3 tips to help prepare your child to play their best

3 tips to help prepare your child to play their best
As published by USAfootball.com on 8/14/2013

You’ve done it. You’ve taken the leap.
After doing your research, debating the risks and benefits and checking out several leagues in your area, you’ve committed. Your child is ready to suit up and play youth football.

So, what’s next? You want your child to enjoy the experience, and you want to see him become better – and not just at football. How do you help your child get the most out of this experience? How do you keep him from getting hurt? How can you prepare him to play his best?

How do you keep him from picking his nose on the field?
During the next couple of weeks, we will tackle each one of these topics. If you missed last week’s post about helping with injuries (shame on you), you can check it out here. If you are REALLY behind and missed the post two weeks ago on getting the most out of youth football (you should really stop by more often), you can see that here. Be sure to share your ideas in the comments – we are a community here, and reader interaction is encouraged. Your experiences may help other parents who have concerns.

Without further ado, here is my top-three list for helping prepare your child to play their best. Simply put: eat, sleep and be merry!

Eat
We all know that what we eat is important – so is when we eat. How can you make sure your child has the energy he or she needs? Here are a few tips.

Most experts say that eating meals with lots of carbohydrates in the days leading up to a game is important. Carbs provide energy and can keep your child from feeling lethargic during the game. Make sure to avoid eating an hour before kickoff, but a light snack two to three hours before the game can be helpful. Give your child things that have a lot of protein, such as oatmeal, eggs, nuts, banana or an energy bar. Avoid candy as a pregame treat.

Your child needs to be properly hydrated, too. During the 24 hours before a game, make sure children drink lots of water but avoid giving them too much water in the hours right before the game (avoid making them feel waterlogged). Avoid sugary sodas – these are not a water substitute!

Sleep
Ahh…. sleep. It’s what we all want more of, isn’t it? Football obviously requires quick thinking and fast reactions – and both are hard to accomplish when feeling tired! Most experts agree that children need about eight to 11 hours of sleep a night to be fully rested. Encouraging your child to make sleep a priority the night before a game will help him perform better on the field. Naps before the game aren’t a bad idea either, just don’t take one too close to game time to avoid feeling sluggish.

Sometimes, kids may have trouble sleeping before a game – especially the really big games. How can you make it easier for a child to fall asleep? Well, it depends on the child, but here are a few tips I picked up online:

Take a bath or shower. This will help relax the muscles and make it easier to fall asleep.
Don’t eat RIGHT before bed, but don’t go to bed hungry. When your child eats right before bed, his body gets to work turning that food into energy – not a good fit at bedtime. Make sure your child isn’t hungry when he goes to bed by having a snack about two to three hours before going to sleep.

No TV or video games RIGHT before bed. Movies, TV and video games can stimulate a lot of our senses (that’s why we like it so much). Try to eliminate any TV and video games at least an hour before bedtime. This will help your child’s mind prepare for sleep.

Be merry
Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri – they’ve all made names for themselves by performing their best when the pressure is high. Most people aren’t like that, and it’s likely your child won’t like performing under pressure either.

Most children want to please their parents, and the pressure of performing on the football field can sometimes lead to a worse performance. Don’t add extra pressure on your child before games. Build self-esteem and encourage. Recognize the work your child has put in leading up to the game and give him the confidence that he is as ready as he can be.

Remember, football is fun. It’s a game. Reduce the pressure your child feels and let him enjoy playing – that’s when he will perform his best.

Nick Ragsdale is a football-loving, blog-writing contributor to USA Football, an Indianapolis Colts season ticket holder and parent. He likes tacos, movies and short walks on the beach (the sand can get hot). You can get more of Nick (140 characters at a time) on Twitter at @USAFootballBlog.
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