In a complex world full of stress and pressure, politics and wanting what is best for your child, having your child participating in sports from a recreational level to a high performance level can be overwhelming. We work with parents, athletes and coaches on a daily basis and it is our goal to help guide them through sport both physically and mentally. A common question we get is, 'what is best for my child?' The answer is different for everyone. Depending on your child's age, ability level, level of commitment and passion for the sport. Below are 8 tips to help parents and guardians through supporting your children in sport and inspiring the pursuit of greatness!
1. Be a good role model
- Only 1 in 3 children are physically active every day
- Children are 3.5 to almost 6 times more likely to be active when one or both parents are active, compared to when both parents are inactive
- For every extra 20 minutes of physical activity for the parent, their child’s activity level rose by five to 10 minutes
The atmosphere set by organizations, parents, and coaches is a major factor in determining whether or not youth will have a positive experience in a sports program. Parents should involve their youth in programs that have clear positive goals about the sports experience, emphasizing fair play and sportsmanship as well as the skills to be taught and the lessons to be learned.
Here are some recommendations for parents of young athletes:
- Develop in your child a lifelong commitment to an active lifestyle.
- Encourage your child to try various physical activities.
- Encourage your child to play because he or she enjoys it.
- Focus more on skill mastery and cooperation.
2. Promote the long term athlete model
Early involvement in sports provides opportunities to develop gross motor skills that include, but are not limited to, hand-eye coordination, jumping, throwing, hopping, balancing, and running. Adolescent bodies are not prepared to be treated like an adult’s body. Diversification in sports at an early age has the potential to provide stimuli so that a child’s body can adapt and develop multiple motor skills that may crossover between sports. However, only once the mental, physical, and social aspects of a child are fully developed should specialization be considered.
The belief behind sport diversification is that physical and cognitive abilities may develop quicker via playing multiple sports instead of just one because of a potential crossover effect from playing multiple sports.
Early specialization has shown to be not only physically difficult but also mentally difficult. Athletic burnout can be an unfortunate effect of early specialization in one sport.
Any sport activity invites a chance of sustaining an injury and the potential for injury increases as the intensity level and training volume increases. Sports specialization increases the risk of repetitive movement patterns and repetitive strains on the growing body. A diversity of sports allow for a variety of movement patterns, varying physical loads in a growing body, and varying stimuli, while breaking the pattern of repetitive movement patterns with sports specialization.
3. Understand Physical Literacy
“Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life."
- The International Physical Literacy Association, May 2014
Research has shown that being physically active later in life depends on an individual's ability to feel confident in an activity setting. That confidence most often comes from having learned fundamental movement and sport skills, or physical literacy, as a child. Research has also shown that without the development of physical literacy, many children and youth withdraw from physical activity and sport and turn to more inactive and/or unhealthy choices during their leisure time.
In developing and teaching a child, simple skills are broken down into key components to help the child learn and understand. Fundamental movement skills are very important in the physical development of a child. When a child is confident and competent with these skills, they can develop sport-specific and complex movement skills that allow them to enjoy sport and physical activity. Most importantly, having a firm grasp of the fundamental movement skills and being physically literate leads a child to enjoy a long life of physical activity. Fundamental movement skills include throwing, catching, jumping, striking running, kicking and balance/ agility/ coordination.
4. Screening for injury risks
Many injuries and conditions are hereditary linked such as scoliosis, flat feet or back pain. If one or both parents have a history of injury, or the above injuries children would benefit from seeing a health care provider prior to starting activities.
Many sports injuries occur through repetitive motions. Proper pre-injury screening can determine current health status and help address risk factors, such as flexibility issues and muscle imbalances. For example, teenage females are more susceptible to ACL knee injuries vs boys due to a poor hamstring to quadriceps ratio, poor landing patterns, and an increased hip to knee ratio.
If an athlete experiences unexpected long-term decreases in performance without evidence of injury, this may be a result of overtraining, and warrants a more detailed health evaluation.
Screening is valuable to detect current musculoskeletal conditions, establishes baseline & health state, and forms the basis for clinician-athlete relationship
5. Recognize injuries when they happen
Despite the overall health benefit of sports participation, any sport activity invites a chance of sustaining an injury.
Injuries should be managed properly from the beginning. Rest as needed. Ice or heat as appropriate.
In animal studies, use of antiinflammatories such as Advil, has been shown to decrease the quality of tissue healing, even though it allows for a quicker recovery. Although an athlete may recover quicker, they may be at risk for a more serious problem later.
6. Understand concussion injuries
Concussion injuries can occur in any activity, although some activities promote a higher risk due to the contact nature of the sport, the speed of the activity, or the hardness of the playing surface and sports equipment.
Concussion do not just result from an impact to the head but rather any impact to the body that results in a sudden change in direction of the brain inside the skull.
Youth are more susceptible to concussion injuries compared to children and adults, and girls seem to have a greater risk of prolonged recovery to concussion injuries.
New research shows that after the acute stage of a concussion injury (first 2 to 3 days) an athlete can start light activity that does not increase the concussion symptoms. This does not mean returning to sports, but rather start with easy walking or stationary biking.
Evaluation by a health care professional experienced in dealing with concussion injuries can screen the athlete to see which systems of the body are most affected: visual, vestibular, cognitive, coordination/ balance, or autonomic nervous system. These deficits can then be addressed to enhance the recovery process.
Use of a baseline concussion test in the preseason stage, although not mandatory, can help educate the athlete and family prior to injury (to allow for better early management), as well as provide a framework for reference after a concussion injury occurs.
7. Physical Activity promotes Brain health
Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Aerobic exercise appears to improve a person's cognitive function, and resistance training can enhance executive function and memory.
With exercise the brain in general is more active and more alert. 45 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise is good for the brain. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and increases oxygen and nutrients.
Exercise increases the protein BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) which helps repair and protect the brain cells from degeneration. Exercise increases new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus which is a key learning and memory centre. (The hippocampus seems to shrink in situations of depression illness and dementia).
Exercise can also help prevent the onset of depression by the release of certain hormones and chemicals such as endorphins.
8. Proper sleep can enhance athletic function
The following areas have shown the effect of poor sleep on athletic performance:
a. Decreased reaction time
Poor sleep has been shown to decrease reaction time by up to 300%
b. Increased injury rate and decreased overall health
Sleep time is one of the strongest indicators of injuries, even more so than the number of hours of playing/ training. Some key reasons are:
- A decreased reaction time which increases the risk of some kind of hit
- Slowing of the immune system
- Lack of healing / regeneration at night due to decreased sleep and less likely to release hormones needed in healing
c. Decreased playing career length
Fatigue can shorten the playing career of professional athletes in a very linear relationship.
d. Decreased sport speed and decreased accuracy
Studies have shown that well rested athletes had better sprint speed and better accuracy compared to when they were sleep deprived.
e. Increased mental errors
Sleep loss impairs judgement especially motivation, focus, memory and learning. Without proper sleep, the brain is challenged to consolidate memory and absorb new knowledge. Sleep deprivation impairs decision making, risk taking analysis and moral reasoning.
f. Weight gain
Poor sleep patterns affect cortisol levels resulting in an increase in weight, which can negatively affect an athlete's performance
Sleep deprivation decreases the production of glycogen and other energy stores that are needed for energy during physical activity.
Sports can be a great opportunity for children to create a lifestyle of health and wellness, promote a positive self image, and improve overall health. Parents play a key role in insuring a healthy lifestyle for their children.
Ratey J Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. 2008. New York. Little Brown and Company.