The end of the school year is here, and teens all over the world are planning their summer. Many dream about a summer of “hanging out” with friends or traveling. Others have summer jobs or do volunteer work. There are also millions of students who go to some kind of camp every year to try to gain an advantage in their field of interest or talent.
Today’s youth camps offer a wide variety of choices. For every interest, there seems to be a camp or program. The United States is a very competitive place, and youth camps are big businesses. A large number of sports organizations, religious institutions, educational facilities and private companies offer specialized enrichment camps. Parents have been known to go to great lengths to secure a spot for their children in one of these typically pricey performance-enhancement programs.
For youth athletes, summer is also a perfect time to work on individual goals instead of team or club goals. In schools, clubs and camps, trainers and coaches frequently work with large groups of students, which often limits the time they can spend with an individual athlete or personal issue. This can cause the individual needs of the athlete to be compromised and can jeopardize performance.
Gyms and local specialty facilities can provide the individualized attention that is so important to a youth athlete’s progression in their sport. They often have competent trainers who are qualified to work with the student privately or in small groups at economical prices. Trainers can work on issues such as: improving the athlete’s form, power, speed, strength, agility, flexibility, and stabilization. They can also educate the student on injury prevention and post-rehabilitation training.
A serious youth athlete competitor is continuously in a stage of preparation, performance, or recovery. Private or small-group training allows for swift attention to the unique needs of the individual athlete and can be a great supplement to larger group programs.
Summer is also a great time to have a functional movement screening (FMS). The FMS can be performed by a physical therapist who tests the athlete to find out where there might be physical imbalances, tightness or weaknesses in their functional movement. Limiting conditions often increase the likelihood of injury and can hinder performance. The FMS will give the trainer and athlete a realistic base line and the information needed to set specific goals. The FMS allows the trainer to design a program that will yield the greatest gain because it allows for an individualized and unique focus.
One-on-one or small group training/coaching can also help the athlete to:
• Decide on at least one attainable goal to work towards over the summer
• Design a strategy to achieve the goal that has been set
• Devise a plan that is connected to a time line to provide accountability
• Divide the plan of action into bite-size pieces to create tangible moments of achievement and to motivate continuation
• Detailed instructions to ensure that there are no misunderstandings about what needs to be done and what the objective is of every step
• Disciplined programming to keep the athlete on track to the destination (goal) that has been set.
Physical improvement is achieved by proper activity, hard work, adequate rest and good nutrition. If the body does not receive the nutrition it needs for optimal development and performance, it can’t perform to the best of its ability. This is why summer is also a good time to start better eating habits. It gives a person time to develop and habituate new or better nutritional choices. My advice is to keep healthy, ready-to-eat snacks in the fridge so there is always an alternative to the chips, cookies and candy that too many people grab when they feel hungry.
A nutritionist or dietitian can design individual meal plans to enhance the athlete’s training program and make sure that the athlete consumes the necessary calories and nutrients for optimal physical development and performance.
Hydration is another concern. Too many youth athletes do not properly hydrate. Fancy bottled sports drinks are often filled with artificial ingredients and sugar. They have their place in the hydration field, but generally the most effective hydration fluid is good old-fashioned water. Make sure to drink before, during, and after physical training.
Enough rest is also crucial to physical improvement, and this is especially true in the teen years of athletes. Muscles need to recover, rebuild and strengthen. Not allowing for proper rest in between training sessions can cause over-training or even more serious consequences; over-training can cause the athlete to feel weak or even ill, it can decrease sports performance, and can increase the risk for injuries. It is important for the athlete to get eight hours of sleep every night and to go to bed before midnight as often as possible. If this is a problem, it may be helpful to take an afternoon nap.
Before changing an exercise routine, it is recommended to seek the advice of a health care specialist. It is better to be safe than sorry. Ultimately, you get out of your workout what you put in. Focus on becoming better today than you were yesterday. Can you do it? Absolutely! Work smart, work hard and stay focused.