Argus Leader on Sept. 14, 2015.
The season is well underway, and athletes are experiencing the grind of practices and games and the highs and lows of being part of a team. Developing a team first mentality is a challenge for young athletes, and it can be difficult for them to manage their inability to control things like playing time, play calling or ultimately winning or losing.
Teams need to work together and find their stride, and individual athletes contribute to the team mindset. I often talk about football being the greatest team sport, and at this point in the season, it is important to focus on the things you can still do to improve your team.
Helping with team chemistry. Team chemistry is the number one factor that I look for with all the teams that I have coached. Teams with tremendous talent that lack team chemistry become a very average team. Teams with average talent that have great team chemistry become excellent teams. A team with great chemistry finds ways to be encouraging, accepting and challenging to its individual members. That dynamic causes individuals to step up, and the team becomes stronger as a result. You can help build chemistry on your team by encouraging your teammates and coaches, accepting your role on the team and continuing to challenge yourself and your teammates every day.
Getting adequate diet, sleep and nutrition. Many young athletes never even factor in a diet plan or what is nutritional for them. Sleep is often neglected in this day and age of social media, and athletes don’t get enough rest because they are constantly connected to their social environment. If an athlete is truly going to be committed to his team, he must realize that the commitment is not only at practice or games, but all week long.
Your team needs to know that they can rely on you to get through the week, and you are doing everything you can to mentally and physically prepare your body for the season. Athletes should be getting at least nine hours of sleep, constantly drinking water,and continually monitoring what they are putting in their body and brain. You need to take care of yourself as an individual athlete in order to give your best contribution and performance as part of your team.
Finding a balance between school and sport. While young athletes don’t always have a mindset about the importance of school, they need to focus on being student athletes. We want kids to be involved in sports for a number of reasons, but they need to keep perspective about the odds of them eventually making a career out of sports. Remind your athletes that football is an extracurricular activity, and the reason they have this activity is because school provides this for them.
They will not be able to play high school or college football unless they have good grades and remain eligible. Sometimes athletes lose perspective because of the amount of time that is committed to practice, film and game prep, so some reminders from coaches and parents can definitely help. You should always take care of academics first.
As parents and coaches, we can help athletes avoid complacency in these areas and continue to improve physically and mentally every day. The best contribution athletes can make at this stage of the season is to focus on the things they can control and help raise their team’s performance. Athletes will learn a great deal about themselves and about the game if they learn what it means to do their part for something bigger than themselves. Your collective effort will make a successful team, win or lose.