Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 6-8

3 min read

Three Big Mistakes Student-Athletes Make

Apr 22, 2021 8:30 PM

As an athletic trainer for middle and high school sports for the last 13 years, I have worked with hundreds of young athletes. The youth sports world is an increasingly competitive one, and it’s not uncommon for students to play on multiple teams or in multiple sports—often playing year-round. Though many young athletes are looking to gain a competitive advantage and increase their strength and physicality, there are three basic but significant mistakes I see students make as they engage with sports. Knowing what these mistakes are and avoiding them will ensure that your young athlete is set up for success in their athletic endeavors.

Student-Athlete Mistake 1: Ignoring Hydration

As simple as it sounds, staying hydrated—drinking enough water and taking in enough fluids—is something often overlooked by young athletes. The reality is, poor hydration has a direct impact on player performance. Lack of hydration can cause fatigue, cramping, and lead to over-heating. Student-athletes need to drink half of their body weight in ounces of water each day. For an athlete that weighs 110 pounds, they need to drink 55 ounces of water each day to ensure proper hydration. Consuming this amount of water each day may seem like an overwhelming task to your young athlete especially while sitting in class during the school year, but I always encourage students to break it down over the course of the day. Drinking five to seven gulps of water between or during each class, plus water consumed with meals, after school, and during sports typically amounts to at least the minimum ounces needed.

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Student-Athlete Mistake 2: Skimping on Sleep

Another simple yet common mistake young athletes make is not prioritizing sleep. Tweens and teens are known for staying up late for entertainment, social, or even schoolwork reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control, six out of ten middle schoolers do not get adequate sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children ages six through 12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep, and teens ages 13-18 need eight to 10 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Just like hydration, lack of proper sleep has a direct impact on athletic performance. Lack of sleep often results in low energy, inability to focus, and increases the likelihood of injuries.

Student-Athlete Mistake 3: Neglecting Nutrition

One key concept that I try to instill in my middle school athletes is that food is fuel for the body. Of the three mistakes I mention here, lack of proper nutrition is perhaps the most obvious one that directly impacts athletic performance. By the time middle school comes around, students typically have a basic understanding of foods that provide good nutrition (“healthy” foods) and those that lack nutritional value (“junk” food). Yet the hustle and bustle of a typical school day and daily life can make it difficult to focus on getting those healthy foods in their bodies. Neglecting nutrition can result in a young athlete feeling sluggish, light-headed or dizzy, and can even contribute to stress-related issues or injuries. I emphasize with my athletes the importance of consuming whole foods in order to get the best sources of protein, carbohydrates and more. It’s popular to use pre-workout supplements, protein shakes and nutrition bars to get some of those nutrients athletes need most, but those are not a sufficient replacement for whole foods.

There are two nutrition opportunities that ought not to be overlooked: breakfast and after-school snacks. We’ve all heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but it’s an often-neglected facet of balanced nutrition. It’s all too easy to rush to an early morning summer or weekend practice without eating anything or grab a quick breakfast on the way to school that may not provide much nutrition. It’s also easy to overlook the need for something to eat between the school day and any physical activity that happens in the afternoons. Preparing an after-school snack that is a mixture of carbs and protein such as a banana and almonds or peanut butter and pretzels can go a long way provide the right fuel for those afternoon practices and competitions.

Amanda Moskal
Written by Amanda Moskal

Amanda is an athletic trainer currently working for OhioHealth Sports Medicine. Since 2008, she has served as the full-time athletic trainer for all of Worthington Christian School's high school athletic teams and middle school football.