Sports Star

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 201mag­a­­ily

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