Conditioning and Fitness

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“Be the hardest working person you can be. That’s how you separate yourself from the competition.”–Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Conditioning and fitness provide an advantage, especially in competitive sports. Conditioning and fitness should always emphasize issues of health and safety for athletes. The athletes who have taken the physical condition of their body seriously, improve their chances of success. Even for younger athletes just beginning sports, conditioning includes safety measures that prevent injury or illness. Obviously, the regimens differ for a very young athlete, but are a necessary component of playing sports.

As a little girl growing up in middle Tennessee, the summers were hot and long. That was before air conditioning. (How did we do it?) On especially steamy days, my mom would turn on the attic fan and open all the windows to create airflow throughout the house. School classrooms in May and early June, also not air-conditioned, made it hard to concentrate on academic subjects. Sometimes teachers plugged in floor fans or took the class outside to sit under a shade tree. Once school was out, summer play included many long days outdoors in high temperatures. Since the play was mostly unstructured, we rested when we needed to in cool grass in the shade, and we drank water out of garden hoses when we got thirsty.

Acclimating to summer temperature is even more difficult in this era, where we go in and out of air-conditioned spaces each day. A sport played outdoors during June, July, and August requires special consideration regarding the health and safety of athletes. Although children seem to tolerate activities in the heat, the dangers of dehydration and overheating exist–especially at the start of sports activities and as heat indexes rise.

Each year, when I was the AD for a Pre-K through 6th grade school, coaches planned for fitness and conditioning at the start of practices for their respective sports seasons. Before each new school year, the head coach of football, the school nurse, and I would meet with a Pediatric Sports Medicine expert. Since football was the first outdoor sport of the year, heat indexes were a point of emphasis. We had protocols in place for easy access to water and ice. Coaches had to train to recognize the symptoms associated with overheating. There was a progression for the amount of equipment players could wear. Starting with only helmets and shorts, they progressed to full pads over days and weeks. That, of course, impacted what contact drills could be implemented and when.

Not only did they focus on heat issues, but training in head injury protocol as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was required. Portable emergency equipment was available at practices and games. Prescribed water breaks and rest were integrated into practice plans. Preparing to play a sport is no joke.

Basketball coaches began conditioning before practices even started so that the physical demands of play did not overwhelm athletes. Wise coaches used motivational techniques to get players through the difficulties of getting into competitive shape. Often athletes would recall pushing through the challenges of becoming fit, and that motivated them in game situations. Thinking back on the hours of hard work provided confidence when the going got tough in season play. Soccer, lacrosse, track, cross country and other sports require similar conditioning efforts at the beginning, allowing athletes to build stamina within safe parameters.

Conditioning and fitness, although often considered “not fun” and very difficult, is a necessary part of preparation for sports activities. Not only is it a safety issue, it provides a competitive edge for an athlete, and contributes to overall confidence and internal motivation. As parents, I caution you to respect the process of physical acclimation and preparation when you are making family plans. Extending vacations into the sports training period comes with consequences. Don’t expect your child to be able to jump into team practice with no prior physical preparation. Not only is it a disadvantage for your athlete, it is unsafe. Sports are supposed to be fun. But the health and well being of athletes is an even higher priority.

Key Tips

  • Acclimating to heat during conditioning for sports is an important health emphasis. Coaches should be prepared to keep athletes safe.
  • Parents should honor the time necessary for their athlete’s pre-season physical preparation.
  • Although sports are fun, safety is priority #1.

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