As parents of young athletes, it can be challenging to ensure they make the right choices when it comes to food. After all, their choices have the potential to impact overall health and performance in their sport.
As children grow into teen athletes, controlling what they eat gets harder as they become more autonomous in their decision making and where they go.
Maybe they are driving themselves to games or meets or snacking after school before practice. Whatever the situation, your peace of mind is important and there is one factor to improve your young athlete’s diet over all others — role modeling.
It may sound too simple and you may already feel like you know it, but your athlete is watching you and taking notes — so you should make sure you are a good role model to follow.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do you refrain from making comments about body type, shape, or size?
If you answered no, then this is a good place to start. There is no one “right” body type for sport and no two athletes will have the same body type. Making comments, positive or negative, may be misinterpreted by your child. Remember, these are formative years and your athlete may take your comment and change the way they eat to try and achieve a particular body image, shape, or size.
Are you a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of person?
If you answered yes, then it’s time to take a look at your diet and see how that might be influencing your child. It’s not necessary, or realistic, to be all healthy all the time, but if you are eating junk, but advocating for vegetables, then no one is taking you seriously.
Do you encourage, but not force healthy habits?
Not just good nutrition, but overall healthy habits, like not smoking, getting exercise everyday, drinking water over sugary drinks, and getting enough sleep each night are essential for performance. These are habits that feed into good nutrition practices and help create an overall healthier athlete. Children and teens are looking for guidance and direction, not forceful directions. Model these good habits and you will see your children follow.
If you are struggling with your child’s nutrition, take a step back and see what your own daily habits look like. You may find that as your own nutrition habits improve, your young athlete’s nutrition will also improve.
Be purposeful with your role modeling. Let them see you eat an apple for a snack and carry a water bottle with you. Make it a habit and you will see those habits start shining through with your child.
Role modeling is the one factor to improve your young athlete’s diet. As a parent or guardian, your daily habits matter, so continue to be mindful that what you do as a role model has an impact on your child and their future health.