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Getting Young Athletes on Board with Healthy Eating

By July 7, 2018 December 28th, 2018 No Comments

It’s Friday night at 8:45 p.m., I’m in a big, fun city, and I’m sitting in my hotel room completely exhausted.  Why?  Because I just spent that last 11 hours with 120 eight to fourteen year old boys!  Why would I do this to myself, you ask?  I am currently working with CCM Hockey at their youth Skills Camps all over the Midwest.  In fact, I’ll be traveling for the next seven weekends; helping these youngsters understand the importance of good nutrition for their hockey performance.  

Thank goodness for all you moms and dads out there!  Truly, how do you do it?!  Young boys are tough!  Everything you say is wrong and everything they say is right.  Every time you open your mouth to say something they are opening theirs to talk over you.   And for about 99% of today I wasn’t sure if anything I was saying was actually getting through to them at all, due to the million side conversations going on. 

With all of that being said, these little guys are pretty awesome!  For one, it was so fun to watch them play hockey.  Two, it was amazing to see how smart they are… for example, one little dude said to me “I try to make sure I eat enough riboflavin.”  What!?  So cute!  But how do you really get these guys on board with eating healthy?   It is definitely a challenge, but below are some strategies  I use when working with this age group.

  1. “Sometimes” and “always” foods – instead of labeling foods as good and bad, or even as “healthy” and “unhealthy”, I talk to them about foods they want to be eating all of the time (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and foods they want to eat some of the time (chips, candy, cookies).
  2. Explain things in a way they understand – with my youth athletes, I explain these sometimes and always foods as ‘kindling’ or ‘logs’ on a fire.  The kindling gets the fire going for a very short time, then the fire dies, just like the sometimes foods do in our body.  The logs fuel the fire for a long time and keep it going, just like the always foods do in our body.
  3. Include them – I always make sure to do an activity that gets them up (they can’t sit still for long!) and helps them understand what I’m talking about.  We’ll play the “athlete plate” game where they place certain foods on a plate to make their “performance meal” or we make our own fruit and yogurt parfait to emphasize healthy snacking.  Letting them make their own healthy decisions will help them feel better about trying something new.
  4. Give them cool statistics to remember – it is amazing how many of these kiddos knew that carrots help keep their eyes healthy!  Give them awesome foods stats, like our bodies are made up of 60% water or that there are over 1,000 different kinds of apples, and they will remember them forever!
  5. Link good nutrition to their motivations – all I have to do is name a professional player and talk about what they eat and drink to get the kids asking questions and paying a little bit more attention.  If I tell them Alex Ovechkin eats breakfast every morning they ask what he eats.  If I say he has a vegetable filled omelet with fruit, they say “I love eggs and fruit!” 

Obviously, this is more difficult than it sounds.  Trust me…. I know.  But there are ways you can help youngsters understand and take some ownership of their nutrition decisions, so that they don’t feel like you are hijacking their ability to eat what they want.  Give some of these a try and let me know what you think! 

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