact digestive health which can cause a storm of disrupted sleep and immune function.
To facilitate the healing process, kids can consume natural sources such as foods packed with collagen, amino acids, B vitamins, and vitamin C. They’ll also be more nourished and energized.”
2. Water or sugary sports drinks as the only source of hydration.
This category is worth the update, because so many turn to is sports drinks. However, most sports drinks are laced with sugar as we examined here.
The way youth sport is scheduled these days, there is a high frequency of competition or practice in a short time. Think the demands of basketball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse or any sport that requires constant movement for extended period of time. Think any sport in the heat, like baseball and golf. Think about tournaments weekends with 2-3 games per day over a period of 3-4 days.
Anytime you sweat, your body loses more than water. You are also losing minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, iodine and more.
Coach Suter shares this graphic from Dr. James DiNicolantonio:
Losing these nutrients affects focus, energy, motivation and processing.
Get hydration from sources packed with nutrients, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as low sugar hydration drinks that have electrolytes. Reverse osmosis water with a pinch of sea salt and lemon will also support the process.
Hydration also starts prior to competition or practice. 1-2 hours prior to activity should be time for the hydration process to start. At this time of year (summer), with the heat in much of the country this is most important to prepare for the demands of the activity.
Recent research is overwhelming itemizing the negative affects of icing muscle injuries vs the beneficial effect of heat as a remedy for injuries. Moving as opposed to not moving for example as an effective way to treat a sprained ankle.
The information on ice is that it restricts blood flow and slows the healing process.
All the folks in baseball with throwing arms will love this research.
Coach Suter shares some research here and here and here.
4. Long slow distance running.
The aerobic box is most often already checked from their participation in sports. There is no need to add on. (if a young athlete is not getting enough movement in addition to the demands of the sport, then that brings up other issues).
A couple of weeks ago we covered sprinting as an overlooked tool in improving performance here.
By the same token long distance running is overused.
Coach Suter reminds us:
Jogging at slow speeds exposes their nervous system to more slow twitch muscle fiber recruitment and gets them into the jogging motor pattern that takes them away from speed development. Even as recovery, do not use long slow distance running. It’s a disaster.
In short, athletes are better off walking for recovery, focusing on breathing, some foam rolling or mobility work.
5. Exercise as punishment
Having the kids run hills after a disappointing performance is the best way to turn them OFF activity. Not only physically, but on the heels of a disappointing loss this approach will not only hurt them physically, but have the coach start the process of “losing the team”.
Don’t make a lay up? Give me 10 pushups = counterproductive.
We need to find another way to get our message across.
6. Stretching during warmup.
The body is not meant to stretch when it is cold. Think of the rubber band analogy. It does not do well when trying to expand it when cold. Warmup is exactly that, activities that warm the body temperature.
Pushing the muscles and ligaments as far as they can go across a body joint (flexibility) when the body is cold, is asking for injury.
There are many components to a successful warm up, these include activities that warm the body temperature up (think dynamic movements), myofascial release (foam rolling example), some mobility work (working on range of motion across a joint, different than flexibility), some muscle activation and even a central nervous system component.
These basic components prepare the body (and mind) for performance, and that is the goal of the warm up.
7. Focus on outcome.
Part 1: How many times do we hear coaches or parents yelling “focus more”?
Without identifying the steps required to be successful, we are misleading our athletes. Not only is focus on outcome counterproductive, nothing is learned towards improvement.
Part 2: to this same point, the amount of young teenager and parents playing for scholarships in college is very much putting the cart ahead of the horse. Without understanding and practicing the process of getting better and the requirements for being an elite student athlete at the collegiate level, we are unrealistic in our expectations. There is a reason why so few play a varsity sport in college. Playing at that level is not just ability, but often it is a lack of understanding by the coach, parent and athlete on what is required to participate at that level.
8. The right age to start strength training.
Eric Cressey is the NY Yankees Director of Player health and Performance and who coaches over 100 baseball players in his role as president of Cressey Sports Performance posted the following recently on social media:
“I am often asked when the best time is for young baseball players to start a strength and conditioning program, and my answer is simple: yesterday!.
The below 2019 study* is proof that even a very conservative intervention (an improved warmup) reduced the incidence of shoulder and elbow injuries in 9-11 year olds by 45% over the course of a year. Just imagine if you added something more individualized and comprehensive?
The problem is that training – especially at that age- is not as easy as playing. But it’s the seat belt you need if you want to ride in a car. And it becomes even more and more important as the speed of the car (or arm) increases in the subsequent years.
Parents/coaches: don’t wait until kids are 15-16 years old with lengthly injury histories before you start mandating good warmups and quality training to prepare bodies for the stress of throwing. “
*study referenced: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31336051/
9. Skills coach before strength & conditioning coach.
Coach Tyler Soucie summed this up perfectly in a recent social media post.
10. No checkup after blow to the head.
A whack to the head. Everything seems fine. There are 4 levels of concussion from simple whack with minimal side effects to loss of consciousness.
Head trauma can trigger quite a few things. A concussion, by definition, shakes the brain within the skull. It is in our best interests to go get checked out to make sure nothing shaken lose.
11. Professional level equipment for youth under 14.
That $350 bat for your 12 year-old? $400 skates for your 10 year-old who will out grow them in a year?
Get some good advice on what is appropriate for their ability. A piece of equipment that is too heavy or does not fit right is not helping performance, regardless of the big company marketing says or what our favorite pro player uses.
12. Not understanding performance changes due to adolescent growth and body changes.
With a growth spurt, our teenage athlete’s limb lengths can change. That change in limb length changes the angle of release in a throw, or golf swing or volleyball serve. That change basically changes everything.
We, as parents, coaches and volunteers need to step back just a tad and realize that the teenage body needs to relearn motor patterns due to growth spurts. With that, will produce some awkward execution. Reminder: this is not because a lack of focus.
If you coach teenage girls (hello men coaches), you need to also be aware of body changes of menstruation. This is 2021, and not taboo, it is normal body change of adolescent girls.
For some support info, we go back to Coach Suter.
These changes can have a profound impact on not only the physical performance of young female athletes but also their psychology, emotions, and resulting behaviors.
I am just catching up to your articles. This is one is great! I'm working on exploring the ice issue later on. it is a very controversial topic among ATs, coaches, and athletes. NSAIDs is another one that needs to be explored more in-depth.
Both Erica and your articles are excellent resources and will be included in future recommended readings for youth club members!! Thank you!