A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Is your young athlete healthy?
By Kim Travis
Sports, academics, extracurriculars, homework, studying, tests...for young athletes it can sometimes feel like there is no end to their responsibilities. Both younger and older children face pressures from not just academics, sports, coaches, teachers and parents, but society too. Amidst all the chaos of day-to-day life, the pressures to succeed and “fit in” can be exhausting.
If you’re a parent, teacher or coach, it’s your responsibility to look after the wellbeing of those in your care.
This means being aware of any signs of physical distress and emotional turmoil that often arise as a result of feeling overworked and overwhelmed. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your child athlete, it’s important to know that they could be signs of a larger underlying issue.
1. Rapid weight loss or gain
This symptom is common in adolescent athletes who feel as though their bodies have room to improve. It’s never healthy to gain or lose weight too rapidly, and whether your child is trying to muscle up or lose weight to look more toned, it’s your job to step in and teach the right way to do so, while promoting a positive mindset about his or her body.
2. Constantly exercising/training
All athletes should be expected to commit to practice and play, but as with most things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Working out too much not only has potentially dangerous physical implications, but your child’s mindset can turn negative and overly competitive/rigid when the sport is meant to simply provide healthy competition between peers. Always monitor the frequency and intensity of your child’s workout routines, and don’t be afraid to step in if you feel it’s not healthy or there is a negative mindset associated with the behavior.
3. Changes in eating habits
Playing sports can help children maintain a healthy weight. However, similar to the previous symptoms, changes in eating habits are one of the biggest signs of an underlying issue, especially if the child has:
Restricted food intake
Purged after meal
Isolation at meal time
Growing bodies require consistent and balanced nutrition, and child athletes often require even more careful attention to a healthy diet due to the excess calorie expenditure. Always offer your child a hearty meal or snack after a game or practice, and if you feel as though he or she is not eating regularly or enough, talk to a professional.
4. Irritability and moodiness
Most parents of adolescents know that teens can be irritable -- it just “comes with the territory.” However, when a young athlete becomes increasingly irritable and moody, pay attention -- especially when the athlete is:
Not be eating right
Working out to exhaustion
Starting conflicts with other players and coache
Getting no joy or pleasure from the sport
If you witness your child acting noticeably more irritable, reach out and ask how you can help. Communication is key to understanding your child’s actions.
Isolation is often a symptom of an unhealthy body or mind. If your child physically or emotionally isolates themselves for long periods of time to eat or work out, it’s almost always a sign of trouble, and you should consult with a professional as soon as possible.
Ultimately, knowing and understanding these signs of distress in your young athlete can help a young athlete maintain a positive physical and mental state throughout their childhood and into their adult life. Always stay alert, encourage a positive body image, and make sure your child knows that you’ll always be his or her number one fan both on and off the field.
Kim Travis is the director of marketing at EDCare, an Eating Disorder Treatment center that offers comprehensive care for athletes with eating disorders. The Elite Athlete Track Program focuses on interrupting the eating disorder and empowering athletes to return to their sport both mentally and physically stronger. Kim holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University and has over 25 years of healthcare experience in marketing and operations.
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The Press Box is a weekly e-newsletter bringing you the latest news stories in youth sports, research on youth athlete safety and wellness, and more. Stories are carefully curated to bring subscribers only the best quality content and news.