FOCUS in Gymnastics… It’s a SAFETY Issue!
What’s Behind the Ability to Focus?
Focus is the key to success… But there’s more to it than just thinking about the skill or routine to be performed. What’s behind the ability to focus? Believe it or not, what an athlete does outside the gym is just as important as what they do inside the gym. An athlete’s hydration level, eating habits, sleep quality, and medications greatly affect a gymnast’s training as well as their performance at competitions.
Dehydration… Did you know that by the time you are thirsty you are already dehydrated? Gymnasts may suffer a loss of performance of up to 30% when dehydrated. As little as a 2% loss in fluid will negatively impact your athlete’s body, mind, training, and performance. Mild dehydration can cause confusion, irritability, constipation, drowsiness, fever, thirst. Mild to moderate dehydration symptoms include dry, sticky mouth, muscle weakness, stiff joints, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, cramping, decreased urine, cool extremities, slow capillary refill, and sunken eyes. With moderate dehydration, your gymnast may experience flushing, low endurance, rapid heart rates, elevated body temperatures, and rapid onset of fatigue. Severe dehydration is the loss of 10-15% of body fluids and is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care. The signs and symptoms of severe dehydration include extreme thirst, irritability and confusion, very dry mouth, dry skin and mucous membranes, lack of sweating, little or no urination, any urine that is produced will be dark yellow, sunken eyes, shriveled and dry skin, rapid heartbeat, fever, coma, and even death.
Dehydration of any kind will not correct itself. It is imperative that your gymnasts drink enough fluid before, during, and after their workout. The good news is that mild to moderate dehydration can usually be reversed by drinking fluids. The bad news is that by the time your gymnast is moderately dehydrated they can lose focus. With a loss of focus, your gymnast will be at risk of injury from an accident. The results can be severe to catastrophic. Some accidents and injuries could be avoided simply by drinking plenty of fluids.
Drinking during training is one thing, but if your gymnast has not had enough fluids throughout the day they will walk into the gym dehydrated and already be at risk of severe injury. As coaches, we must encourage our gymnasts to drink enough fluids before, during, and after training. How much fluid should they drink? It is recommended that your gymnast drink the number of ounces in fluid that is equal to half their body weight for each day of normal activities. For example, if your gymnast weighs 100 pounds, their hydration goal would be approximately 50 ounces per day. That is not the same as serious training time. Your gymnast would drink more during intense training. What should your gymnast drink? It is recommended that a sports drink be used for those exercising more than one hour. Athletes NEED the carbohydrates and electrolytes in these drinks to get through training safely. Pro athletes are on Gatorade for a reason, because it works. Don’t want to do Gatorade? Use coconut water! Coconut water works very well and it’s healthy.
Nutrition in relation to performance. Without enough carbohydrates, your gymnast will not have the energy necessary to safely get through their workout or a competition. When there are not enough carbohydrates in the diet, the energy comes from protein. When your body is forced to use protein for energy, it gets that protein from the muscle. When the body is forced to use energy from muscle on a regular basis it is difficult to gain or maintain strength and muscle mass. The long distance runner is an example of someone whose body uses protein for energy. They have very little muscle mass. It is counterproductive for a gymnast to allow the body to use protein (muscle) for energy on a regular basis. Gymnasts need energy for training and strength to perform skills and routines. Lack of energy and strength will greatly affect the gymnast’s ability to focus. Lack of focus can result in catastrophic injury. There is not enough space here to completely discuss nutrition, but you can go to Dr Fred Bisci or Dr Joe Kasper’s websites to learn about nutrition.
And finally, sleep… We all know how difficult it is to function when we are tired, especially if we did not sleep well for more than one night in a row. How can we expect our gymnasts to perform safely when they do not sleep well? We can’t. Imagine a gymnast learning a new skill or performing a full routine when they have not had enough sleep. Would you be comfortable performing a double back when you are chronically tired? It’s difficult for your gymnast to focus when they are tired and it is extremely dangerous. Your gymnast’s ability to focus and react is diminished when they are sleep deprived. Again, lack of focus can lead to an accident, a catastrophic one. It has been proven with driving tests that people who are tired drive as poorly as those who are under the influence of alcohol. They cannot react as well as those who are well rested. Did you know that it was National Driving While Drowsy Prevention Week in November 2010? That’s how much fatigue effects the ability to focus and react. About one in every six fatal auto accidents in the U.S. is due to driving while drowsy, according to a new study by the Foundation for Traffic Safety. I wonder how many gymnastics accidents are caused because the gymnast was tired due to poor sleeping habits. It is imperative that your gymnast is well rested and able to focus.
Keep in mind that when focus is lost, accidents can and will occur. As coaches, we have the responsibility to discuss hydration, nutrition, sleep, and even medication side effects with the parents. It seems that many parents do not realize the direct relationship between everyday life and performance during training and/or competition.
So I still say that FOCUS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS, but more importantly, FOCUS IS THE KEY TO SAFETY. Without proper hydration, nutrition, and sleep our gymnasts will not be able to focus well, putting them at risk. I think we should call these risk factors – hydration, nutrition, and sleep – the SAFETY TRIO. It’s a quick and easy to remember the phrase that I just named. The SAFETY TRIO is just as important as all of the drills and conditioning used to prepare our gymnasts for new skills, routines, and competition. Without all of these factors, our athletes may be at risk of injury. Best of luck with your training and always keep safety in mind while training.