Learning how to properly train is an important part of interscholastic athletics, especially for those who want to achieve long-term benefits. Student-athletes can develop training habits in various ways; by listening to their coaches, working with their teammates, and by observing the professionals. Successful athletic administrations understand the influence that role models can have on student-athletes. Highlighting the accomplishments of elite athletes—particularly the habits and training that led to those accomplishments—gives student-athletes relevant, real role models to emulate.
Elite athletes and their habits can function as beacons of inspiration when other training methods fail. High school athletes, due to their age and inexperience, can sometimes be dismissive or unappreciative of athletic advice given to them by adults or sports professionals. However, they will often follow the example set by their favorite professional athlete, because they are empowered to make their own decision instead of being told what to do. Also, hero worship of professional athletes can go a long way when dealing with the adolescent mind.
Most professional athletes, regardless of the sport, utilize similar training habits that are beneficial to both mind and body. They work alongside sports therapists and trainers, creating optimum schedules, diets, and goals to keep in peak physical condition. In addition to student-athletes, athletic administrations can also learn about the most effective training habits of elite athletes, and implement them into their own programs.
Elite Training Habit #1: Sleep
According to doctors working with Olympians and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), sleep is among the most important training habits for mental and physical health. Rest is universal, meaning it is crucial for athletes of all ages to practice healthy sleep patterns. The cognitive and physical performance of student-athletes is linked with their sleep routine, and can suffer if not given enough rest.
When the body is asleep, it repairs muscle, refreshes stamina, and improves alertness, among other things. During younger years—from middle school through college—sleep is especially critical to the body’s accelerated growth process. Professionals suggest eight to ten hours of restful sleep to maintain peak performance levels. Elite athletes try to maintain a regular schedule, consistently waking up and falling asleep within the same time periods. An athlete’s body can recognize patterns, and usually benefits the most from a stable, consistent sleep cycle. However, the quality of sleep that is achieved is equally as important as the amount of sleep.
A quiet, dark, cool environment is the most suitable for healthy sleep. Uninterrupted time helps the body reach REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), a part of the sleep cycle when the most healing occurs. In addition to a poor environment, variables such as medications, health disorders, stress, and pain can inhibit an athlete’s ability to achieve quality sleep. If the sleep cycle is interrupted, professionals and seasoned athletes suggest napping during the day. It may be fragmented, but resting is too important to the healing process to be overlooked.
Elite Training Habit #2: Set and Envision Goals
While sleep benefits both cognitive and physical health, most elite athletes also acknowledge setting goals as an invaluable training habit. They prepare for competition by envisioning their success, making it a reality in their minds. Creating goals, and mentally meeting them, can help decrease stress and increase focus—advantages that infuse all aspects of an athlete’s life.
Student-athletes who set goals, and frequently visualize them, are preparing for success. Victory through accomplishing a goal instills confidence, which doesn’t exclusively apply to athletics. Understanding how to meet goals (athletic and personal) can help student-athletes in other areas, such as school and relationships. Unlike meeting external expectations, achieving personal goals reflects the athlete’s individual desires, and enhances their sense of accountability and responsibility. Interscholastic programs work to promote this habit by asking student-athletes what their goals are, and how they will attain them.
Elite Training Habit #3: Nutrition
For an athlete to maintain maximum performance, they must eat well. Elite athletes, from Olympians to football players, follow holistic schedules that include sleep, training, and daily diet. Just as machines need fuel, so do the body and mind. Athletes can perform at their best with the right diet and hydration to support their grueling activity.
Before practice or a competition, elite athletes ensure they are well hydrated and nutritionally satisfied. Proteins and vegetables are easily converted into usable energy for the body, and therefore are excellent choices for pre-performance nutrition. Post-performance meals should contain carbohydrates like pasta to promote recovery. Portion size may vary according to the sport and the individual, but the goal of maintaining a balanced diet does not change. Student-athletes are often susceptible to dehydration or lack of a proper diet, therefore additional awareness and education can benefit them. For example, coaches can show their athletes the meal schedule of a professional sports figure, and explain the benefits of eating properly and staying hydrated.
Habits of Elite Athletes Have Multiple Benefits
Visualizing goals, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet will benefit more than just the sports performance of student-athletes. These habits can be incorporated into their school life, and later, into their professional life. They can see the real advantages that these positive habits bring by watching the success of elite athletes who practice them.
Interscholastic administrations are dedicated to developing balanced athletes, and can use the success of elite athletes as a learning tool. Whether they invite sports figures to present speeches, or highlight positive training habits before practice, athletic administrators and coaches need to use multiple approaches to nurture the performance, the health, and the personal growth of their athletes.
The Ohio University online Master’s in Athletic Administration program specializes in developing interscholastic Athletic Directors, building on the students’ passion for serving young student-athletes and running a highly-successful athletic department. Ohio University is the pioneer in sports education. By establishing the first academic program in the field of sports administration, this online program is recognized today as the premier professional training program for candidates seeking careers in the sports industry.