TrueSport Resources

 Regulating Anger On and Off the Field

Regulating Anger On and Off the Field

How to help your athlete manage anger

When it comes to youth sports, we’ve all seen the shocking videos of parents letting their emotions fuel violent outbursts against other parents, coaches, and even young officials. But what if that angry outburst comes from one of the athletes on the field? How would you as a coach or parent help your athlete manage that outrage?

Dr. Kevin Chapman, TrueSport Expert, licensed clinical psychologist, and founder of the Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, explains that anger is “a normal basic core emotion.” He adds, “Angry is the result of a perceived social slight. Someone has knowingly, intentionally, or unnecessarily acted in a hurtful way toward us.”

Dr. Chapman also emphasizes that anger is an important emotion that prompts people of all ages to defend themselves and their loved ones. For example, if you get carded unfairly in a game, anger is a healthy response as long as the actions tied to that anger are focused on appropriate resolutions, such as telling the coach or asking the referee to explain their decision.

In order to avoid aggressive outbursts as a result of anger, Dr. Chapman recommends sharing and practicing a three-point check system with your athlete to help them reframe their internal dialogue in frustrating situations and respond in an effective way.

1. Thoughts
According to Dr. Chapman, “The most pivotal facet of any emotion is how we interpret the situation. An event occurs, we think about the event a certain way – usually based on previous experience with similar events, and this leads to the emotional experience.”

For instance, if a young athlete just found out they won’t be starting the game, they may feel angry at the coach for leaving them off the starting lineup. As the emotion builds, the thoughts follow suit:

“This is unfair. I work so hard. I don’t understand why he picked them over me.
This sport is pointless. I don’t deserve to sit on the bench. Why do I even try?”

At this point, Dr. Chapman recommends that the athlete “take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask, ‘What am I thinking right now?’” Acknowledging the thought process triggered by anger will help the athlete evaluate those thoughts more objectively and consider how they would describe the situation after the emotion passes.

2. Feelings
After athletes assess what they are thinking about when anger flares, Dr. Chapman explains that they should then ask themselves, “What am I feeling in my body right now? What’s my heart doing? What’s my stomach doing?”

According to the American Psychological Association, when people get angry, they can feel internal sensations in their bodies, such as heart palpitations, stomach distress, sweating, hot or cold flushes, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle tension, increased energy, and others.

Recognizing the physical signs of anger and becoming more self-aware of those sensations can help athletes understand that what they’re feeling is normal. If athletes experience physical signs of anger, encourage them to practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, to help with muscle relaxation – which will help dissipate the other physical sensations they begin to feel when angry.

3. Behavior
“The last step in the three-point check recognizes that behaviors are a manifestation of the thoughts and physical feelings that people experience during the bout of anger,” says Dr. Chapman.

“In attempting to feel more comfortable, we often engage in actions that may lead to temporary relief that could make us feel worse in the long-term,” Dr. Chapman adds. He continues to explain that “learning the functional nature of [your athlete’s] basic emotions and effective ways to regulate these emotions will help [them] live a fulfilling life that is not dominated by the ‘feeling’ component of our emotional experience.”

If an athlete wants to act on their anger, whether that be yelling at the coach or storming off the field, encourage them to instead ask themselves, “What do I feel like doing right now? Will that action lead to anything positive in the long-term?”

After your athlete acknowledges what they want to do, have them practice the first two steps in the three-step system to further process their reaction to the situation and identify a more effective response.

Dr. Chapman concludes, “All emotions have three parts. It’s important for young athletes to understand that all emotions are meant to help us, not hurt us.”

As young athletes become more aware of the thoughts, sensations, and actions connected to anger by practicing the three-point check, they will become increasingly better at managing unnecessary anger and responding effectively in difficult situations.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 How to Fuel for Two-a-Day Practices

How to Fuel for Two-a-Day Practices

Tips for how to keep your athlete satisfied and ready to head to practice for the second time in a day

It's no secret that many young athletes are over-extended, often playing on school and club teams in one or more sports, traveling for competitions, and squeezing in conditioning sessions. Two-a-day practices have become the norm for many athletes.

While this can lead to great sporting success, it makes eating right throughout the day more difficult. Here, TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, offers some tips for how to keep your athlete satisfied and ready to head to practice for the second time in a day.

Plan efficiently
A busy week for your athlete is likely a busy week for you between pickups and drop-offs, so make sure you have plenty of easy-to-eat food on hand before the school week begins. Sit down with your athlete and talk through what they should be eating during the day. Let them choose what options sound the most appealing to ensure they are fueling enough over the course of the day, rather than waiting until they are home for dinner to pack in the calories.

Don't skip breakfast
Often, one practice will be early in the morning, before school. For young athletes, it's tempting to stay in bed as long as possible and skip breakfast in favor of the snooze button. But if your athlete has an early morning practice, they still need to eat something beforehand. It doesn't have to be a heavy, large breakfast, says Ziesmer. "A really quick and light-on-the-stomach option would be a banana, maybe with a bit of peanut butter, and some water," she says. "But after practice, make sure they have something bigger for breakfast like a sandwich or a bagel with some carbohydrates and protein."

Prioritize eating between practices
“Between the two practices, an athlete really needs to focus on getting in as much food as possible because one practice is draining, and they shouldn't go into the next practice already depleted," says Ziesmer.

"Ideally, an athlete would have several hours between practices, and even if it is a back-to-back session, they definitely need to have a good snack in between. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a string cheese with fruit and a handful of granola or pretzels would be a good idea." A snack like that after practice is ideal to kickstart recovery and refill depleted glycogen stores, followed by another snack later in the day before heading into the next workout in order to top off those glycogen stores and allow your athlete to train hard for a second time.

Think simple, portable foods
A smoothie after practice sounds great in theory, but in actuality, it may be a melted disappointment by the time your athlete gets around to drinking it. Finding a snack that your athlete can munch on throughout the day during school and during practice is critical.

Homemade energy balls are one perfect solution. They're quick to make, can be made in big batches, and are easy to eat quickly as your athlete navigates between classes and to practice. Ziesmer recommends blending cashews, raisins, cinnamon, and salt together in the food processor until the ingredients are sticking together, then make them into small ball shapes and store in the refrigerator. You can change up ingredients, using different nuts and dried fruit, and roll the finished balls in cocoa powder or shredded coconut.

"I like these because they're easy to eat, so your athlete can grab one of them between classes," Ziesmer says. Other great recovery snack options include granola bars, easy-to-eat fruit like apples and bananas, and simple snacks like cheese and crackers. If all the practices take place around school, make sure your child's locker is stocked like a healthy convenience store!

Hydrate with carbohydrates and electrolytes
Carrying a water bottle and sipping throughout the day to maintain optimal hydration levels is critical. "At the second practice, I would also recommend having electrolytes and carbohydrates in their water because your athlete is getting into the realm of multiple hours of exertion," Ziesmer says. "Your athlete could use a traditional sports drink, or you could make one with diluted fruit juice and a pinch of sea salt."

Ziesmer’s favorite recipe is simple and makes 4 8-ounce servings:
• 5 cups water
• 1/2 cup orange juice (or grape or apple)
• 5 tablespoons of honey
• 1/4 teaspoon of salt

Have a recovery meal planned
Dinner shouldn't be nutrient-empty fast food on the way home from practice: The recovery meal is as important as what your athlete is eating before and during practice. Make sure that your athlete is able to kickstart recovery with a quick snack after practice, like chocolate milk or a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, followed by a dinner that contains plenty of carbohydrates, vegetables, and lean protein, Ziesmer says. A brown rice, vegetable, and chicken stir-fry or burrito bowl, for example, can be a great and easy post-practice dinner that will promote muscle repair and recovery so your athlete is ready for the next session.

"If your athlete says they feels nauseous, if they feel like their legs are super heavy, if they have problems with cramping, or if they report having no energy, then they definitely did not eat enough during, before, or after practice," Ziesmer says. Add more fuel throughout the day, make sure your athlete is drinking enough, and consider letting them take a rest day (or skip one of the two practices) to catch up on fueling.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 Summer Nutrition Tips for Youth and Teen Athletes

Summer Nutrition Tips for Youth and Teen Athletes

Nutritional tips to consider for a healthy and active summer break

Conventional wisdom would say summer is the time when kids eat the healthiest and have the lowest risk of gaining weight. After all, it’s sunny and warm outside, kids are playing or going to camps during the day, and all the best fruits and vegetables are in season and easy to get. However, according to a 2016 study by The Obesity Society, obesity rates in young elementary students increased during summer breaks!

Although, youth athletes are at lower risk of gaining weight during summer break due to their high activity level, there are still some important nutritional tips to consider for a healthy and active summer break.

Keep Eating On a Schedule
The constant availability of food during summer break was a contributing factor for weight gain in the Obesity Society study by von Hippel and Workman.

During the school year, kids followed a more structured schedule of meals and snacks. While not necessarily intended to restrict caloric intake, this schedule created significant portions of the day when no calories were available. At home in the summer, kids ate more frequently and ended up eating more calories overall during the day.

If kids increased their activity level during summer break, then increasing eating frequency and caloric intake would make sense. However, there are many kids who are actually less active during summer break.

Some kids spend their days watching TV or playing video games. In other families, finances may not allow for day camp opportunities. Unfortunately, many parents are reluctant to let their kids freely play and wander their neighborhood due to either real or perceived danger. The combination of increased eating and reduced physical activity is a perfect recipe for weight gain.

Youth sports athletes are typically quite active during summer break, but sticking to a structured eating schedule – or at least putting some parameters around what foods can be eaten at what times – helps kids establish positive eating habits.

Start With a Hearty Breakfast
During the school year, starting the day with a good breakfast has been shown to improve cognitive performance during class. Conversely, it’s been shown that hungry kids don’t perform as well in class. Breakfast is still important in the summer, particularly if your kids have a full day of structured or unstructured activities ahead of them.

What should a summer breakfast look like? Your goal is to provide long-lasting energy, so kids can get engrossed in whatever they’re doing instead of looking for snacks every 60-90 minutes. To accomplish this, aim for foods that are high in protein and high in fiber. For example, a breakfast of Greek yogurt, a higher-fiber cereal, and fresh fruit provides protein and fiber for satiety as well as natural carbohydrates for energy. Adding eggs further increases the protein and fat content of breakfast.

At the other end of the spectrum, a breakfast that is loaded with added sugar and contains little or no protein (e.g. frozen waffles and Nutella, sugary cereal, fruit juice) won’t keep an active kid satisfied for very long, meaning that despite consuming a high-calorie breakfast, they’ll be on the hunt for food again be mid-morning.

Stock Up on Healthy and Easy Lunch Options
In the study by von Hippel and Workman, poor nutritional quality was one of the other contributing factors for weight gain during the summer. As much as you may have not-so-fond memories of school cafeteria food, for many kids the nutritional and portion size structures of the school lunch program provided more balanced nutrition than they got at home.

As parents know all too well, a hungry kid is likely to eat a lot of whatever is most convenient and at least moderately appealing. The trick is figuring out what foods your kid will reach for and which foods they’ll leave to rot. For instance, open containers of grapes, blueberries, or raspberries make fresh and cold fruit a quick and easy option to reach for. Deli meat and sliced cheese makes a sandwich a quicker option than boxed mac-n-cheese or frozen pizza. Sparkling water with flavoring is refreshing and may be more appealing than plain water, and it’s a much better option than sugary soda.

Make Good Snacks and Treats Readily Available
If you don’t want a teenager to eat an entire bag of Doritos in one sitting, you should provide an alternative and leave the Doritos at the grocery store. It is unrealistic to expect kids and teenagers to, left to their own devices, make consistently healthy food choices. However, if there are reasonable alternatives and the opportunity to indulge in occasional treats, parents can help instill a healthy relationship with food that can last a lifetime.

Here’s a sample of foods to encourage and provide your athlete, as well as a sample of foods to limit access to. Some of the items in the recommended list have added sugar (popsicles) or are heavily processed (tortilla chips), but on balance are still better choices than other alternatives.

Snacks to Encourage
Fresh fruit
Fresh vegetable sticks
Minimally processed nut butters (peanut, almond, etc.)
Salsa or Hummus
Tortilla Chips & Guacamole
Dry Roasted Nuts

Snacks to Discourage or Limit
Fried snack chips (potato, Doritos)
Nutella or high-sugar added peanut butter
Queso Dip
Ice Cream
Honey Roasted Nuts

For many families, even with a schedule of activities, summer break represents a period when kids are at home more hours during the week compared to the school year. With a bit of planning, parents can stock their kitchens and pantries with convenient, healthy, and appealing foods to keep everyone from grade schoolers to teenagers fueled for summertime activities. At the same time, parents should help kids stay on a reasonably structured eating schedule to reinforce good habits and minimize mindless snacking driven more by boredom than hunger.

Hippel, Paul T. Von, and Joseph Workman. “From Kindergarten Through Second Grade, U.S. Children’s Obesity Prevalence Grows Only During Summer Vacations.” Obesity, vol. 24, no. 11, 2016, pp. 2296–2300., doi:10.1002/oby.21613.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 5 Activities to Build Resilience in Youth Athletes

5 Activities to Build Resilience in Youth Athletes

Simple steps to help your athletes become more resilient

One of the many outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic was that young athletes had to become resilient. No matter how much we may want to shield children from the harsh realities of cancelled seasons, lockdowns, and quarantines, every child experienced some kind of loss or hardship during the pandemic. But board-certified family physician and TrueSport Expert Deborah Gilboa, MD, explains that we can use these difficult moments as a learning opportunity to help our athletes become better prepared for inevitable challenges later in life.

This is a set of skills, Gilboa explains, as resilience is not simply a character trait. It can be nurtured and developed. Here, she discusses the five ways she wants coaches to approach building resilience on their team.

1. Building connections
Strong connections strengthen resilience because they diminish a person’s feelings of isolation. Fostering connections can be as simple as starting every practice with a question, whether that be a sport-specific one about the day’s practice goals or a sillier one like the last snack each person made for themselves. “Ask team leaders for ideas about icebreakers and ways to build better connections on the team,” Gilboa suggests.

“You can also have athletes divide into practice teams using things like sock color or their preferred house at Hogwarts! This way, they start to see what they have in common with each other. Then, turn it into an exercise that will improve the team dynamic: Have each person on the team ask a question to the group about something related to the sport, like how to improve a flip turn in swimming." Asking for advice helps build strong connections between teammates and shows that even the star player on the team has things they want to improve upon.

2. Managing discomfort
“Nobody grows when they're comfortable,” Gilboa explains. "Managing discomfort is crucial to becoming more resilient, because if you cannot handle being uncomfortable, you can't go through the steps required to experience a change and get to your goal. You get stuck.”

As a coach, you can grow in this arena by taking a step back and allowing students to deal with discomfort. You can still show empathy—no one likes running laps because they’re late—but don’t let athletes skip the hard things. Gilboa adds that you can turn this into a team discussion: ask athletes how they can help teammates manage their discomfort? How can they help teammates when they're sitting on the sidelines or can’t compete? How can they help when a teammate feels embarrassed about their performance?

When a situation is tough for the team, Gilboa says that part of managing discomfort is allowing people to express their feelings. “For example, if your team needs to run laps for some reason, I would tell them that they have 60 seconds to complain about it as loudly as they want, and then they need to get over it. And after that 60 seconds, they all need to find one positive about the situation—even if that positive is just that they’re suffering together."

3. Setting goals
To build resilience, Gilboa recommends having every member of the team first identify their ‘why’ behind playing. “We want to intentionally focus on the fact that every activity we undertake has a purpose,” she explains. Goals can also be small, daily objectives: Each practice, start by laying out the goals for the day and how those practice goals will eventually help lead to achieving bigger goals down the road. This helps athletes continue to come back to their ‘why’ and can help them push through tough practices because they have a good reason to do so.

4. Identifying options
“Unfortunately, we all tend to go with the first solution to a problem that we think of,” Gilboa says. "In general, we don't list a bunch of options before we decide what we're going to do. Being resilient means pausing and thinking about all your options and potential outcomes. That way, if one option fails, you know you have alternatives to try next—that makes it easier to persevere or show resilience.”

As a coach, whenever possible, let your team work together to identify different options, whether that’s making a plan for game day or picking what drills to do during a practice. And after a game, identify potential options you could take towards making improvements.

5. Taking action
While thinking through options is critical, action is a key final step in practicing resilience. “A lot of young athletes get stuck in option overload or decision paralysis,” Gilboa says. "And you can't be resilient if you can't move. So, you have to pick something and try it. It may not work, but then you can move on to the next option.”

Coaches can facilitate action by putting athletes in decision-making positions. Make sure every athlete on the team is tasked with choosing and leading actions, such as choosing stretches for warmup, picking drills, or leading the team through cooldown. Gilboa notes that it’s important for all kids to have a turn at making decisions, rather than leaving it to the loudest or strongest kids on the team.

Developing resilience in the athletes on your team is critical, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Follow these five simple steps to help your athletes become more resilient.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.

 6 Simple Reasons Why Athletes Fail to Meet Their Goals

6 Simple Reasons Why Athletes Fail to Meet Their Goals

Why your athlete is struggling with their goals and how to find success

If your young athlete tends to lose focus partway through a season or fails to achieve their goals by the end of the season, they aren’t alone. Setting and achieving suitable goals isn’t an easy task, especially for kids who are also dealing with the expectations of the adults around them.

Here, Daniel Gould, PhD, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, explains why your athlete is struggling with their goals and what they can do differently to find success.

1. They Don’t Have Ownership
“With kids, it's easy for them not to own their goal,” says Gould. "In other words, a coach or a parent often tells them what their goal is, and because they didn’t come up with it, the athlete really doesn't have the drive to commit to it.”

You can help an athlete overcome this roadblock by letting them make a list of goals for the season without any input from you. You can discuss the goals after they are written out, but until then, refrain from giving advice. Make sure it's really the athlete’s goals, not them echoing what they’ve heard or been told.

2. They Don’t Have a Plan
“Every adult has experience making a New Year’s Resolution that we didn't follow up on,” Gould says. "That’s because we spend so much time identifying what the goal is, but then we spend a lot less time developing the plan for achieving it.” Without a plan for getting to the finish line, a young athlete is dreaming, not goal-setting.

Gould explains, “A child might say, 'I want to make the starting lineup.' But to make the starting lineup, do they know what do they need to do? Most kids will say, 'I don't know.' But you can help your athlete figure it out. Depending on the sport, it may be 'I need to improve certain types of shots.’ Or more simply, 'I need to be on time to every practice.’” Help your child create a road map, either written out or drawn as a timeline, of how to achieve each goal.

3. They Don’t Revisit the Goal
"This is a really common problem,” Gould says. "Everybody sets goals at the beginning of the year, but rarely do they revisit them on a regular basis to evaluate progress. Goal-setting only works if people get feedback relative to their goal.” Both coaches and parents can figure out a way to create ongoing feedback for an athlete and incorporate some kind of metric or evaluation.

Research has also showed that motivation tends to wane between the time of goal-setting and the point of achieving the goal, but setting related mini-goals that are actionable can keep motivation high.

4. The Goals Are Too Vague or Too Big
"We know that goals that are specific and measurable are much more effective than 'do your best' general goals,” Gould says. "For example, if I tell my kid that I want him to have a better attitude, that’s extremely general. That means so many things to different people. Instead, really break down what behaviors you want to see, such as demonstrating good sportsmanship, not making any snide remarks to officials, hustling between all drills, and saying thank you to your coach. Really clarify what success means.”

And goals don’t have to be massive championship-winning goals to be satisfying. Research has shown that smaller goals that are more easily achieved can be incredibly satisfying, so make sure that your athlete isn’t just setting huge goals.

5. They Expect Perfection
Basketball legend Michael Jordan famously said that he missed more than 9,000 shots in his career. There are baseball players in the Hall of Fame who failed seven out of 10 times at the plate. “The whole idea that you have to be perfect is just unrealistic, yet kids believe that it’s possible,” says Gould.

“But sports are a great way to teach a young person that one failure doesn’t mean that a goal is now unachievable or out of reach. If they fail at a goal, just help them reboot: Set new, realistic goals based on new information.” Later in life, we rarely have the opportunity to learn from failures with minimal repercussions, so use youth sport as a way for kids to build those skills and resilience that will serve them outside of sport and later in life.

6. Their Goals Aren’t Your Goals
Sometimes, an athlete’s failure to meet a goal is simply a case of mismatched expectations between them and an adult. For instance, a parent might have been the star defensive soccer player in high school and therefore expect the same from their child - even though that young athlete would rather be playing tennis. Make sure athletes actually want to achieve the goals that they set!

It’s not surprising that many young athletes lose interest in goals or fail to achieve their goals during a season. Keep these barriers to success in mind as you help your young athletes set and work towards their goals.

TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.