Re-learning how to be a supportive youth sports parent
Our athletes are exhausted, injured, and depressed. A recent report published by the American Psychological Association said that adolescents between 15-21 are the MOST stressed-out people in the country and that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. In our first article on Re-learning How To Be A Supportive Youth Sports Parent, we delved into the importance of sleep.
Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston found that teens who don’t get enough sleep are four times as likely to develop major depressive disorders than their peers who do get enough sleep and current studies show that between 60 and 70% of American teens are mild to severely sleep-deprived. And whether an adolescent gets enough sleep is the strongest single predictor of whether he or she will get injured playing sports. Sleep is at the top of the pyramid and trickles down to all aspects of an athlete’s well-being. But it’s not the only one. There are several other key ways to help your athlete mentally and physically be at their best.
Something has to give.
This is a systemic issue with many layers. It’s pointless to point fingers when we all own a part of the problem, and the solutions are complex and varied. We aren’t going to overhaul the current youth sports system immediately, so in the meantime, helping your child optimize and prioritize their well-being is critical.
Too often we get caught up in what we perceive to be decisions that are out of our control. We blame clubs, coaches, and even other parents. But the truth is that we hold the power. We can make the difficult, but better choices, and then openly discuss these with our children and other parents to affect positive change on a larger scale. It always starts with one simple question: Is this decision what’s best for my child’s overall well-being? If you start here, it’s hard to go wrong.
SUPPORTING YOUR ATHLETE’S MENTAL HEALTH
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has declared a “national emergency” on children’s mental health, with the pandemic exacerbating many pre-existing challenges. Student-athletes are a unique subset of students. The pressure to perform on the athletic field, compounded by a rigorous course load, can leave little time for assessing mental health and stability. For many athletes, mental health is a secondary concern to physical health. Athletes, in particular, are taught that showing signs of weakness or being emotional is a bad thing, many don’t want to share feelings of depression or anxiety, or burnout. Depression can take many forms and sometimes, it’s not easy to spot.
If your child is exhibiting obvious and serious signs of depression and you are concerned for their safety, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.
SIGNS YOUR ATHLETE MIGHT BE DEPRESSED – EVEN WHEN THEY’RE NOT SAD.
- Their appetite drastically changes and they aren’t in a growth spurt.
- They’re irritable and aggressive
- Change in social habits
- Energy levels change
- Self-care changes
- Sleep patterns have changed
- Extremely sensitive
- They don’t want to practice or train
- Constant feelings of being “exhausted or tired.
- Complaints of gastrointestinal issues or frequent headaches.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO HELP?
- First off, seek professional help. If possible find a licensed professional in your area who specializes in depression in young people.
- Learn how to listen with an empathetic ear and open heart with no agenda of your own.
- Help them develop social support through friends, teammates, and family.
- Create awareness. Don’t brush it off, don’t think the problem is solved after one discussion. Stay present and supportive in the process of helping them get better.
- Make sure they are sleeping enough. Sleep is a large cause of a lot of many mental and physical issues.
- Nutrition. Make sure they are eating a balanced and healthy diet.
- Laugh a lot, it is medicine for the soul.
- Volunteer with them. Giving of your time, energy, and compassion can create an attitude of gratitude.
- Identify and manage their triggers.
- Find online resources to help deal with stress and depression-like gozen.com.
- Explore meditation, breathing, and mindfulness.
Burnout can look similar to depression and they are inner-related. There are many ways you can help if your child is suffering from burnout. Most kids will go through this once or several times during their youth and it doesn’t have to result in quitting their sport. This article provides some great insight for parents who think their child might be at risk.
The saying, “you are what you eat,” definitely pertains to youth athletes. If they don’t put proper nutrition into their body, they will eventually break down. The food choices your child makes will either add to their mental and physical state or detract from it. Eating food that promotes recovery and gives an athlete fuel, increases the ability to focus, and gives them energy is critical to performance and injury prevention and recovery. It can also help with mood swings and irritability, keeping them in a balanced mental state. Think of their body as a car. If you fill up the tank with the wrong fuel, you ruin your car! Also, what happens if you forget to put gas in the tank and keep driving? Your car runs out of gas and eventually stops altogether. Your car can’t run on empty, and neither can the body. Fueling our athletes properly can be hard to accomplish as busy parents are often running from school to practice and sometimes even a second practice. But with a little planning ahead, you can avoid the fast-food/Starbucks drive-through and instead have snacks ready in between that will actually help your athlete heal and recover and energize.
Here is a comprehensive list of recommended foods for athletes.
- Pita and hummus.
- Rice crackers and peanut butter.
- Whole grain toast and almond butter.
- Cereal and skim milk.
- Greek yogurt, berries, and granola.
- Protein shake and banana.
- Multi-grain bread
- Sweet potatoes
- Chocolate milk
- Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
- Rice cakes
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
Hydration and nutrition are right there with sleep as far as being foundational in that everything else an athlete does during training, competition, and recovery is at least somewhat dependent upon their fluid intake and what they are eating.
WHY IS HYDRATION SO IMPORTANT?
Almost every measurement of performance – aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, and reaction time – decreases with as little as 2% dehydration, plus dehydration contributes to muscle fatigue, which can increase the risk of injury. For signs of dehydration and other great info, check out this link. xio Athletic – Youth Sports Hydration Guide
A good rule of thumb for athletes is to divide their body weight in half and drink at least an ounce per pound of body weight throughout a typical day (e.g., someone weighing 160 pounds should drink 80 ounces of water a day).
- Before Exercise: Drink 16 ounces of water two hours before physical activity begins and another 8-16 ounces right after exercising.
- During Exercise: Every 15-20 minutes, drink at least 4-6 ounces of fluid during vigorous exercise. For less vigorous exercise, decrease the amount slightly.
- A simpler way for most athletes (or anyone) to drink enough water is to remember the Rule of 8: Eight times throughout the day, drink a big glass of water (eight total).
In summary, our kids are struggling. They are stressed, depressed, burned out, injured, and quitting sports in record numbers. But the good news is that there ARE real ways we can help keep them safe and happy. What they put into their bodies, their sleep and our approach to supporting their mental well-being are practical ways parents can help. Keeping their mental and physical health top of mind should be a priority as we travel together on this journey.