Keeping Your Young Football Player Healthy through the Fall and Winter Months…

Autumn…oh how we have missed thee! In Texas we only get to enjoy you for such a short time that we will wear our winter boots, sweaters, and jackets on days that Chicago and New York would consider laughable. We will line up at Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte if the weatherman even whispers we may wake up to weather under 70 degrees. It is in these days that we lay off the water a bit because we don’t need it as much, right? WRONG it is also the days of good ol’ Texas football and our boys need to stay hydrated and healthy even through these months.

Did you know that heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in athletes, yet it is largely preventable? Many of these strokes happen after the intense heat of summer in Texas as we do not have the luxury of ice cold fall days. We may wake up to 40 degree weather and by the time after-school practice starts we could be back in the 80’s. It is vital that our little athletes keep their bodies hydrated despite a slight change in the weather.

When an athlete exercises, the body temperature is elevated and the body sweats to cool down. Body fluids and valuable minerals (electrolytes) are lost, blood volume drops, and the heart works harder and harder to maintain blood pressure. More fluid is pulled from the tissues to make up the difference creating a dangerous condition. If fluids and electrolytes are not replaced, dehydration, and the risk of heat illness and death increase.

The choice of fluids depends on the activity and intensity. Water is very effective for activity bouts lasting less than one hour. Activities lasting more than one hour with multiple repetitive bouts in the same day require fluids containing carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium, which are standard formulations for commercial sport drinks. Remember that sport drinks are not health beverages, so improper consumption can lead to weight gain. But sports drinks are designed to replace fluids and nutrients lost during extended activity in the heat. Electrolyte replacement may take longer due to metabolic processes. Proper planning, fluid replacement, and education can not only make athletic participation less worrisome for parents but also more enjoyable for the athlete.

Here are a few tips to keep your kids healthy through the fall and winter season.

  1. Insist that they keep up the same water intake. If your young athlete takes water in a cooler to school daily make sure he/she does not change their routine. There is no need for it and this will encourage them to keep up this healthy habit as an adult.
  2. Encourage them to take water breaks often during practice.
  3. Try some new options – today you can get electrolyte infused water as well as coconut water at the grocery store, both are good sources for hydration and can add a little flavor as well.
  4. Go over heat stroke information with your athlete. Make sure they understand when to call for help. If they feel like their body temperature has gone up past 105 degrees or experience any of the below teach them to seek help immediately.
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

*Heritage’s original post on the dangers of heat stroke can be found here.

Behavior Therapy 101: How to achieve positive behavioral changes with your children

If you have kids (or pets, for that matter) then chances are that you have used some behavioral therapy techniques on them. Behavior therapy involves the use of reinforcement and/or punishment to increase a desired behavior or extinguish an unwanted behavior. Here are some practical pointers on using positive reinforcement (praise and point charts in particular) with your children. Much of this information was gleaned from Dr. Alan Kazdin (you can check out more of his materials here).

Changes in Behavior Occur When…

  1. The reinforcers increase the strength of the positive behavior. If they do not, you may need to choose different reinforcers.
  1. The reinforcer should occur immediately after the positive behavior.
  1. Your child must perform the desired behavior before receiving any reinforcers.
  1. For new behaviors to occur, the reinforcer needs to follow the behavior every time.

Four Types of Reinforcers

  1. Material Reinforcers: Tangible items such as toys, clothes, and candy.
  1. Privileges of Activity Reinforcers: Time together with the parent, slumber party, staying up late, chore done by the parent.
  1. Social Reinforcers: Your approval! A smile, a wink, a hug, and praise.
  1. Token Reinforcers: Items given to your child that can be exchanged for more valuable reinforcers.

How to Make Your Praise Most Effective

  1. Deliver praise when you are near your child. When you are close to your child, you can be sure that the behavior you are praising is taking place. Also, when you are close, your child is more likely to pay attention to what you are saying.
  1. Use a sincere, enthusiastic tone of voice. You don’t need to be loud, but make sure that you sound thrilled about what your child is doing.
  1. Use nonverbal reinforcers. Show your child you are pleased by smiling, winking, or touching. Hug your child, high five him, or pat him on the back.
  1. Be specific. When praising your child, say exactly what behavior you approve of. “Wow, thank you so much for picking up your shoes and putting them in the closet.” You want to be specific.

Helpful Hints to Make the Point Chart Work

  1. Remember to praise and give points immediately after the desired behavior.
  1. Review the chart with your child at the end of every day. This gives you a chance to praise the number of points accumulated that day and review all the positive things your child has don’t to earn the points. Also, when few points have been earned, it gives you a chance to handle it neutrally and encourage your child to earn more the next day.
  1. Have some of the rewards available every day.
  1. Give rewards as agreed. Once your child has earned enough points to buy a reward, he should be allowed to receive it regardless of anything else that may have happened that day.
  1. Encourage your child to buy rewards each time. Remember, it is an opportunity to reinforce the behavior you are working on.
  1. Bring the point chart to our sessions each week whether or not it is completed. That way we can track your child’s progress.

 

Points Chart

The Anxious Athlete: Practical Techniques to Help Alleviate Your Child’s Fear

Every parent of a child who competes in any sporting event has most likely witnessed some level of pre-game jitters. Sports anxiety isn’t just for the professional athletes, especially considering the emphasis that our culture places on success and competition. That’s right, kids are more than just a little susceptible to pre-game pressure. This nervousness can either be channeled as a driving force of motivation or as a paralyzing numbness they can’t seem to shake. It’s important to remember that at least some degree of nervousness before and during a sporting event is completely normal. But, if the anxiety gets out of hand, there are a few strategies that may be helpful to alleviate the stress. Three of the simplest exercises associated with sports related performance anxiety are visualization, mindfulness, and breathing.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three- breathing. I know this sounds like a suspiciously simple solution, but when you help your player learn how to exhale effectively, you may be surprised at the outcome. Sports psychologists call this “performance exhaling”. Teach your child to experience the relaxation response that accompanies an intentional exhale. This technique can be useful in situations both on and off the field and can be practiced nearly every day. Once your child is able to associate the intentional exhale with relaxation, he or she can apply it during a game as a part of settling into the batter’s box or while approaching the free throw line.

This next technique involves visualization. Have you even been lining up a putt while thinking “don’t hit it left, you hit it left last time, don’t hit it left”? Chances are good that you ended up hitting it left. Think about it- the only information your brain was getting was left, left, left. Teach your child to 180o those thoughts and visualize what they DO want to do, instead of what they don’t want to do. When the night before the big game comes, encourage them to focus on and actively visualize not just hitting line drives, but the specifics of what goes into hitting that line drive: where the ball hits the bat, head down, elbow in, and “squishing” the bug with their back toe. Encouraging your child to visualize the positives, or what they would like to happen, also offers them that mental training that no amount of time in the cages can accomplish.

The third technique for reducing your child’s pre-game anxiety is mindfulness. I realize this concept sounds a bit “new age-y” or possibly too advanced for a younger child. I assure you- helping your child develop mindfulness in age-appropriate ways is an excellent strategy for regulating any emotion, including pre-game jitters. For most of the older kids, the act of being mindful involves not just intentional breathing and visualization, but being actively aware of these experiences. Encourage your child to pick a moment before a sporting event. This can be breakfast the morning of a big game, loading up on the bus before heading to the stadium, or crossing the white line while running out onto the field. This is the moment that all the tension, all the anxieties, all the fears get put on the back burner and focus is turned onto the task at hand. The act of narrowing down the field of focus can result in your child reaching a peak-performance state, or what pros call “the zone”.

Helping to ease your child’s sports related anxiety can be achieved in a lot of ways. Sometimes, a child may only need a reassuring smile to feel better before the big game, and the best way to get to know the needs of your child is by creating and maintaining open communication. Whether you’re raising a 6 year old athlete or a 16 year old athlete, helping to reduce the pre-game jitters using these techniques will instill in them personal coping skills that will last a lifetime.

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!

Strike Outs, Air Balls, and Dropped Passes: How to Help Your Kids Fail Successfully

These days organized sports are everywhere you turn – especially if you are a parent. Citing a study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, ESPN has reported that over 21 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in league sports.  That’s a huge number! And the actual number is probably much larger when you consider kids under the age of 6 and those participating in unreported leagues. Given those numbers, it’s a safe bet that your children participate, to some degree, in organized sports – and that’s great! What’s not great is that helpless, gut-wrenching feeling you get when your child buries his face in his glove after letting a ground ball roll between his legs, watches the third strike fly by, or kicks what could be the game winning field goal only to have the ball sail wide left by inches. Think about how you feel when you see this happen. Is your child going to feel 100 times worse? Is it going to phase your child at all? Failure is an inevitable part of any sport- it’s what you do with your child’s failure that matters.

Every child will react differently to failure. Knowing your child’s temperament is the first step to helping her fail successfully. Some kids step off the field after playing a terrible game and their only thought is “Should I get a purple or a blue snow-cone?” Others will harp over mistakes for days. Although it is important to let your child know that you’re there to support and encourage her (win or lose), a kid who takes failure really hard may need more than that.

If you really want your child to be successful both on and off the field, teach him how to fail in a positive way. This means channeling that failure in positive directions so that it is seen as motivation and feedback rather than as a source of shame and doubt. Even as adults, we know that the fear of failure can be paralyzing. If a child is obsessing over “not messing up” while she’s at the free throw line, her mind is in the wrong place. If your son stands at the plate worried about striking out, the chances are great that he will.

Many children involved in competitive sports place high expectations on themselves.  They daydream about hitting the game winning homerun, throwing the game winning touchdown, or dunking on their weary opponent. When children don’t actually meet their expectations, they come down hard on themselves and lose confidence pretty quickly. Sound familiar?? Teaching these kids to view failure in a different light can vastly improve their sense of self. After all, mistakes are just learning opportunities in disguise. Once your child learns to accept that mistakes happen even on good days and to great players, she will be more able to stay composed and “shake it off” without feeling beat up by the failure.