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Physical and Mental Preparation for Youth Sports

May 15, 2018, 4:41 p.m. (ET)

How an athlete performs is dependent on many things, but especially upon how they go about physically and mentally preparing for game time.  While many believe that the physical aspects of performance (such doing drills, warming up, and conditioning) are most important, physical and mental preparation for youth sports should be treated with equal importance.

Mental Preparation For Youth Sports

Mental toughness is an athlete’s ability to perform their best and remain calm while under pressure. Working on the following will help them better bounce back from mistakes, overcome obstacles, and handle pressure in a game or competition.

  • Setting Goals: Setting goals provides direction for your athlete’s training. A specific, measurable athletic goal might be as simple as increasing their maximum deadlift by a specified amount before the start of next season.
  • Staying Focused: Developing stronger focus allows your athlete to concentrate and block out distractions in both the short-term (such as in a tense, late-game scenario) and the long-term (such as sticking with a 12-week training regimen). Engineering distractions in a practice setting can help cultivate better focus.
  • Strengthening Self-Belief: An athlete believing in themselves means they have strong self-confidence, are prepared for any situation, and have the drive to achieve their goals. Self-belief can be strengthened through positive praise and taking time to focus on what the athlete does well (and not just what needs improvement).
  • Showing Super Work Ethic: Nothing great is achieved without hard work. Regardless of your athlete’s natural talents and abilities, the work completed in the gym and in the classroom is directly related to their performance in both sport and life. Small rewards for reaching specific benchmarks and enlisting the help of a personal trainer or tutor can help instill a stronger work ethic.

Physical Preparation For Youth Sports

Each of us has unique physical qualities that may allow us to excel in one or many physical aspects of performance. All sports require greater skill levels in different performance components, such as muscular strength, endurance, power, foot speed, quickness, agility, flexibility and balance.

But given talent can only take an athlete so far, and following the performance triad of physical preparation can help an athlete improve in any and all of those areas.

The Performance Triad: Training, Nutrition, and Rest

Preparing physically for peak performance requires smart training, nutrition, and rest:

1) Training: The type of training your athlete completes depends on their sport. A challenging aerobic exercise program combined with a balanced weightlifting program may be appropriate for endurance sports. Conversely, a heavy weight training program may be more appropriate for sports requiring more strength and power.

2) Nutrition: If your athlete eats a proper diet year-round (and not just in the hours leading up to game time), their body will have 100% of the building blocks necessary for optimal performance. Equally important is proper hydration. More information on improving a youth athlete’s diet can be found in the TrueSport LEARN section under Nutrition. If good food and hydration sources are going in, your athlete will be prepared to put out a good performance.

3) Rest:  Resting for optimal performance means getting adequate sleep so the body can properly recover from training. The human body produces most of the growth hormones necessary for recovery needed during sleep. Getting at least eight hours of rest is one of the most important things your athlete can do to help them grow, recover, and be prepared to do their best at their next practice or game.

If an athlete devotes time to training the right way (both mentally and physically), eating an optimal diet, and sleeping smart, their body and mind will be prepared for whatever comes at them in sport and life.

About TrueSport

TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.

Interested in learning more? Head over to for more information and free educational resources on how you can join the TrueSport movement.