Our weekly fitness column, “Weekly Wellness,” is back again. This week, Matt Gallagher, from MFC Sports Performance in Darien, discusses why humbling high school athletes on their prospects of playing in college or the pros can actually be beneficial for their long-term health and fitness.
Throughout my life, I have gone from being a soccer player, to baseball player, to volleyball player, to bodybuilder, to weight lifter, to competitive strongman athlete, to power lifter and a whole bunch of other fitness/sport related identities in between. I love fitness and athletics so much that I will never go a day or two without doing something fitness or sport related, as it is simply engrained in me to do so. My desire now is to have the kids and teens I train develop this same love and passion for fitness and sport related endeavors that I have, all while maintaining a healthy body image and acceptance of themselves from a purely cosmetic point of view.
Athletics are a wonderful way to learn some great life lessons. If a kid wants to excel at a sport and compete at the collegiate or professional level, they really need to develop some strong mental habits to get them there. Hard work, discipline, sacrifice, nutritional planning (so many kids need work here), desire, passion, visualization – all of these mental qualities are essential for success in sports.
When taking an objective look at the statistics, the outlook for advancement in any given sport is sort of grim. According to the NCAA’s website, only 6.8 percent of boys in high school will play on at the collegiate level, and only one-half of one percent of high school baseball players make it to the professional level. Most kids I work with obviously don’t know these statistics (at least the young ones), and that’s fine, we shouldn’t tell them. But when kids get into their high school years, I believe it becomes important for coaches, teachers and trainers to start promoting a healthy outlook on how fitness should be carried into life for those other 99.5 percent that don’t make it professionally.
The first lesson I try to casually teach kids and teens is that sports and fitness is not life. That might be a shock to many people reading this that a strength coach and trainer at a sports performance facility who has devoted his life to building stronger, faster athletes and more fit human beings would say such a thing, but it is the truth. If you put all your self-worth and mental energy into a sport or one aspect of fitness, ultimately, you will be unfulfilled. Believe me, I have been there. The body is fragile, and life never goes as planned. Injuries happen and hardships happen. It is only when you come to accept that this sport you are playing or attempting to take to the next level is simply one of life’s endless varieties of hobbies and gifts that you have been blessed with the opportunity to perform, that a healthy outlook is established.
The second mental outlook I encourage kids and teens to develop is the focus on performance, not physical appearance. Many of the boys I train desperately need to pack on muscle mass for their sport, and if you think for a second that 20 or 30 pounds of muscle on their growing frame is entirely for the improvement of their sport, think again. These boys want muscles to build their confidence just as much as they want muscles for extra power in their swing. Therefore, it is vital to help them understand that training for muscle and strength is a good thing and a healthy life activity, when always kept in perspective, that these activities can be taken away from you in a second. Athletes that desire more mass and strength for their sport need to remember that training for muscle and strength is in and of itself a healthy activity to fall into, but it is a gift to be thankful for, just as is any sport, and is only a small part of life.
The Takeaway: Sports are awesome, and training for sports enhancement is an incredible experience that fosters goal-setting, hard work, discipline, self-sacrifice, balanced nutritional habits, improved fitness and overall well-being. But kids and teens must keep this in perspective – most likely their competitive athletic career will end in high school. Hopefully, the coaches they worked with in this timeframe help these teens develop the love for fitness and well-being that sticks with them for life, along with the desire for athletic excellence, instead of just focusing on winning here and now at all costs. Sports, fitness, muscles, and strength are blessings to be thankful for, not the sole objective or end-goal in life.
Matt Gallagher is the Fitness Director at MFC Sports Performance in Darien, which specializes in functional training for both adults and younger athletes. You can reach Matt by emailing him at Matt@MFCSportsPerformance.com.