This past week, high schools across the state stepped onto the football field looking to begin their season strong. Jumping into a new season can be a difficult transition for many high school aged athletes, especially at this time of the year. With the summer season come longer, hotter days of staying up late and eating unhealthy foods. This pre-season time period can make or break an athlete fighting for a starting position, and there are some simple tips to help you feel better prepared for the rough days ahead.
One of the biggest issues I see with the high school athletes is that all summer they have been staying up unreasonably late, and once football practice begins they fail to change and adjust their sleeping patterns. It is ideal to get eight to nine hours of sleep every night, and in order to accomplish this social outings may need to be put on hold for the time being. Both the body and brain require this rest to function properly, and if it is receiving significantly less then it can result in difficulty concentrating, poor decision-making, and even injury. A coach will know the difference between a well-rested and focused player versus a tired and inattentive one. Additionally, when given that rare day off- make sure you take it. A light stretch and relaxation is better to utilize than a heavy lift or hard run on your only off day of the week.
Hydration does not just take place during practice, but before and after it as well. Drinking water to hydrate all day long is more beneficial than chugging an entire water bottle in the middle of practice. It is actually dangerous to consume an excess of water at one time, and can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, which is a medical emergency. It is best to carry a water bottle around with you throughout the day because it will remind you to drink it. When having a meal, chose water over sweet tea or sodas, which can actually dehydrate you further. Try and limit Gatorade intake to one to two a day during activity because it also contains excess sugar, which is not needed all day long. For coaches, I like to recommend built-in water breaks at practice every 10 to15 minutes, but a player should always have water available to them if it is needed sooner. As the heat index climbs during these late August weeks, water breaks should be even more frequent and excess equipment removed when necessary per NATA standards.
Food is the fuel for your body, and what you provide your body with for fuel will have a direct effect on how your body feels. Greasy, heavy food will make your body feel just that- heavy and difficult to move. Try to avoid fast food during pre-season, and make a strong attempt to get in a solid 3 meals per day with snacks in-between. Some good snack options before or during practice include pretzels, fruits and vegetables, or simple sandwiches without condiments on it. A post-practice meal should contain proteins and replenish you after a hard practice. Skipping meals or not eating enough can result in low energy at practice, and in the heat of summer possibly even lead to syncope or fainting.
It is extremely important to make sure all of your equipment fits the way it is supposed to. Helmets should not be too big or too small or they can cause serious injury. Although many like smaller shoulder pads for better mobility, these must come down to cover the entire shoulder and kneepads also must be worn. Additional equipment such as a back plate or a horse collar is personal preference, but can be very useful in preventing injury. Mouth guards are another must have that at least one player always seems to be missing. If you are unsure about whether your equipment is fitting correctly, your coach and athletic trainer should be able to help you.