It can be a little stressful figuring out the best ways to help your teen when they are trying to prepare for a new sports season, but the team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is here to share tips on how to get your kid get back on the field, court or course safely after the off season.
“Parents and coaches should be mindful of how to properly help a teen condition his or her body to safely return to sports after taking time off,” says Julie Johnson, PT, MPT, Board Certified Sports Specialists in Sports Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
5 tips for preparing your growing athlete after the off season
Check out the following recommendations on how growing athletes can best prepare to return to sports and make sure they aren’t at risk for a training-related injury:
1. Cross training
Focus on a different sport during the off season. For example, soccer requires a lot of dynamic running. Encourage your soccer player to try biking, swimming or low-intensity jogging to give those often-used bones and muscles a break and to practice different movement patterns. Cross training may also help your teen participate in multiple sports until they are skeletally mature, so as to not put too much stress on particular body parts while their bones are still growing.
2. Strength and cardiovascular training
Strength exercises stress and engage muscles an athlete is using in their sport. For example, the lower extremities are stressed most in soccer, so an appropriate strength program would utilize resistance bands, weight machines and free weights to help exercise muscle groups specific to soccer. Cardiovascular exercises increase an athlete’s heart rate typically while performing the same motion repetitively in a rhythmic manner, such as swimming or jogging. These exercises are important to help build the stamina and function of the heart and lungs, allowing a teen to play their sport for longer periods of time before becoming fatigued. To find an appropriate program, look into working with a well-versed sports performance coach or personal trainer who is familiar with your child's sport of interest and familiar with what appropriate mechanics look like while exercising.
3. Improve flexibility
During the off season, muscles and joints can become stiff. Use this time to improve flexibility by trying new exercises that help lengthen and loosen the muscles used in your teen’s sport. Yoga and Pilates are two exercise programs that can help improve flexibility and core stabilization in growing athletes.
4. Eat healthy, hydrate and sleep well
Eating healthy meals, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep are just as important when a teen is taking time off as they are during the sports season. Healthy eating helps an athlete maintain proper nutrition in the off season, and hydration can help deter an athlete from experiencing heat-related illness when they return to sports. Check out these breakfast and lunch ideas to fuel your athlete. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends eight to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night for children ages 13 to 18. Teens who do not get enough sleep are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, injuries, poor mental health and problems with attention and behavior.
5. Slowly return to sports
If an athlete jumps back into their sport too quickly, they are more likely to experience an overuse injury. In the weeks leading up to the start of a new season, a teen should slowly start practicing for their sport. This can be achieved by gradually increasing the number of days per week and the length of time the athlete is practicing, as well as the intensity of the practice. For example, one month prior to the start of a season, an athlete should practice twice in the first week for 45 minutes; three times in the second week for 60 minutes; and so on; up until they are back to practicing full time and are ready for competition.