Preparing for Winter Sports

Preparing for Winter Sports

As the weather cools, many young athletes are looking forward to the beginning of the winter sports season. Whether the sport of choice is basketball, ice hockey, skiing, track or wrestling — there are some important steps that can be taken to improve performance, reduce injuries and maximize the enjoyment derived from youth sports.

Preparation is important for any sport, regardless of the age of the athlete, or the season of the year. But as the winter season approaches, many parents ask how they can make the experience a more successful one for their child, a season with better outcomes and less chance of injury.

One of the keys to athletic success for children is preseason attention to the strength, endurance and flexibility required for their specific sport. While each sport has different fitness requirements, training should begin several weeks, or even months, prior to the first competition of the season.

Basic strength, endurance and flexibility conditioning usually includes a range of common, yet important exercises such as running, stretching, and pushups, as well as specialized exercises depending on the sport. It is also extremely important not to overlook core strengthening and proprioception exercises.

Many people mistakenly believe that the core is made up entirely of the abdominal muscles, but the core also includes the pelvis, back, spine and hips. Core strength training targets all the muscles groups that stabilize the spine and pelvis. The importance of core strength for young athletes is sometimes overlooked. Athletic movements require a chain reaction in the body, and any weak link in the chain can lead to injury. The core is often where this weak link occurs. A strong core improves performance on the athletic field, but it can also prevent some sports injuries and improves posture.

Proprioception is the body’s ability to determine a sense of position of each body part at any given time, and to analyze and react, depending on the situation. If you can throw a basketball without looking at your hand, or jump without looking at your feet, you are using proprioception.

By improving one’s proprioception, a young athlete can improve her balance, agility and coordination skills. Proprioception exercises can reduce the risk of injury by teaching the athlete to react appropriately to the ever-changing situations that will present themselves on the athletic field.

While a participation in sports provides both physical and emotional benefits, too much activity can lead to injury. When athletic activity is repeated so often that the body does not have the chance to heal,overuse injuries can occur. Because young athletes are still growing, their risk of this type of injury can be greater than for adults. Recovery time is needed between workouts, and young athletes should have at least one or two “off” days per week. When an athlete experiences continued pain from athletic activity, a period of rest should be provided. If the pain does not go away, medical attention should be provided.

Also important to the healthy development of a young athlete are hydration, nutrition, and sleep hygiene. Elite athletes have long known the importance of these essentials, but they are frequently not given the appropriate emphasis for children competing in sports.

Young athletes should be required to drink plenty of fluids before and during sports activities, even if they say they aren’t thirsty. Dehydration risks are often overlooked when the temperatures drop, but proper hydration is necessary in all seasons.

And while proper nutrition is essential in the healthy development of all children, athletes typically burn off more calories and can benefit greatly both on and off the athletic fields from a healthy diet. Young athletes will benefit from a high protein snack within a half hour of exercise, followed by a high carbohydrate, moderate protein meal one to two hours later. Pre-exercise meals are important to provide energy. Avoid processed sugars, and encourage complex carbohydrates, moderate protein and low-fat foods.

Proper sleeping habits are also essential for the young athlete. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, avoid large meals before bedtime and remove distractions such as TVs, computers and smartphones from the bedroom.

Most importantly, sports are a fun way for children to get exercise, learn teamwork and social skills, and develop self-confidence. Anything you can do to ensure that your child stays healthy and safe while participating in sports, will go a long way to enhance the experience.