As a coach, you have control over what your athlete does for a few hours a week. You can control what drills they do, how they do them, etc when you are coaching them. As for what happens the other 22 hours of their day, that is up to them (and their parents if they are young). Unfortunately, what they eat during that time away from you can drastically affect their recovery and their future performance. As we all know, the eating habits of the average person in the US are currently lousy. This includes both adults and kids. That means that we have an uphill battle to fight.
(As a side note, sometimes parents allow kids to make horrible choices. A prime example was an 11 year old that I used to train. He regularly showed up to training sessions with a huge energy drink. What??? How does an 11 year old do that??? Oh, that’s right. His mommy let him do it. When dealing with kids and teens, it is often vital to change the parents ideas on nutrition. If they don’t change, the kids won’t ever change either.)
So, what can we do? Here are 3 things:
- Get the athlete professional help – First off, we have to leave the diet planning to the Registered Dietitians (RD). We wouldn’t want them writing our training programs and we shouldn’t try to do their job. We can however have one speak to athletes and parents. This could be done as an occasional seminar for all athletes/parents. It could also involve one-on-one help if needed. Regardless, it can be beneficial to develop a good working relationship with a local RD who has a background advising athletes.
- Have plenty of handouts ready – Having handouts ready on nutrition is a good way to get info to parents and athletes. Parents are often willing to look through these while their kids train. There are all kinds of wacky diet plans and concepts that have been publicized. While someone may believe some of these, it never hurts to present them with good info from trusted sources. Who knows, it might change their thinking. Where can you find this info? Try your local RD or various nutritional sites on the web. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute also has a lot of valuable handouts on their website.
- Become a thorn in the side – Make sure to constantly remind your athletes (and parents) about good nutrition. Ask them how they ate since their last workout. Remind them when they are leaving to eat well. Just mentioning it to them once probably won’t do the trick. Let them know that even though you aren’t there with them 24/7, what they do during that time still matters. For older athletes, if you know that they are going to a big cookout or some other event, you might send a text to remind them to keep things in check and not eat everything in sight.
How an athlete chooses to eat when they are away from you is ultimately up to them (or their parents). While I’m not one that thinks that a kid should never have a piece of cake or pie, I do believe that it is part of a coaches job to impress upon them the importance of good nutrition. As we’ve seen in the news, most of the teens and adults in the US are missing out on that message somewhere. Maybe we can help a few of them. Plus, if they are serious about their training, good nutrition is vital to recovery and performance.