Don’t Raise a Dirty Player: 5 Steps to Cleanliness in Youth Sports

Don’t Raise a Dirty Player: 5 Steps to Cleanliness in Youth Sports

When I saw “cleanliness” on the list of 52 virtues, I was intrigued. I actually never thought of it as a virtue before. But the following explanation of cleanliness broadens the meaning; we’re not just talking about taking baths.

Cleanliness means washing often, keeping your body clean, and wearing clean clothes. It is putting into your body and your mind only the things that keep you healthy. It is staying free from harmful drugs. It is cleaning up mistakes and making a fresh start.

You can teach your child the virtue of cleanliness as he or she plays youth sports. Focus on these five areas to keep your child from becoming a “dirty” player.

Basic Cleanliness

Pick your battles here. Focus more on clean habits and good health rather than nagging about a clean room.

Encourage your kids to be responsible to wash their own uniforms and clean out their own gym bags frequently.

Teach your child not to share his or her drinking bottles. I know that this is quickly forgotten in the heat of competition when one is dying of thirst, but I can’t tell you how many times my kids got sick from a teammate because they shared a drink.

As parents and coaches, let your players be responsible for cleaning up the bench or dugout after a competition. Don’t fall into the role of being their “maid.”

Teach your kids early how to do their own laundry, and then let them be responsible for it. They will learn how to take care of it soon enough when they don’t have clean underwear or their favorite pair of jeans smells, and they realize Mom or Dad is not coming to the rescue.

Nutritional Cleanliness

Do you follow any sports nutritional guidelines to help your child play youth sports? Your child may practice for hours and think he is fully prepared for the game, but unless he is eating and drinking properly before and after, he will not be performing at his peak.

I recently attended a nutrition and hydration training meeting where I was reminded of how big a role they play in helping athletes perform their best.

Mental Cleanliness

When it comes to youth sports, the biggest “dirt” that kids accumulate is in their minds. Their clothes can be thrown in the wash, but the negativity that is fed into their minds is harder to get rid of.

Whether your child is being fed negativity from a coach, teammate, or parent, there are ways you can help him or her fight back to cleanse their mind from the emotional grime that is thrown at them.

Help your child understand that there are some things he or she cannot change and that it’s okay to let them go: the score, the officials’ calls, teammates’ mistakes, opponents cheap shots, or the bad attitudes of other players.

Encourage your athlete to set personal goals. What does she need to work on and how does she plan to achieve it?

Focus on performance rather than on results. With your encouragement, your child can feel good about his hard work and his small victories, even if isn’t getting a lot of encouragement from the coach or team.

With your help, your child can stay positive. A negative attitude kills team spirit. Negative attitudes are contagious. And as a parent, you have a lot to do with keeping the positivity up.

Let your young athlete vent his frustrations without your commentary. When he’s just venting, he doesn’t need your lectures or coaching. He just needs you to listen.

Cleanliness from Drugs and Drinking

Alcohol and drug use and abuse is an ongoing problem among students in middle and high school, including athletes. Whether your child drinks at a party or in your home, the results are the same: athletes and alcohol do not make a winning combination.

If your kids are young, start talking to them NOW about how alcohol can negatively affect their sports performance. These are the facts of how alcohol will affect your athlete’s sports performance, as spelled out by UC San Diego and Princeton University Athletics.

Alcohol causes dehydration and slows the body’s ability to heal

Alcohol use prevents muscle recovery.

Alcohol impairs reaction time and mental sharpness for up to several days after consumption. It decreases hand-eye coordination and clouds judgment.Consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one night can affect brain and body activities for up to three days; in two consecutive nights, for up to five days.

Alcohol is stored much like fat in the body and therefore increases fat storage. Not good for an athlete.

Alcohol use constricts metabolism and endurance.

Alcohol inhibits absorption of nutrients. Not only is it void of proteins, minerals and vitamins, it actually stops the absorption of vital nutrients.

Alcohol is to blame for numerous homicides, suicides, fatal auto accidents, fights and sexual crimes.

Alcohol consumed after a workout, practice or competition can cancel out any gains from that activity.

It’s pretty clear that alcohol prevents athletes from reaching their playing potential. This not only hurts your child, it can hurt the team. Athletes and alcohol = a losing combination.

Competitive Cleanliness

Athletes who want to succeed know that putting mistakes behind them is imperative. That’s what I would call competitive “cleanliness”, being able to wipe the slates clean and put mistakes behind them

Dr. Patrick Cohn, author and founder of Peak Performance Sports, advises parents and coaches to help kids deal with mistakes by teaching them the 3 Rs for composure: Recognize, Regroup and Refocus. “Players must recognize that they are dwelling on the mistake, regroup by interrupting the chain of thought, and refocus on the next play.”

As parents, it’s important for you to avoid the “shaming” messages you may be tempted to send your young athlete when he or she makes a mistake.

How could you have done that?

You don’t listen to me!

You can do better than that!

What’s the matter with you?

Your child will be hard enough on himself without you adding to his shame. Many young athletes adopt the “I suck” mentality when they make mistakes. When our kids sang that tune, we would remind them that even great athletes make mistakes and errors do not make them a bad athlete. Great athletes are ones who learn from their mistakes.

When your child can label the mistake as the error, not himself, the next step is to find a solution. What can she do differently? What practice drills will help him prevent that error from happening again?

As a parent, you have a huge role in helping your child recover from mistakes. Your love, support, positive reinforcement and unconditional acceptance will build up the bank so that mistakes do not empty it out.

Accept the notion that your kids are doing their best, and that they’ll learn faster from their mistakes if they are in an environment that accepts mistakes. Give your kids the room that they need to fail, grow, learn, and succeed. That’s competitive cleanliness.

Keep It Clean!

Youth Sports is not an end; it is a means to an end. To teach your child important lessons in life. If you teach your child to “keep it clean” you will be instilling good habits that will give him or her jumpstart on being a wise and disciplined adult.


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