Many people have a strongly held belief that youth can erase the effects of bad habits – insufficient sleep, junk food, poor movement. I (Coach G) specialize in coaching athletic teens across the US and Mexico. I am often confronted with a level of misinformation surrounding the topic of adolescent health that has helped me to clarify key lifestyle tips for athletic teens. First and foremost, know that no person can outrun bad choices. You are what you repeatedly do.
Letting Teenagers be Themselves
One key to coaching teen athletes is to respect the role of their parents. And I do. My primary advice to parents who want healthy teens: allow your children to be. Their one true job is to become who they are.
We are human beings, not human doings.
Knowing the way you define your own value as a person, in all the ways you express yourself, will help you to stay in appropriate alignment with the model you give your children to define themselves. Lead by example. What drives you to be your best self? Hint: it’s not very different for anyone. We all want to be reaching our potential. Sometimes we all need help to find our way.
A Coach Who Cares and Leads by Example
Coaching and fitness are not just about movement. Coaching involves creating the right conditions for learning and building trust. The easiest part of coaching is giving instruction in technical skills and analysis of performance. The most important role I have as a coach is in guiding athletes (of all ages) toward healthy lifestyle choices.
Great coaching involves being a mentor, instructor, assessor, friend, facilitator, chauffeur, demonstrator, adviser, supporter, fact finder, motivator, counselor, organizer, planner, and a Fountain of Knowledge. The quintessential role of the coach is to create the right conditions that allow people to reach beyond their limiting beliefs.
I lead by example and I really care about each of my clients and that is the only leverage I have.
How can I expect an athlete to work toward scary new goals with me as a coach if I am not working with a coach?
How can I ask an athlete to get vulnerable in competition if I have never done so myself?
How can I ask an athlete to eat in a way that fuels their body to perform at the highest level if that is not how I eat?
How can I ask an athlete to prioritize sleep quality if that is not how I sleep?
Experience, the Greatest Teacher
I also share my experiences with my clients of all ages, teens included. I have made some choices in my life that have given me a life-changing experience and I have witnessed other people’s choices, some good, some terrible. I have also experienced the parts of life that are NOT in my control and learned how to be okay with not being able to control everything. HOW? By controlling what I can control. Feeling safe is the most fundamental human need. No organism will thrive in an environment that is not safe.
As a coach of teen athletes, I see teenagers facing challenges when they associate self-worth with what or how much they do. While this is not a new issue for the human race, it is new for teens at this stage of their lives.
We can only know what we know—through experience. How many times have I had a parent exclaim exasperation with their teen – because they don’t listen to their parents. This is a universal truth and yet we are always surprised when a person refuses our wisdom. After all, we have been there, done that, and we are here to share our learned experience…oh yes, there it is. Experience is the greatest teacher because she sends in a terrific bill.
People do not value anything they do not “pay” for. That is just another way to say “experience for themselves.”
Experiences are Important for Self-Defining
High school amplifies some need to find a unique identifier for many teens. Some use under or over-achieving as a means to stand out, some use sports, some use good or bad behavior, indecisiveness, drastic changes in appearance, drastic dietary changes, some use social media or games…
You are who you are. You are not what you do or have.
Striving runs contrary to enjoying life. And trying these new things is a way to “experience” life. Your teen is not his grades. Your teen is not how many honors or AP courses she takes—and aces or fails. Your teen is not their overuse of devices. Your teen is not the college that you get into, or their sport, or how much they lift, or how much money their parents have.
Parents who measure their children by how much they do or how well they do and in comparison to other children are really setting the stage for low confidence. You might not even know you are doing it.
The truth is, comparison destroys our creative energy.
The truth is that we can only learn to know ourselves by having experiences, and having those experiences validated by a trusted advisor (coach) is invaluable toward embodying real confidence.
5 Specific Lifestyle Tips for Athletic Teens
Here are some of my recommended healthy lifestyle tips for athletic teens:
1. Keep a journal. Write down at least 3 things you are grateful for every night before bed. When you are anxious, sit down and write whatever comes to mind. I often call this a “brain dump”. Unburden your mind so that you can get to work on the task at hand.
2. Drink water! Every morning first thing: drink 1 liter of water. The body loses a liter of water overnight. Drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces each day. If you weigh 150lbs drink 75 ounces of water—ok that is 3 liters. Easiest? Drink at least 1 gallon of water every day. Also if you are sweating, guess what?—you need even more water. Get headaches? Muscle cramps? Maybe try drinking water before you take pills.
3. Keep a regular schedule. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping a regular schedule as it pertains to sleeping, eating, and training. I often remark that dogs and babies are wrecked by schedule changes. Try feeding your dog at different times daily, or skipping a feeding for your infant or toddler, or skipping nap time, and let me know how that goes. But, teens (and so many adults) think that sleeping and waking, eating, training, etc. at different times is just fine.
4. Get adequate, high-quality sleep. You cannot have poor quality or quantity of sleep and be healthy, just like you cannot have poor quality or quantity of food and be healthy, and you cannot have poor quality or quantity of training and be healthy (or reach your goals). The truth about biology is that all organisms thrive in routine rhythms. When you travel and change time zones? You disrupt the circadian rhythm. When you stay up until 2 am to study, or worse yet, to party, you disrupt the circadian rhythm. (Check out 5 Scary Health Effects Of Sleep Deprivation During The Teen Years or Sleep Loss Dramatically Lowers Testosterone in Healthy Young Men for more details).
Parents, you want to treat your children to a vacation over every break because they work so hard and behave so well, but the time zone disruption and sleep-wake cycle in addition to the dehydration that comes from air travel, different foods (including more junk food and sweets), contribute to poor mental, emotional, and physical health. The paradigm for supporting great biology is rhythm and routine. Yes. Like I say all the time in training, ‘it’s not sexy’. But freedom can only come from discipline.
5. Eat food as fuel—on a regular schedule. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ diet. I assess each athlete individually in order to help them fuel their body, but not just that, I teach them to recognize what food their body needs to function optimally. This doesn’t mean that you cannot sometimes choose to eat sugar or fast food. It means that you actually KNOW exactly how your body will respond to every food you eat.
Awareness is just paying attention to what you are experiencing and choosing to acknowledge it. You have to pay attention to your life if you want to make it awesome!
Giulia Isetti, Ph.D.
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“Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passions.” ~ Stephen Covey, The 8th Habit
“My will shall shape my future. Whether I fail or succeed shall be no man’s doing but my own. I am the force; I can clear any obstacle before me or I can be lost in the maze. My choice; my responsibility; win or lose, only I hold the key to my destiny.” ~ Elaine Maxwell
“Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backward, or sideways.” ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.