The Athlete’s Journey: Balancing Health and Performance
A pressing question for athletic coaches and trainers worldwide is how we can enhance our efforts in safeguarding and preserving the long-term well-being of our athletes.
Irrespective of whether athletes are in grammar school, training for the Olympics, or engaged in professional sports at any level, the presence of coaches and trainers with expertise in healing is indispensable.
These dedicated trainers and coaches prioritize injury prevention and mental well-being. They provide athletes with tasks that foster knowledge, awareness, and attention to detail, all while approaching their roles with genuine dedication. Engaging in sports often triggers the release of feel-good hormones that can overshadow physical discomfort and personal challenges.
To reach peak performance, athletes must possess mental fortitude, functional mobility, honed skills, and innate talent. However, the factor that truly enables individuals to achieve their full potential is exceptional coaching.
Championing Athlete Well-Being: The Role of Coaches and Education
Most coaches commence with the fundamentals, including an athletic stance, running techniques, and even proper breathing methods. But how can we strike a balance in training to prevent overuse injuries and maintain functional symmetry? Is it feasible to educate athletes about anatomy and how the body functions so they can better manage their own health?
At the professional level, athletes receive comprehensive attention, support, maintenance, and guidance, allowing them to focus entirely on honing their skills. NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and Olympic athletes benefit from teams of experts dedicated to their well-being.
Empowering Young Athletes: Nurturing Their Health and Potential
However, what about high school and younger athletes?
During these critical developmental stages, young athletes often place unwavering faith in their coaches or instructors, assuming that their mentors have their best interests at heart, guiding them toward growth and excellence.
Regrettably, many coaches at this level lack even basic knowledge to protect these young athletes from unnecessary injuries.
I have observed that over eighty percent of the high school athletes I treat arrive with injuries, over-tightened bodies, and often an inability to perform basic life functions, let alone excel in their sports. Inquiries about their training schedules, stretching routines, and proactive coaching strategies often yield surprising answers. With few exceptions, coaches appear to push young athletes beyond what is healthy or reasonable, exacerbating the problem by failing to equip these individuals with the tools needed to address the consequences. The long-term well-being and individuality of each athlete are all too frequently overlooked.
It is imperative for every athlete to counteract the muscle tightness induced by rigorous workouts. Yet, workouts, especially in sports like swimming, often prioritize quantity over quality, with minimal emphasis on stretching. The younger the athlete, the more critical this becomes, as their bodies are still developing, and their growth plates are vulnerable. The absence of structured release regimens or education on self-release exacerbates the issue, leading to muscle tightness, tears, sprains, pinched nerves, loss of function, or even fractures. Stretching is seldom integrated into the routines of young athletes, despite its importance for performance and overall health. Unfortunately, topics like diet and the specifics of home or school life are rarely discussed, resulting in compromised mental and overall health for young athletes.
Young athletes already grapple with the heightened stressors of today’s world, often subjected to excessive training and inadequate support in their pursuit of physical excellence. Under such conditions, injuries accumulate as athletes age and strive to reach professional levels. The seriousness of these injuries has been underscored by recent incidents in the NFL, with players sustaining broken ribs and, in severe cases, puncturing lungs. The long-term repercussions of concussions, a significant concern for NFL players, include midline shifts and hemisphere displacement within the brain, as well as potential long-term effects like strokes. While professional athletes often push through injuries or numb the pain to maintain their careers, young athletes may not even recognize the dangers until their bodies begin to malfunction.
From Student to Athlete: Fostering Health and Success
Recently, a high school football player suffered a fractured C-4 vertebrae (in the neck or cervical spine) and was immediately transported to the hospital in an ambulance. This injury, likely requiring surgery, may prevent the child from ever participating in sports again.
Coaches play a pivotal role in the well-being of young athletes, and several structural and individual reasons contribute to why they often fall short in this capacity. However, we can begin by prioritizing essential knowledge for athletes of all ages and applying this understanding to the specific needs of young athletes in our care.
Comprehending the complex interplay of injuries and misalignments within the body is paramount. The ability to interpret an athlete’s body and understand their mindset represents the first steps toward identifying solutions to performance obstacles or recovery challenges.
Rest and proper nutrition are prerequisites for physical and mental healing, alongside stretching and meditation, all supported by the coach and the training environment. When an athlete cannot attain restorative REM sleep for the required duration, health issues like arthritis, brain swelling, inflammation, and more may manifest. Coaches must consider all aspects of healing and possess the knowledge to achieve them for an athlete’s genuine well-being and recovery.
Dedicated coaches, equipped with a profound understanding of how to nurture a child’s mind and body, create a positive morale that fosters the development of balanced and successful athletes. Morale is paramount in team sports; when individuals are pushed hard without genuine care, morale inevitably declines. Becoming a well-balanced, healthy person necessitates attention, discipline, and education, which become even more crucial for athletes.
Athletes fall into two categories: those with the potential to earn scholarships and pursue sports as a future career, and those who participate for the joy of teamwork, exercise, social connections, and overall well-being. In both cases, care and maintenance are vital for sustained participation. Effective coaching emerges as the critical factor, contributing to the athletes’ performance and longevity in the sport. Returning to the fundamentals of health education in schools and sports clubs is imperative to guide young athletes toward thriving, active, and fulfilled adulthoods.
The Path to Lifelong Athlete Health: Starting in School
Comprehensive educational programs for schools, coaches, and parents are essential to instill healthy values and habits in young athletes. Holding young athletes accountable for programs that yield results is equally crucial. Athletes who develop a sense of self-care are likely to perform better and prioritize their health, which is essential for the long game.
These programs should encompass relevant stretches tailored to specific sports, promoting muscle health and functional movements. Proper sleep and diet, workouts designed to complement the sport, and adequate rest must be emphasized. Sleep and dietary habits are often lacking in young athletes, necessitating guidance in these areas.
While some athletes may encounter exceptional coaches who prioritize their health, the majority do not have access to such knowledge or coaching standards. Coaches, particularly those working with young athletes, often face low pay and undervaluation. This lack of resources and expertise underscores the importance of spreading awareness and improving the health of athletes at all ages and levels.
Health problems among athletes often emerge early, necessitating a concerted effort within school systems and sports clubs to improve athlete care. Schools should reintroduce physical education, embracing the importance of movement, exercise, and balanced nutrition in the education system.
The removal of recess and the increasing focus on screen time over physical activity is a concerning trend that must be addressed. Education is the key to helping young athletes value their health, ensuring they remain active and healthy as adults.
To conclude, athletes deserve good health and the guidance of great coaches who prioritize their overall well-being and when you as an athlete or parent find them, let the world know!