When the team turns in their jerseys at the end of the season, coaches often worry about what the players will do off of the field or court.
Will they spend the next few months playing video games and eating junk food? Will they overwork themselves or get injured playing a different sport?
It takes months to get into perfect shape and minutes to get out of it. But future athletes distinguish themselves from recreational players by making the most of their offseasons so they can return to the team stronger than ever.
The Offseason is a Disappearing Phenomenon
From athletes who train throughout the year to teams that play multiple seasons, students rarely take a break from the game. This is only exacerbated by youth athletes who play multiple sports. As soon as baseball season ends, summer football workouts start. With scholarships and college applications on the line, there’s constant pressure to perform and get noticed.
Interestingly, a lack of an offseason is becoming one of the top differences between professional and youth sports. Gwenn Okeeffe explains this phenomenon at Moms Team.
“[If] pro sports are a template on which to model youth sports, one has to ask why all pro sports get an off season — and a big one — but youth sports do not,” she writes. “This is not an academic question at all but a practical one and one that impacts the very health and wellbeing of our kids.”
Often, this isn’t the fault of parents or coaches who push their players too hard, but a drive from the players themselves. Whether it’s a love of the game or the desire to be the best — often both — today’s student athletes have a hard time setting down their equipment and taking a break.
“There is a strange type of mental state that many of us have that isn’t entirely rational, healthy or wise,” Kyle Norman writes at the Denver Fitness Journal. “Our love [of] our chosen activity(-ies) can verge into irrational dependence and obsession.”
Unfortunately, skipping the offseason can have long-term effects on a player’s performance and even limit their options in the future. Here is how players can have a healthy offseason to improve their skills and ability.
Understand the Meaning of Rest
While it’s tempting to pack the offseason with training camps, rec leagues and time in the weight room, it’s critical for players to have an actual offseason with downtime at regular intervals.
Youth fitness specialist Alex Slezak M. Ed., writing at the International Youth Coaching Association, says players who constantly play throughout the year in varsity, travel and rec leagues put too much pressure on their bodies.
“You cannot race a car hard every single day at the track without something eventually breaking down,” he writes. “The human body responds in much the same way.”
What can feel like pushing yourself to be the best could actually be putting your body on the path to a season-ending or career-ending injury.
Courtney Thompson explains this best in an article for Positive Performance Training. “Rest is an active, conscious effort to do nothing,” she writes. “It may be difficult, but it’s healthy to shut down for a time in order to adequately recoup. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, give yourself a break.”
How to Create a Plan for Rest and Recovery
The offseason is not a time to throw away your schedule, and it’s certainly not a time to lose all of your muscle and agility. But it is a time to actively rest.
During the first few weeks of the offseason, Jay Johnson recommends investing in yourself during this time off. After all, your coach might not know whether your body is operating at peak performance or what needs to be done to improve it.
So, consider visiting a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist or ART specialist who can evaluate your muscles, your posture and your body overall to determine the level of recovery you need. Your physical therapist will help your playing longevity, so your body isn’t burnt out before you ever attend college.
This down time is just as much mental as it is physical, and some coaches go as far as to ban athletes from playing their sports — even for fun — during their break time.
This mental break can be found all across the pros. For example, Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer — the 2016 Rookie of the Year — works as a plumber during the offseason. According to Scott Davis at Business Insider, Fulmer returns to plumbing because he genuinely enjoys the work. Fortunately, plumbing does have the added bonus of being a physical workout (especially when you’re shoveling 6-foot ditches).
Find Other Physical Activities to Stay in Shape
In an article for Active.com, triathlon coach Marty Munson discusses how to work with players during the offseason. One of his top pieces of advice actually comes from another coach who challenges athletes to try 20 different things in 30 days. This might include rollerblading, horseback riding and water aerobics — whatever gets them moving while letting them have fun and letting them try something new.
And when athletes play new sports, they learn new disciplines and skills. Even baseball players can get in their cardio and work on their agility by going to the ice skating rink, for example.
Yoga is another popular activity that athletes turn to as a way to boost their mental and physical health. The team at Triple Threat Academy explains that yoga increases flexibility while improving core strength and balance. Not only can yoga be a tough workout, but its relatively slow movements can help rebuild the body and prevent damage.
The key to a successful yoga routine is to find one that works for your sport. Dwyane Wade, the Triple Threat team points out, uses a series of basketball-focused yoga moves to improve his weak areas.
Create Workouts Based On Offseason Goals
Once you’re mentally ready to start training in the offseason, it’s critical that your workouts meet your personal physical goals for improvement. Many student athletes make the mistake of trying to replicate the workouts of stars like Kawhi Leonard or Cam Newton, which leads to an increased injury risk and results that don’t match their body types.
“There is an alarming trend to try and replicate what is being done at the collegiate or professional ranks with [student] athletes,” strength coach Andy Baker writes at TrainHeroic. “This behavior fails to recognize that the needs of a genetically average high school athlete are completely different than the needs of a genetically gifted collegiate or pro-athlete.”
Baker recommends approaching a player’s unique needs and creating offseason plans to address them. Sure, this might mean increased time in the weight room, but could just as easily mean more time on the field, too.
Learn How Your Position Can Benefit from Muscle Mass
Many youth athletes can benefit from from visiting the weight room in the offseason. These workouts can help with other muscles and help prevent injury, according to Brent Pourciau at Top Velocity.
“I totally understand why parents and coaches are scared of letting their boys weight train when they are playing this much baseball,” Pourciau says. “[But] a baseball does way more damage than a barbell to a pitcher’s arm.”
Tailor Your Workout to Your Sport
For sports that require quick bursts of controlled energy, Ricki Dugdale at USA Hockey Magazine recommends short interval training. “You also need to incorporate the right amount of rest between intervals,” he writes. “If you run a suicide for a minute, then give yourself two minutes to rest so your body recognizes that recovery period and can adapt.”
Discover Fun Ways to Stay in Shape
Outside of the weight room, it’s possible to find low-competition rec sports that create a fun environment to hone your skills. Holly, a U18 coach at the Soccer Classroom, recommends signing up your team for a rec or indoor league during the offseason. This allows players to keep working out while enjoying the process in a competitive environment.
Set Individual and Team Goals for Improvement
Team goals are also just as important as personal development plans, Sara Perez reports at USA Football. A team might come together with the goal of making the playoffs or winning the state championship, and then will break down what needs to happen by position to make those goals a reality.
Use Camps to Learn New Workouts
If returning to the game stronger than ever doesn’t motivate you enough during the offseason, then think of potential camps you can attend to help you get noticed by colleges and recruiters. These camps are a great way to keep practicing during the offseason while working toward your future career goals.
Coach Nick Pennisi has found that that simply playing on a good team won’t get you noticed by recruiters anymore, and athletes need to go to camps and meet with coaches to get their names out there. He lists three criteria when choosing camps to attend:
Will there be any scouts or coaches attending these camps?
What level of competition will be there?
How many athletes will be there?
These questions will help you determine the likelihood of standing out and impressing potential recruiters. After all, you don’t want to get burned out at a camp without any long-term recruiting benefits.
Even if you have verbally committed to a college — or even accepted a full scholarship — it could still be in your best interest to attend these local camps to stay in shape during the offseason.
Tyler Blum at Taking Back Football says that camps help players increase their experience working under different coaches while playing against top talent at your level. If you’re the best player on your team and have worked with your coach for years, you could experience a culture shock when you advance to the high school and college levels. These camps prepare you for that and motivate you to push harder.
Before you sign up to attend an event, make sure it meets your goals as a current player. For example, Phil Tognetti at The Full Windup describes two different paths that most youth players are on:
A local camp or showcase is better for players who want to stay fit in the offseason while experiencing a college experience and learning from a new coach.
Traveling to a national camp is better if your goal is to get recruited and start the scholarship process.
While national camps are significantly more expensive, they can give players more exposure than a small, local option that focuses on offseason improvement.
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