Why Sleep is Crucial in Youth Sports

Why Sleep is Crucial in Youth Sports

The greatest athletes live for their sport. They are what they play, and they do everything in their power to be the best. Eating right, training hard, and getting enough sleep all play a major role in athletic performance. The amount and quality of sleep young athletes get are often crucial to their success because REM sleep allows both the mind and the body to replenish their energies. In sports, players often need to make split-second decisions, and their ability to do that declines with poor sleep.

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

The right fuel and hydration are the most important parts of recovery and training. Exercising depletes fluids, energy, and breaks down muscle. What athletes do before, during, and after exercise or competition determines how quickly their bodies will replenish nutrients and rebuild muscle. It helps them maintain accuracy, endurance, and speed. Research has also shown that stress hormones go up if we don’t get enough sleep, while the production of glycogen decreases. That’s why lack of sleep causes poor focus, low energy, and fatigue at game time, and it may slow the recovery afterward.

Physical Health

Sleep is essential for maintaining physical health. There’s a link between obesity and sleep deprivation, for example, because a lack of sleep will cause an imbalance in the hormones that control appetite. Sleep deprivation can also have metabolic effects, such as an increase in insulin resistance and blood sugar – factors that lead to type II diabetes. Proper sleep also affects the body’s ability to fight off illness and is required for a healthy immune system.

Mental Health

When it comes to children’s mental and emotional health, sleep is required for avoiding many negative mental effects. For example, exaggerated emotional responses to both negative and positive stimuli are associated with a lack of sleep. People typically become more irritable, and their ability to cope with stress gets decreased, which may result in more confrontational behavior. Sleep-deprived people are also less likely to engage in exercise and pursue other activities that they would usually enjoy. In some cases, lack of sleep may predispose people to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

Athletic Performance

For peak athletic performance, adequate sleep is crucial. Otherwise, young athletes won’t be able to replenish their energy, keep their minds sharp, causing them to perform sub-optimally. Besides accuracy and speed, sleep also influences reaction time, which are all necessary components to be successful in sports. Athletes may get less than eight hours of sleep per night due to several factors, such as frequent travel, pregame anxiety or excitement, and early morning training sessions.

Ways to Get More Sleep

When demands are high, due to academic responsibilities, practice, competition schedules, and travel, young athletes are exposed to a higher risk of sleep deprivation. Therefore, getting enough sleep becomes a priority.

  • Children and young athletes should know the positive effects of short naps (20-30 minutes) to supplement their inadequate sleep cycle.
  • Creating a relaxing routine before bed will support good-quality sleep by helping them to decompress and manage stress.
  • Help your child create a sleep schedule and stick to it.

Besides improving mental stamina and physical energy during practices and competitions, regular and quality sleep can improve skills that are specific to various sports. For example, it can improve shooting accuracy among basketball players or increase speed among football players. On the other hand, if your child athlete is experiencing decreased reaction time and a quicker onset of exhaustion, it may be due to poor sleeping habits or lack of a good night’s sleep.

How Important is Nutrition in Sports?

How Important is Nutrition in Sports?

Besides training long hours for their sport, a youth athlete’s body also develops quickly. To get everything needed for proper body development and to optimize their training, a healthy eating plan must be a regular component of an athlete’s workout regimen.

Benefits of Nutrition to Youth Athletes

Snack and meal planning are often pushed to the side because of hectic schedules (it takes extra time), but it has to be a priority. The benefits of a proper nutrition plan include:

  • Muscle healing and recovery
  • Strengthening of the immune system
  • Injury prevention
  • Decreased muscle soreness and tiredness
  • Increased focus and attention span
  • Improved energy levels

Youth Athletes and Their Nutritional Needs

Children who eat well-balanced, healthy meals will get the nutrients required to perform at their best in sports. But child athletes have higher energy requirements. Children and teenagers involved in strenuous endurance sports or all-day competitions that can involve a few hours of activity at a time may need to consume more food and fluids due to their increased demands.

Besides getting enough calories, youth athletes need other nutrients to be at their peak form, such as:

  • Protein. Thanks to protein, muscle tissue is able to build and repair. Protein-rich foods include lean meat, fish, poultry, soy products, nuts, beans, and dairy products. However, too much protein can lead to calcium loss and dehydration.
  • Carbs. Carbohydrates provide energy for the body and are an important source of fuel for every young athlete. There is no need to eat a lot of carbs before a big game, but without them, children would be running on an “empty tank.” Carb-rich foods include brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain cereal and bread, and plenty of vegetables and fruits.
  • Vitamins and minerals. For athletes, iron and calcium and the two most important minerals. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout the body, and iron-rich foods include chicken, lean meat, salmon, tuna, fortified whole grains, eggs, leafy green vegetables, and dried fruits. Calcium helps our bones be strong to resist stress fractures and breaking. Some of the calcium-rich foods are cheese, yogurt, milk as well as leafy green vegetables.
  • Fluids. Dehydration can zap energy, coordination, and strength, so young athletes must drink enough fluids to prevent it. The feeling of thirst is not a reliable sign of one’s hydration status. Experts recommend that children should drink water (or other fluids) every 15-20 minutes during their physical activity.

On Game Day

On game days, it’s essential for young athletes to eat well. The game-day meal shouldn’t be much different from the one they would have eaten throughout their training. They can choose to eat healthy foods they believe will boost their performance and don’t cause stomach upset or other problems.

  • Three hours before a game – the meal should have enough carbs and protein, but must be low in fat and fiber because it can cause digestion problems.
  • ●        If children eat less than three hours before practice or game, they should consume a snack or lighter carb-rich meal that includes easy-to-digest foods like bread, crackers, fruit, and vegetable or fruit juice.
  • After the practice or game, kids should eat carbs within 30 minutes after activity and again two hours later. That’s when your kid’s body is replenishing energy stores and fluids as well as rebuilding muscle tissue, so it’s crucial that the post-event meal be a balance of protein, fat, and carbs.

When it comes to young athletes, eating for sports should be an extension of normal healthy eating for life. Young athletes should eat the right mix and amount of foods to support their increased level of activity. However, their nutrition regimen shouldn’t be too different from a regular, healthy diet.

Bombs Away – The Prominence of the 3-Pointer in Youth Basketball

Bombs Away – The Prominence of the 3-Pointer in Youth Basketball

This year, the NBA has suggested a change in the overall rules and guidelines for youth basketball. Among many changes, the most prominent ones are the exclusions of zone defense and 3-pointers.

The Changes – Are They Necessary?

The NBA argues that these changes will help with the development and enhance experiences for children. The current rules are more fit for adults, and many believe that children easily get discouraged from playing basketball as the games are long, the basket is high, and many shots are hard to accomplish, like the ubiquitous 3-pointers.

Many changes have been made, but all of them have been set to accommodate players according to their age, which is why the guidelines divide into four segments, ages 7 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14, and grades 9 to 12.

For the first three segments, there are lower baskets as well as slightly smaller balls. Furthermore, neither group will play zone defense, and the 3-pointer shots will turn into regular 2 pointers. The opinions differ, and it doesn’t mean that everyone in the USA will implement the rules (the NBA and USA Basketball do not govern all youth tournaments in the country).

However, 3-pointers indeed are tougher for younger players, even high-schoolers. So, let’s see how prominent these shots are in youth basketball so you can decide for yourself whether or not they should exist.

The 3-Pointers in the Youth Basketball

Many youth sports have been losing in popularity in recent years, but 3-pointers in basketball have always been popular. However, their prevalence is high in adult basketball, which is not to say that they aren’t popular with kids as well. They indeed are, maybe even more so, however, they are not as prominent as they are in professional basketball because the children do not have the physical ability to shoot 3-pointers with relative ease as the adults do.

The basket is high and to achieve 3 points you have to be very far from the basket, which is a tough thing to accomplish when you’re young.

However, youth players do love basketball, and they usually try to emulate their role-models who are in most cases the big shots from the NBA. Since 3-pointers are ˝cool˝ in the eyes of children, they often try their best to perform them. It usually ends up as a waste of time because they sacrifice increasing their skills in other areas of the game.

Many would agree with this assessment, like one of the greatest NBA shooters of all time, Stephen Curry. He said: ¨My dad had the same kind of mentality of development as I got stronger and bigger. He wanted me to make sure I didn’t sacrifice form and mechanics just to be able to shoot an NBA three before I was ready.¨

For children, emulating their heroes is an excellent way to improve their skill, but when they attempt something that’s almost impossible for them at their age, they are wasting time that should be spent on the improvement of basketball skills in general.

We would love to hear your opinion, especially if you’re a parent or a coach, so comment below with your views on the matter.

4 Stretches to Do Before You Go on a Run

4 Stretches to Do Before You Go on a Run

Are you starting the healthy habit of running? Maybe you’re looking for ways to improve or add to your current regiment. Whatever the case, stretching before a run is crucial in preparing the muscles and the entire body for this strenuous activity. It will also reduce the risk of potential injuries.

Here, we offer you some useful stretches which you can perform before you begin every run.

1.    Walking Lunges

Walking lunges are practically necessary before a run and are one of the best stretches you can do. That’s because they emulate the act of running itself, which means that all the muscles you’ll use while running, will warm up during these stretches.

How are they done? You stand with your feet joined, and you take a long step forward with one foot. You then bend the knee on this foot to 90 degrees and the other knee until it’s almost touching the floor. Remain like this for a few seconds then slowly rise and repeat the same thing with the other leg. You can make about 10 of these lunges.

2.    Calf Raises

As the calves are under a lot of strain while you’re running, you can help them out a bit by stretching them a bit before a run.

How are they done? Start by standing on the edge of a stair, facing in. You need to stand on the balls of your feet while the rest of each foot is in the air, over the edge. You can also hold onto a stair rail to keep your balance if you need to. Now start by rising on your toes and then slowly lowering the feet until they come below the stair. Hold for a moment and then repeat the same thing several times. If you want, you can do this for each foot separately.

3.    Side Stretches

Since side stitches are a common problem for runners, side stretches can be useful as you stretch the torso that’s affected from this type of pain. You can do these while standing, or you can do them while you’re performing the kneeling hip flexor stretch.

How are they done? First, you bring your arms up over the head, and you lean to one side then to the other, bending only the waist, all the while keeping your abdominals tight. You can take these stretches a step further by remaining in position while bending for a few seconds on each side.

4.    Around the World Lunges

Once again, you can stretch all of the major muscles used while running with these stretches.

How are they done? First, one of your legs needs to be stationary, and then you lunge backward with the other foot. Then you make a side lunge, and you have to remain there for a moment. Now, return to the center and lunge forward with the same foot. Again, make a side lunge. When done, you need to make a curtsey lunge which is done by bringing the same leg behind the other one and then bending the knees (basically, like you’re attempting a bow or dip.) You need to repeat this pattern five times, and then you can switch the legs and do the same thing again.

If you are a regular runner, or you’ve only known pre-game stretches and are not familiar with the ones needed before running, these four will undoubtedly help you properly warm up all the necessary muscles used in the run.

Does Turf Cause Long-Term Injuries in Athletes?

Does Turf Cause Long-Term Injuries in Athletes?

Artificial turf is a recent innovation in youth sports. But not everyone is thrilled about it. Ever since 2004, when long-pile artificial turf fields were introduced to soccer by FIFA, the number of such areas has been increasing. Simultaneously, the number of injuries among athletes also increased around the same time. It has led many sports professionals, sports scientists and other advocates to question the safety of turf fields, and ask: does turf cause long-term injuries in athletes?

What Do Scientists Have to Say?

The debate over the safety of artificial turf has motivated scientists to examine the question. According to research conducted on soccer players, there is a clear correlation between artificial turf and injuries among players. In most cases, the casualties included cuts to hands, arms and torsos, ankle sprains and strains of leg muscles.

In a separate study conducted on female soccer players, sports scientists confirmed the results and found that serious injuries were sustained more frequently on artificial turf than natural grass. The most common injuries were ankle sprains, which also occurred much more on artificial grass. Additionally, as the quality of the turf declined, it also caused the number of injuries to increase.

It’s important to remember that in both papers, researchers emphasized that players sustain injury either due to physical contact with other players (tackles) or due to the surface of the field.

What Do Female Athletes Have to Say?

In an interview ahead of the 2015 Women’s Wolrd Cup, Alex Morgan (US national team member) and 40-plus other international soccer stars voiced their concerns. She revealed her belief that there is a higher risk of sustaining injuries on turf fields and that recovery takes longer.

Additionally, Alex also said that she had trouble during and after performing on artificial turf fields. She emphasized that the turf made her feel more aches, pains, and sores than grass. That’s one of the reasons the female soccer players filed a lawsuit against FIFA and questioned the decision of the men’s World Cup not allowing artificial turf in Brazil.

What Do Male Athletes Have to Say?

Another problem of artificial turf is crumb rubber. It is a material consisting of black beads spread across the field to absorb moisture and make the surface less slippery.

Despite its benefits, crumb rubber is made from scrapped rubber tires which contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals like benzene. After being diagnosed with Lymphoma, former goalkeeper Ethan Zohn found a clear parallel between cancer and goalkeepers who played soccer on artificial turf.

Although inconclusive, keepers do throw themselves on the ground most often and end up swallowing the small rubber crums. Additionally, during high moisture, the chemicals evaporate rapidly, and the people closest to the ground (goalkeepers) inhale most of the toxic fumes.

The Verdict

Turf can cause long-term injuries among athletes. The number of injuries that can be sustained on turf is far higher, and the mentioned prospect of cancer makes it an unsafe surface to play any sport. And once you consider how much youth athletes spend time playing on these types of fields, serious investigation and a boycott of artificial turf until conclusive results are revealed to be the right course of action.