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An Orthopedic Sports Physician’s Back to School Tips for Young Athletes

Sports Medicine / August 3, 2022

College students and teenagers may not want to think about it, but those few weeks of late July and early August mean that another school year is quickly approaching. The start of the school year also coincides with the start of the fall sports season.

For many athletes, summer is a time for rest, recuperation and re-charging. After all, it is important to give them time to have fun before another long season—which helps avoid burnout and potential overuse injuries. 

As a new season approaches young athletes should begin preparing their minds and bodies for the upcoming year. Similar to professional sports, a “training camp” mentality can help lead to success. For parents, these few weeks can be crucial for establishing good habits—both in the classroom and on the playing field. 

Our team at Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance is here to help ensure your young athlete is ready to hit the ground running this fall. If you’re experiencing any pains or limitations, scheduling an appointment with an orthopedic sports physician before the start of the fall season is a great way to prevent further injury.

Read on below to learn more tips, as well as the benefits of preparing for the upcoming season.

 

The Dangers of Too Much Inactivity

It’s difficult for any athlete to take an extended break from their sport and pick up right where they left off from a conditioning or performance standpoint.

As any orthopedic sports physician in Kansas City will tell you, taking a break to rest and recover is essential to avoiding overtraining—and the potential injuries that come with it. Nearly every elite athlete does this regardless of their sport, but generally for just a few weeks at a time. 

Going from multiple months of little physical activity to performing long, intense physical activity can bring similarly negative effects. Early-season practices tend to heavily revolve around training athletes back into game shape—with technique, conditioning and strength training all playing prominent roles.

Whether due to injury or inactivity, too much rest can lead to a decrease in your muscle strength and conditioning after just a few weeks. That lack of muscle strength can play a direct role in developing an acute musculoskeletal injury—as the area is not properly equipped to handle dramatically increased stress and sudden, forceful movements. These injuries can include:

Even if your young athlete doesn’t develop an injury, too much inactivity may put them at a disadvantage from a competitive standpoint. Commonly known as “shaking off rust”, they may need to refine or re-learn certain techniques specific to their sport—while also working themselves back into proper shape. Because this can take time, they may put themselves at risk of losing playing time to a more well-trained, well-conditioned athlete.

Shifting Mindset & Preparation

Many parents ask our providers, “When is the right time to shift out of summer mode and begin preparation for the upcoming school and sports season?”. There are a lot of factors that come into play when making this decision—the individual athlete, the demands of the sport and timing of the start of the season are all critical to know and understand.  

Helping student athletes prepare for the upcoming season is crucial to helping them succeed on the field and in the classroom. Below are a few tips from a KCOA orthopedic sports physician in Kansas City to help with the transition

 

Prioritize Summer/Off-Season Training

Whether it’s summer reading or summer workouts, keeping your athlete’s mind and body in shape is important. On a basic level, regular exercise will help ensure that they continue positive fitness habits and stay in-shape. For as long as it takes to build these habits, they can be difficult to regain after too much time away.

If your athlete participates in fall sports, the summer is a great time to improve their physical and sport-specific skills.. Many schools offer summer workout programs specifically designed around the strength training and conditioning required for that sport—in addition to the development goals outlined by the student and training staff. 

There are also a number of different sport-specific camps that your young athlete can participate in. These camps often serve as an important tool for skill development and competition—which helps build better technique and habits while also maintaining a fun, competitive environment. 

Most importantly, summer training programs and camps can help a young athlete reduce their risk of injury. Proper strength training and conditioning help to strengthen supporting muscles and avoid imbalances, while also increasing flexibility, mobility, and stability in joints

Consulting with a coach, trainer, or orthopedic sports physician in Kansas City can also help improve technique and correct any errors in posture—which further reduces injury risk. 

 

Get an Annual Physical 

Before starting the season, it’s important to schedule a physical between your athlete and a state-licensed provider. Many schools and colleges organize these physicals themselves, either for free or for a nominal fee. Though KCOA does not offer these physicals in-clinic, our providers do participate in several “school physician nights” with schools throughout the area! 

A preseason physical is also one of the best ways to determine if your athlete has a condition that may prevent or limit them from participating. Despite their young age, not all athletes will have the capability to participate in organized sports. A preseason physical helps ensure that they understand and avoid the potentially harmful risks associated with their particular sport. 

 

Adjust Their Sleep Schedule

Proper sleep is invaluable when it comes to academic and athletic performance. Teenagers require about 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, while college students will require about 7 to 9 hours. 

Sleep helps enhance many of the cognitive functions that they’ll need in order to succeed in the classroom or on the field—including learning, memory, reaction time, judgment, decision-making, and focus. When it comes to athletes and training, sleep encourages the body to repair muscles while building strength and energy.  

Without the need to wake up early for class, many young people will stay up later and sleep longer during the summer. While proper sleep is important, this can have dramatic effects on their sleep schedule. This makes it harder to fall asleep at a normal time and possibly affects their performance.

In the weeks leading up to practices or classes, take the time to help them re-adjust their sleep schedule if needed. This can include adjusting their training schedules, reducing their screen time at night, and avoiding caffeine or large meals before bedtime. 

Maintain Good Nutrition

On the subject of meals, nutrition plays another key role in academic or athletic performance. Whether you prepare your student or athlete’s meals or they prepare their own, it’s important to ensure that those meals are healthy and balanced—including servings of fruit, vegetables, protein, and whole grains.

School and sports naturally provide a structured schedule for college students and teenagers. Parents can help them maximize that structure by helping them properly time their meals and snacks. We recommend starting the day with a healthy, balanced breakfast and a power snack rich with carbohydrates later in the day, around the time where school ends and practice begins. 

Most importantly, any student or young athlete needs to hydrate throughout the day. Fluid intake will vary based on their activity level, but young athletes in particular need to ensure that they’re drinking water throughout the day and for every 20 to 30 minutes of intense physical activity. 

Adapt to Heat

Water isn’t just important for nutrition, but also for ensuring that your student athlete’s body can physically handle prolonged heat exposure. Many fall sports teams have longer practices before the start of the school year due to having no classes. These practices—and even some early-season games—can take place during the months most likely to have excessive heat and humidity. 

An orthopedic sports physician in Kansas City can also provide suggestions on how to prepare for this heat prior to the start of the season. Your athlete’s school will likely have measures in place that both maximize their ability to practice while minimizing heat exposure.

The goal of heat acclimation is to improve your heart rate and body temperature responses in excessively hot weather. Beyond drinking enough water, it’s important to take multiple rest breaks throughout training to avoid overheating. Using cooling methods such as ice packs or ice towels can also help keep the body’s temperature down. 

Finally, you should gradually ramp up the intensity over your training over the course of several days rather than jumping straight to highly vigorous workouts. This will help your body naturally cope with the heat and prompt better responses. It’s extremely important for your young athlete, their coaches, and their trainers to monitor for any signs of heat-related illnesses. 

 

Help Your Athlete Hit the Ground Running This Fall— Contact an Orthopedic Sports Physician in Kansas City Today!

At Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance, we make it our mission to create a superior patient experience for all. Regardless of the location or severity of your athlete’s injury, our team will work with you to ensure the best possible outcome.

Request an appointment with one of our providers to find the best treatment option for your needs. You can also receive a thorough evaluation by calling (913) 319-7600 or by using our symptom tracker tool. If you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to fill out our contact form to get a prompt response from a KCOA representative.