Why Athletes Need Down Time

A good coach always encourages you to try hard and do your best. But, we’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you also of the importance of taking a day off and giving your body and mind some downtime. As we slow down a little for the holiday season, let’s take a moment to talk about the reasons why athletes need recovery too. 

You may already know that your body needs sleep to better retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Long periods of sleep also help our bodies restore order and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. Eight-plus hours of sleep are essential for young athletes.

Similarly, athletes need a break from their exercise and training regime. Symptoms of overtraining include:

•       Lowered motivation

•       Difficulty sleeping

•       Decreased sports performance

•       Increased injuries

•       Depression

Yet there can be an attitude among young athletes to do more, with the idea that they will bounce back more quickly. Yet these same young athletes are often the kids that will go, go and go some more (putting the Energizer bunny to shame) until they absolutely drop. They don’t yet know when to stop or slow down. So, it’s up to parents and coaches to value down time and incorporate rest and recovery.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a day off.

Sage Rountree, the author of The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery wrote in her book about being “so deep in fatigue during Ironman training that I desperately looked forward to a teeth cleaning because I’d get to lie down in the dentist’s chair.” Don’t get that far gone.

The body uses the time off from workouts or continuous training to recover. Rest is physically necessary if you want to give your muscles a chance to repair, rebuild, and strengthen. During recovery your body can replenish energy stores and make up for fluid loss.

Rest days are good psychologically too. Trying to keep up the same high intensity and effort year-round can prove disastrous to your motivation. Going too long without a break can sap a young player’s enthusiasm for the game in addition to bringing on personality and mood changes.

The Self-Aware Athlete

Knowing when not to train is a good sign of an intentional athlete. Rountree says “it shows self-awareness and acceptance of what is going on in your body moment to moment. This self knowledge is critical for success in sports and life.” 

Of course we’re not giving you an excuse to sit on the sofa and play video games or binge watch Marvel DC Universe movies all break. Yet, there’s good reason for both short- and long-term recovery in a year-round training schedule. Instead of goofing off entirely, cross-training can be advantageous.

Even Olympic athletes take a break from their persistent training routines, but often it’s still to do something active. Biathlete Tim Burke, for instance, would want to go fly fishing while short track speedster Lexi Burkholder would try to get outside for a hike. Figure skater Alex Shibutani will go for a run, while snowboarder Chloe Kim will cycle. These low-intensity alternatives don’t put the same strain on the body, while encouraging muscle recovery.

Ultimately, allowing for downtime and modifying your training program can be as beneficial as making smart nutrition decisions and drinking plenty of water. We’ll see you back on the pitch shortly!

chris williams