Keeping Young Athletes On Track During Pandemic

Many student athletes around the country are feeling lost during this COVID-19 pandemic. Spring seasons were cut short or canceled entirely and the status of Fall sports is up in the air. Since many athletes consider playing sports the most rewarding part of their day, and an important part of their identity, this hiatus can cause stress and anxiety.

And for high school athletes looking to get recruited by college sports programs, the disruption can leave them nervous about the future of their athletic careers.

The benefits of playing sports are numerous. In addition to the physical health improvements, sports can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, memory, sleep and mood, says Michael Swartzon, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.  For young people, playing sports can build self-confidence and being part of a team can help them feel connected to peers. So, how can parents, coaches and trainers help kids who rely on sports for these important benefits navigate through this period of uncertainty? In support of Mental Health Month in May, here are a few tips:  

Implement a Healthy Routine

Establishing a well-rounded routinerelated to exercise, nutrition and sleep can help young athletes feel more incontrol and alleviate some of the emotional strain they are feeling. It canalso help them stay fit and healthy so they are ready to return to formalizedtraining, practice and competition. Many competitors can find inspiration inthe routines they had before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get Creative With Training

Since most athletes do not haveaccess to the exercise equipment they would normally use at team practices, creativityis key, says Dr. Swartzon. “The professional athletes I’ve talked to have goneback to their roots, working out at home and converting their garages into workoutareas,” he said.

High school and college athletescan also set up a designated training area at home. They can practicesport-specific skills and access exercise apps and livestream classes that focuson strength, flexibility, coordination and mental skills. “This is a good timefor athletes to be open to new techniques and have a bit of fun with theirworkouts,” Dr. Swartzon added.

Avoid Overuse Injuries

Young athletes working out alonewill often follow the same routine when they do not have a trainer guidingthem, cautions Dr. Swartzon. “This can lead to overuse injuries, which arecaused by repetitive trauma without cross-training or rest,” he said. “It’simportant for athletes to listen to their bodies and vary their exerciseroutines.”

Set Goals and Track Progress

When players set goals for themselves,track their development and celebrate their accomplishments, they will staymotivated and enjoy their workouts more, say experts. Coaches, trainers andparents should also play an active role in recognizing young athletes as theyhit milestones during their at-home training sessions.

Stay Connected With Coaches andTeammates

Asschools have shifted to virtual classes, many sports teams have changed to onlineteam meetings. “The athletic trainers at St. Thomas University have adopted avirtual rehab approach and their athletes are using items in their homes duringtraining sessions,” Dr. Swartzon explained. Many coaches and athletes are usingFacetime, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts to share training tips,support each other and strengthen their team bond.  

Adapt to Recruiting Challenges

“It is sad that some winter andspring sport seniors did not get another opportunity to play prior tograduation,” Dr. Swartzon said. While most of these athletes have alreadysigned with a collegiate team if they are playing at the next level, highschool juniors on this same path are worried about the cancellation of theirseason and the effect on their athletic careers. However, they should keep inmind that college scouts will be adjusting their recruiting methods since theycannot currently travel to see players in person. Experts encourage youngathletes to create training highlight footage, finesse their social mediapresence, reach out to prospective schools and encourage their coaches to reachout on their behalf.

Stay Positive

Instead of focusing on what they are missing orcannot do, student athletes—and everyone—should focus on what they can do. Maintaininggood health and staying active and engaged will help young athletes remain positiveand feel more in control.

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