Stay Ahead of the Game at Tournaments This Summer!
Summer is nearly here! For many players, this marks not only the end of a busy season and a long school year, but the beginning of the exciting summer tournament season.
Tournaments are often exciting opportunities for players to showcase their abilities in front of a wide spectrum of coaches and fellow players, and a fun chance for teams to compete against others from different parts of the state, country — even teams from overseas.
However, the often rigorous schedule of tournaments — two, or even three games a day, often on multiple weekends throughout the year — can put a significant physical and mental strain on players, a strain only made greater by the increased heat of the summer months.
In order to help keep your player feeling, and performing, at their best this summer, here are some easy-to-follow tips to stay healthy, and keep fit, amid the busy tournament bustle:
1. Pack Your Snacks
While just about every tournament venue will feature a concession stand, it's there for the spectators — not the players. Sure, there might be a restaurant or two nearby, but it's likely that their menus weren't planned with high-performance soccer fitness in mind, nor is there a guarantee that your player will have enough time between games for a sit-down meal.
For that reason, it's a good idea to bring your own food — snacks, drinks, even meals if necessitated by the tournament schedule — to the tournament site with you. Recommended snacks include fruit (oranges, grapes, apples), yogurt, bagels and cream cheese, carrots and celery sticks, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
For drinks, water is best for pre-game hydration, as it will restore fluids with overloading the body with sugar. During or in between games, sports drinks can help restore needed carbohydrates, while chocolate milk has been found to be an excellent source of proteins and fats to help your body recover at the end of a busy day. Avoid caffeine or carbonated beverages at all costs.
2. Don't wait until the morning of the first game to start fueling your body.
What your player puts into their body in the day or two before competing can have as much of an impact on their performance as what they eat and drink that day. Avoid too many fats and sugars in the days before competition, and focus on eating high-carb foods like pasta, rice, baked potatotes (without loads of butter and sour cream!), sandwiches or a non-sugared cereal like Corn Flakes.
3. Warm up and cool down
One of the most common injuries during the summer tournament season are cramps. Cramps are caused by fatigued muscles, and are exacerbated by heat.
One of the major causes of cramps is improper nutrition or hydration, both of which we've already addressed above. Another cause is overworking muscles that were not properly stretched or warmed-up before competition.
Spend 5-10 minutes loosening up your muscles with a mix of light jogging, dribbling, skipping or running backwards. When your muscles feel loose, take as much time as needed to properly stretch your calfs, hamstrings, lower back, hip, groin and side, finishing with your arms. It's important to do the light jogging first, then stretch — stretching a cold, stiff muscle can lead to overstretching and injury.
Likewise, it's just as important to cool down from competition as it is to warm up. A proper cool-down allows your body to begin recovery immediately, and keeps your muscles from stiffening up in the immediate time after competition. Your cool-down should be similar to your warm-up, about 10-15 minutes of light jogging and static stretching. And don't forget to replenish those proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
4. Beat the Heat
One mistake that athletes commonly make at tournaments is to sit out in the sun between games, either relaxing or watching the other games. Heat drains energy from the body even when you're not active, primarily by causing you to lose fluids through perspiration (thus leading to dehydration).
When you're not competing, find a spot indoors, or in the shade, to rest between games. Since not all tournaments will necessarily have such a location, bring a large umbrella or a small pop-up tent where you can sit out of the heat and make sure you're ready to go for the next game.