Prepping Your Athlete for a Spring Season

By Julia D. Drattell, MEd, ATC, CES // Linda M. Leva-Schrank PT, C/NDT, PCS // Tyler Muñoz | Posted 1/8/2021

Fact vs. Fiction broken down by NYU Langone Health and USA Football

Although this season may be different in many ways, one thing isn’t changing: making sure athletes are acclimatized. Big word. What does it mean? Getting an athlete’s body prepared for new climates and conditions.

The goal of an acclimatization period in football is to gradually increase heat tolerance and enhance the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm and hot conditions. Ideally, the process should start at home, at least 14 days prior to the start of the team practices. A gradual increase of intensity over the first week allows for additional acclimatization, especially for those who did not train in the weeks before practice. Though the standard timeline for acclimatization is 10-14 days, this can vary depending on the activity or sport and should meet the needs of the individual athlete.

We’ve teamed up with the sports health experts at NYU Langone to discuss common misconceptions about acclimatization, and the facts that will help you properly prepare your athlete for their new demands.  

1.FICTION: The process of acclimatization can be rushed or sped up. They’re kids, just send them on out there.

FACT: The body needs time for changes to take place . Accelerating this process is not possible, and can cause harm to the athlete.

 

2.FICTION: Kids are bendy and don’t pull muscles. Kids can just go out and start practicing without needing to warm up.

FACT: Children of all ages need to properly warm up with dynamic movements, not static stretching, before starting with intense activities. The warm-up should include every movement that an athlete will be asked to perform in a practice or game. In addition, activities should progressively increase in intensity throughout the warm-up period.

 

3. FICTION: Youth football players need to get used to new equipment, so they should start wearing it as soon as practice starts.

FACT: Appropriately adding equipment over time helps athletes get used to wearing it

  • Football equipment, (i.e., helmets and shoulder pads), trap heat differently than workout clothes and changes an athlete’s ability to dissipate heat.
  • Wearing light-colored clothes helps athletes to dissipate heat better and should be encouraged in the early training phases.
  • Football equipment that can be easily removed or loosened (i.e., helmets) should be taken off during breaks to allow athletes’ bodies to cool down.

 

4. FICTION: Kids get enough physical activity at school.

FACT: Kids can and should be encouraged to play and be active at home, school and through organized activities.

  • The CDC recommends that kids ages 6 through 17 get 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.

 

5. FICTION: The best and fastest way to get youth football players ready for games is to have them go full speed and full contact immediately.

FACT: Contact activities should be introduced progressively, step-by-step, to ensure proper technique is being learned and practiced. 

  • Progressive contact skill instruction also allows for an athlete’s body to adapt to increasing loads and demands.

 

6. FICTION: Running and training in a gym using weight machines and treadmills or stationary bikes is the same as training outdoors.

FACT: The body needs to “learn how to sweat,”gain more functional strength and adjust to different playing terrains which it cannot do in a temperature controlled environment like the gym using standard machines.

  • Using weight machines only trains a few muscle groups at a time. It is important to gain functional strength and fitness in real-world situations, including sport-specific and multi-directional movements.

 

7. FICTION: Restricting water breaks will “toughen up” athletes.

FACT: Proper hydration helps the body perform at an optimal level, allowing for safer and more effective training.

 

8. FICTION: Air temperature is the only factor in determining if it’s too hot to practice or if extra breaks are necessary.

FACT: Both temperature and humidity should be accounted for when determining environmental temperature and safety restrictions for practice to reduce the risk of heat illness. Things like wind chill or “real feel” you see on weather apps are important to consider as well.

  • Turf fields can increase air temperature more than grass fields.
  • Turf field surface can be 40-70 degrees hotter than surrounding air temperatures on warm, sunny days and can melt shoes, blister hands and feet, and induce dehydration and heat illness.

 

9. FICTION: If an athlete resumes playing football during the offseason, they will be ready for the start of next season.

FACT: Research on sport specialization suggests that it leads to higher injury rates, particularly overuse injuries.

  • Sports specialization is “year-round intensive training in a single sport at the exclusion of other sports.”
  • Research on the risk of single-sport specialization is increasing and suggests that it leads to higher injury rates, particularly overuse injuries.
  • Supplementing the offseason with supervised strength and endurance training programs may better prepare the athlete for their upcoming season.
  • Participating in one sport for more than 8 months a year and practicing a sport for more hours per week than their age also increases risk of injury.

 

For more information, or to speak with one of the Sports Health experts at NYU Langone, please visit nyulangone.org/sportshealth or call 844-888-8301.

This content was developed by:

  • Julia D. Drattell, MEd, ATC, CES // Program Coordinator-Athletic Trainer at NYU Langone Health
  • Linda M. Leva-Schrank PT, C/NDT, PCS // Certified Clinical Specialist, Pediatric Physical Therapy at NYU Langone Health
  • Tyler Muñoz // Manager, Football Education at USA Football
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