Skill training is so important in developing yourself as a player, but many high school athletes don’t place enough value on how you take care of your body in the off hours. Making sure you’re eating right, sleeping enough, hydrating, and doing strength and conditioning workouts outside of practice will actually improve your game tremendously. Not only that, but it’ll prepare you for collegiate athletics.
At most high schools, weight training is optional. Conditioning is only during practice hours. No coach is watching what you eat or how much you sleep.
But once college hits, you could potentially be having four hour practice blocks, plus conditioning and weights at separate hours of the day. After that you have to make sure to put up your own shots. Then log what you eat and what time you go to sleep at night. All of this on top of making sure you maintain your GPA. It can feel really overwhelming, but in order to have an edge over opponents, it’s what’s required. Once you begin consistently being mindful of these things, you’ll notice a drastic difference in your game. So here are a few ways to improve your overall health as a student athlete.
As an athlete, your body exerts more energy than the average student. Typically, the basic recommendation for teenagers is to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, but for athletes, getting more sleep—say, 10 hours per night—on a regular basis can help those pursuing sports goals to reach their peak athletic performance. For kids ages 6 to 13, the recommended amount of sleep is between 9 and 11 hours, meaning you should really be aiming for 10 to 12 hours. (And yes, that can mean 7:30 PM bedtimes some nights!)
Besides improving physical energy and mental stamina during practices and games, sleep can improve skills specific to various activities. For instance, logging more snooze time can increase shooting accuracy among basketball players, and the accuracy of serves among tennis players. By contrast, insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation (such as pulling an all-nighter) can impair a student-athlete’s reaction time, lead to decreased exercise tolerance, and a quicker onset of exhaustion while playing sports.
Fueling your body with the proper nutrients it needs is such an underrated secret to peak athletic performance. You could spend five hours in the gym, but if you only ate a bowl of cereal and a juice box, you’re not going to get nearly as much out of the workout as you could’ve.
Make a plan to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. The goal is to eat at least five servings per day, and include varieties of fruit and vegetable color. One serving is approximately the size of a baseball. Fruits and vegetables are filled with the energy and nutrients necessary for training and recovery. Plus, these antioxidant-rich foods will help you combat illness like a cold or the flu.
Choose whole grain carbohydrates sources such as whole-wheat bread or pasta, and fiber-rich cereals as power-packed energy sources. Limit the refined grains and sugars such as sugary cereals, white breads and bagels. You'll benefit more from whole-grain products.
Choose healthy sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, peanut butter, eggs, nuts and legumes.
Stay hydrated with beverages, as a two percent drop in hydration levels can negatively impact performance. Avoid energy drinks. These throw off your natural hormonal balances and cause you to become reliant on them.
Stick with whole food options as much as possible as opposed to highly processed foods.
If you want to reduce your chances of sustaining an injury while out on the court, the strength you’ll build from weight training can help. Not only will strength training help to improve your flexibility, allowing your body to move in ways that help you avoid injury, but basketball weight training will also build up muscles around your joints, helping to protect them from injuries.
In addition, exercises such as running, especially for long distances, put a lot of impact and stress on the body and knees. This stress can lead to an injury. By reducing the amount of high-impact cardio you do and replacing it with strength training instead, you’ll be reducing your risk of injury both on and off of the court. Oh, and weight training helps to strengthen your bones, too.
Athletes who are a little slower than they’d like to be sometimes struggle to improve their game. If you want to improve your speed, weight training will help. By accumulating more muscle on your body, you’ll have an increased power output, which will thereby equate to an increased speed output.
Even if you’re thin, your body may have a lot of stored fat relative to your muscle. While you do need some fat on your body, muscle will make you stronger, make you quicker, make you leaner, and make your metabolism work harder.
Weight training has been shown to promote lean muscle building and a healthy body mass index. It is also linked to lower levels of cholesterol, having more energy and endurance, a healthier blood pressure, and a healthy weight, especially when the habit of weight training is formed early.
Weight training will provide you with a whole new skill set that running and drills alone just can’t. Through proper weight training, you’ll be able to increase your balance and coordination, agility, and flexibility all while also becoming more physically powerful. One of the biggest benefits that you’ll get from weight training for basketball is the fact that you’ll feel better. Not only will you likely have higher levels of energy, but after a few weeks of weight training, you’ll notice new muscles on your body that weren’t as obvious before.
While weight training is a great addition to a basketball player’s training routine, be careful not to overdo it. Limit your strength training and weight lifting sessions to two or three times a week, or as recommended by a coach or physician.
College basketball coaches will expect much more than a practice and lift a day. You’ll begin to realize that your sport takes a majority of your time and a lot of commitment. Make sure you’re putting time in individually or with a teammate- it can make a world of difference. Whether you’re getting extra free throws in, working on your foot speed, or getting the chairs out and working on footwork, spending extra time to perfect your game will affect the kind of player you are. It might seem like a lot at first, but it’ll really increase your work ethic and confidence. Not only will you improve, but it shows your coaches that you’re willing to put extra work in and grow as a player.
Although college sports are time-consuming and take a lot of commitment, the reward is completely worth it. Meshing with your teammates and seeing directly how your work is affecting your game can be so encouraging. It may take some time to settle in your role, but know that hard work will always pay off.
Alexia Novelli is a current player for the University of Alaska Anchorage. Originally from Anchorage, she played her first game of basketball in 8th grade at Hanshew Junior High. Her family moved to the Valley right before high school began and Alexia began her freshman year on the C Team at Colony High School. Developing into a varsity player, she left Alaska after graduation to continue her basketball career at SFCC, a junior college in Spokane. Alexia ended the season averaging double digit points per game, led the starting lineup in shooting percentage, finished 2nd in rebounds and blocks, and earned a place as one of the team’s scholar athletes.
Alexia decided coming home to play for UAA was her best option to develop as a player, and to represent her home state. Now in her second year at UAA, she hopes to inspire other Alaskan athletes to pursue their aspirations of competing in athletics beyond high school.