Postgame is when pregame begins: Eat, drink, rest, play
The first game of the tournament weekend has ended. Your team played miserably. They didn’t remember anything from practice, started playing the other team’s game and worst of all, when they got down by five goals, they just gave up!
Pitiful. Shaking your head, you call them all together and, with a sigh of frustration, you do what you have to do now that you have their attention: You tell them.
All the players gathered around you sit in rapt attention. Their faces are upturned, eyes wide, intent on your message, hanging on your every word, awaiting your wisdom and detailed analysis of the game breakdown, right?
Of course not. After fighting to the finish of a hot sweaty effort, sitting and listening to Coach bellow about the game is the last thing they want to do. And it’s the last thing they should be doing. They can’t focus on your review of missed opportunities or game pointers, even if they wanted to. They’re spent. You, though you may have exerted yourself on the sidelines, are not. What they need at the end of game one of a tournament weekend is a pat on the back and maybe a team cheer, not to rehash and reflect but to recover.
Postgame is where recovery begins…
- Static, relaxed stretching. Calves, shins, quads, hamstrings, glutes, abductors, adductors, lower backs, arms and shoulders. If you want to recap while they’re stretching, go ahead. But don’t expect them to retain anything you say. Unless it’s positive, short and calls them by name.
- Replacement of fluids. Water and sports drinks are perfectly fine. They probably need to replace more fluid loss than they think they do. Overdo it on this one.
- Replacement of carbs. Muscle energy stores will be depleted after a maximum effort. Sports drinks can help with this but it’s even better to have a favorite high carb snack in their bag. Fruit, nuts, and snack bars will work. They will make quick work of these. Chocolate milk has become a recent favorite as well.
- Replacement of proteins. While proteins don’t provide energy for performance under normal circumstances in a healthy, well-nourished body, they do play a role in recovery of minor muscle damage that occurs during physical effort. Mixing some protein with a high carb snack is a good combination. A ratio of 1:4 (protein/carbs) is good. (OJ and yogurt, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cereal and low-fat milk are all good combinations.)
- Steer clear of the processed meats (hot dogs, bacon burgers, etc.) and fried foods – nothing new here. Also, keep the sugary stuff to a minimum: sodas, doughnuts, pop tarts, sugar-loaded breakfast cereals are off the menu. Note to parents: this means you, too. Do we really want our kids to see us eating this stuff just before we tell them they can’t?
Between games …
- Get ‘em into the shade, the air conditioning or the team tent if you don’t have time to leave the field. Energy spent by the body to cool itself will not be available for their next contest.
- Aches and pains should get attention. Ice, stretching or massage may be helpful.
- While rest is good to preserve energy, I don’t recommend complete immobility. Sitting for a long period after the game will leave them stiff and their bodies less than responsive for the next game. Well before show time for their next event, they should be up walking around, mobilizing those ankles, knees, hips and shoulders.
- Naps are probably a no-no. While they may work for some athletes (and you know who you are), most kids wake up groggy and have trouble getting the fog lifted by game time. The better bet is a good eight hours of sleep the night before and every night of the tournament weekend. Make this point to your players. Explain that sleep is when the body rebuilds itself for the next game. That’ll probably work better than curfews and bed-check threats. But you know your players.
- Ice baths for aching muscles are getting much discussion in the high-performance ranks. I know professional and Olympic athletes are using whole-body icing, but the effectiveness may be slight or insignificant according to the research. I don’t recommend ice baths for youth athletes.
- Ice packs or a Dixie cup ice rub is fine for comforting knees, shins, or ankles that are a bit sore. Also, re-purposing those plastic water bottles by freezing them for rolling under the sole of the foot provides some relief to hard working, tired feet.
- Caution: There is some debate about whether ice should be applied to all sports injuries, particularly with regard to ligament injuries (sprains). Because we know that blood flow supplies the raw materials for healing the damaged joint and “washes away” breakdown products of injury, ice (which restricts blood flow) may actually be counterproductive to healing in ligaments which have little blood flow of their own. Time and good research will tell.
One hundred percent of researchers surveyed agree that at the end of a long competitive day, there’s nothing better than a good, healthy meal with family, friends and teammates. Low-fat meals with healthy proteins, carbs, veggies, and even a sweet or two are okay. Now’s the time for Coach to give a quick pep talk. Maybe a positive recap. But I always found I was so exhausted by then I didn’t have much to say.
The hardest part of getting a kid ready to play (or up for school, for that matter) is getting them out of bed in the morning. If they’re comatose when the alarm goes off, that means that their body is craving more sleep. But this is youth soccer after all; we rise to the occasion and show up when the tournament scheduler tells us to.
If you’re dealt that early game, you deal with groggy. Take some comfort in the fact that the opposing coach has the very same problem. Figure out who your morning kids are and start them.
So ends your post game.