How to boost your young athlete’s performance
Not all young athletes have the potential to turn pro in the future, but every player does have the potential to improve. What are the best steps for boosting your young sports star’s performance? (201) Family asked area experts for their tips on giving your student athlete an edge as spring season gets underway. Hang tough Glen Rock hockey coach
SERGIO FERNANDEZ says that toughness doesn’t necessarily come naturally to his players. “We live in an upper-middle class town and toughness is intrinsic in some ways,” he says. “I don’t want to teach the players to run and fight people, but the players have to learn to be uncomfortable, deal with that adversity and come out on top.”
Coach Fernandez likes to play against the strongest teams – last season’s schedule featured three state finalists – because the hard games are the ones that teach the most. “All the coaches ask for is 110% effort,” he says. “If they’ve given that, I can’t complain. But if they are giving a half-effort in practice, I’m going to be unhappy. I want them to push themselves and give all they have.” He adds: “I’m not a screamer, and when I criticize I’m not questioning a player’s character; I want to motivate them to be the best they can be.” Take Up A Second Sport Personal trainer JUAN PLA, who works at The Gym in Montvale says young athletes can benefit from their peers of 20 years ago – by taking on a second sport to benefit the first. “After establishing a young athlete client’s flexibility and strength, one of the best ways to become a better athlete and avoid injury is to take up another sport, which was far more commonplace in the ’80s and ’90s,” he says. “A soccer player who trains hard is neglecting the muscles involved in jumping, which isn’t very common in soccer. By taking up basketball, those ‘lazy’ jumping muscles are engaged and it will help prevent injuries as well as develop a fully rounded athlete.”
And Pla says the more you take the second sport seriously, the better results will be. “You can’t play the second sport at half-speed because you’re ‘saving yourself’ for the first,” he says. “You can play at a rec level, or just with friends, but you have to play hard. For example, the more power you develop in basketball in your legs will make your soccer game far more dynamic.”
Know The Rules Waldwick resident BOBBY
MANGIONE has been a soccer referee for 12 years, supervising kids of all ages across Bergen County. But it seems every year he has to adapt to new rules. “Players have to keep up with rule changes,” he says. “Some are not as relevant as others, but some of the newer rules are crucial.
For example, faking an injury is now a yellow card offense, even if you aren’t trying to win a free kick but just taking an opportunity to slow down play. The handball rules have been changed too: To punch the ball into the goal will also earn you a yellow card – and handballing to prevent a goal will get you sent off.
“Parents and spectators have to know the rules too,” says Mangione. “As a referee it’s better to avoid engaging the parents, but when they are yelling and screaming for a free kick – especially when they don’t have a clue about the rules – they have to understand the team coach will be the one who gets in trouble for failing to control his team’s supporters. They are also likely to embarrass their kids who know the rules better than they do.”
Mangione recommends reading up online or simply watching a game on TV. “The commentators are there to explain why a decision was made and whether it was right or wrong,” he says. “It’s the easiest way to learn the rules of any sport.” Fuel Your Body Nutritionist LAUREN COHEN, based in Englewood, believes diet is often overlooked by coaches and trainers who emphasize practice over the “fuel” inside a student athlete. “If you do not fuel appropriately, your muscles won’t work appropriately,” she says. “The key is consistency – athletes might concentrate on only their preworkout and post-workout meals, but if they are eating poorly the rest of the time, it’s not going to work. The goal is to eat well 90 percent of the time to get the best results.”
Cohen also advises that supplements are just that – a supplement to what should be an otherwise healthy diet. “Nutrients work best when taken with everything else, not separately,” she says. “I tell athletes to forget the supplements and go back to nature – eat a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.”
She also warns of the problems with cutting carbs to lose weight fast. “The athlete’s main fuel is carbs – including the brain,” says Cohen. “A lack of carbs will affect your energy, stamina and psychology. An athlete with mental fatigue or even one who is depressed is not going to perform as they should.” Water too should not be overlooked, adds Cohen. “Water keeps the blood flowing in your body,” she says. “If your blood is not flowing well, you won’t have the energy needed to perform. Elite athletes must stay hydrated.”
There’s No “I” In Team
LINDSEY SHROUT is in the rare situation where she has not been on the losing soccer team during her career at Northern Highland’s Regional High School. The Upper Saddle River resident is the captain for her senior year – which has only strengthened her belief in the team spirit that has led NH to such success.
“At the start of the fall we lost four seniors who graduated and three to longterm ACL injuries,” says Shrout. “So at our summer camp at Penn State we were without seven players who would have been pushing to start.” The solution was team bonding. “We made sure the freshmen mixed in and even off the field we ate together, chatted together and became friends,” she says. “On road trips on the bus, other teams might try and sleep but we have always seen that as a chance to bond and prepare,” says Shrout. “The players sing what we call ‘soccer-pella’ where they change the words to fit the name of our opponents and everyone is encouraged to join in.”
Becoming close means no player is left out, says Shrout. “If someone experiences a loss in their family, or is having problems with schoolwork, they have plenty of teammates to turn to. We’re a team – we never leave anyone to struggle alone,” she adds.
Know The Pros CBS2 TV News Reporter OTIS LIVINGSTON spends much of his time during football season in East Rutherford at the MetLife stadium covering the Giants and Jets. But as a former college athlete and father of three boys, he more than most appreciates everything there is to learn from watching the experts at work. “I’m lucky my job is talk about sports,” he says. “But I also get a birds-eye view and any aspiring athlete can benefit from watching these guys play.”
Even if you have no interest in being a professional yourself, watching them at work is an inspiration, says the former point guard for the Kansas Jayhawks. “When I was growing up, my favorite player was Magic Johnson,” he says. “I would watch him – then head out to try some of his moves on the court. It made me want to be a better player.”
Knowing your history is just as important as keeping up with the latest trades and moves, he says. “Apart from being a great ice-breaker at parties, a deep knowledge of a sport can only benefit any athlete,” he says. “To listen to the reasons a trade was made, and what the analysts say about it is to understand the game at a different level. The simplest ways to understand strategy in sports is from a full knowledge of the professional game.”
MICHELLE COPLAND, the owner of coolhotyoga in Cresskill, sees yoga as the perfect complement to any sport for any athlete. “Yoga is becoming well known as a way to prevent injury,” she says. “It’s used as therapy and used in cross training and can benefit the whole body.” But it’s not just about flexibility – it’s about both physical and mental strength, says Copland.
“Yoga is a discipline or a practice more than a sport. Some coaches are dismissive, but one-day-a-week yoga can help increase strength and muscle tone.” And mentally, particularly for young people, being away from the TV, phone or video games and focusing within is a big plus, she says. “One of our yoga instructors says, ‘the mind gives up before the body’ – yoga teaches you to breathe deeply, push your body and gain confidence that can be carried on to the field,” says Copland. “At key parts in a game it can inspire you to find a little more from inside yourself and not to give up.” Consider The Big Picture Professor SCOTT ROSNER, who lives in Allendale but works at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, studies the business of sports from a youth level right up the professional athletes of the NFL and MLB. “Parents might think that signing up their kid for all the coaching they can will take them to the top of the pyramid,” says Rosner. “But there’s so much still to be learned while they’re at the bottom.”
Student athletes are being asked to specialize in a sport at a younger and younger age, and it can lead to burnout, ending a career before it’s started, he says. “The chances of making it as a professional athlete are tiny,” says Rosner. “And by throwing a young player into intensive coaching situations without giving them room to be kids, you’re in danger of developing a very narrow athlete. That way is akin to teaching kids to paint by numbers rather than stimulating their creativity in the sport.”
The best young players in any sport now will not necessarily even carry into college, says Rosner. “But wellrounded athletes will always be found, if they’re good enough,” he adds.
Use Your Head
JAMES LOCKARD, owner of Eye Level Learning Center in Ramsey, is a firm believer that an athlete can benefit from mental workouts as well as physical ones. “There are numerous studies that indicate participants in sports tend to have higher GPAs, better attendance records, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems than non-active students,” he says. Apart from keeping the body active, taxing your brain will help develop instincts that will see you perform faster on the field, says Lockard.
“Math, for example teaches the concept of critical thinking – a process all about making good decisions. You can apply critical thinking to any type of decision,” says Lockard. “Learning how to problem-solve and think ‘out of the box’ is a learned ability and a mindset which applies to split-second decisions as well as involved analytical decisions taking months.” But how can this help an athlete? “Applying critical thinking to sports gives the edge to an athlete up against someone with equal ability. As competition becomes more intense, the quickthinking athlete will always have an advantage,” he says. Deal With Defeat Handling a defeat in a big game can be hard to deal with – as
DR. HELENE MILLER knows from both a professional capacity and as the mother of an athlete herself. The Paramus-based psychiatrist and mom says: “I have first hand experience of having my son, who was captain of the wrestling team at Torah Academy in Teaneck, having to come to terms with not only defeat but also handling the off-season.”
She adds: “It’s very important for parents and coaches to talk about good sportsmanship and that athlete’s satisfaction should come from giving your best effort.” In the off-season, some athletes will experience a void that needs to be filled. “Training and playing will give endorphins that will help to feel good,” says Miller. “My advice would be to consider another sport to stay active, or just run or take the dog for a walk. It’s too easy to get lazy. My own son took up soccer in the off-season and it was beneficial to go from captain of the team to just being another player on the field.”
42 (201) FAMILY MARCH 2014 201magazine.com/family