If you haven’t been paying close attention you might be surprised to learn that increasingly more student athletes today not only practice after school, they are also expected to train in the morning before school starts. The majority of student athletes I see these days regularly wake up well before 6AM in order to get to school so that they can practice and/or lift with their team, often leaving them mentally and physically exhausted before the first bell at school rings later that morning. What used to be the exception learning about a kid who would wake up before the competition to go on a morning run has now become the norm for entire high school teams, and what is loosely referred to as “voluntary” is anything but voluntary. Why are so many high school coaches now running morning practices, and what are the pros and cons to this coaching approach? Are kids more rapidly developing because of the extra practice, or are they paying a deeper price by way of mental and physical exhaustion impacting their alertness toward learning in school? And what is the end goal of hyper-training — more future D-1 college athletes? Professional sports? With the odds still incredibly remote for full-ride scholarships and pro sport opportunities, we really need to think about their new, lofty expectations we are placing on student athletes today.
Today’s new norm
Most kids I talk to practice or lift several mornings a week, well before the first bell at school. In order to do this kids must go to bed early, prepare their morning routine in advance, eat breakfast, and travel to school. Many of these same kids are also expected to lift or practice after school as well, leaving them little time for school work, other clubs and activities, friends, and perhaps most important — rest. In some situations limited field/court time at the school is the excuse why coaches defend the need for morning practices, and while this may be true in some situations there are many more coaches who are not impacted by space, but instead motivated by their competitive spirit to get the most out of their kids.
When you take into consideration that most coaches in schools today are not teachers, only then do you realize that while these coaches might be good at teaching sport skills, they may not be the best at gauging human development, fatigue, burnout, and other variables that impact a kid’s health and likelihood for academic success when on such an intense sport schedule. To be clear, this is not to suggest that coaches who do not teach are bad for kids, but instead to point out that they likely do not have the same training and education as teachers, and therefore may not be equipped to understand the all the effects of their physical training program.
What is the end goal?
The million dollar question when it comes to the new norm of required morning practices is why? Is the assumption that kids will develop into happier and more successful students and people? Are kids being lead to believe their chances for a future D-1 full-ride athletic scholarship increases by training at school hours before school starts? Or is this new trend the result of a diffusion of responsibility between parents, school administrators, and coaches relating to the balance between healthy and potentially unhealthy training for kids? As increasingly more kids are expected to lift and train in the morning before school, more kids will undoubtedly experience mental and physical fatigue during class time and struggle to keep up after school with less time to spend on homework because of the need to go to bed earlier. Pushing kids harder by means of additional training before school brings many consequences, including potential compromises in quality of life, less chance for academic success, and less time for other activities and social experiences. Is this what we want for kids?
Kids continue to be pushed in sports as evidenced by the latest trend of “normalizing” training workouts before school. When you add this latest pre-school morning practice approach to the fact that more kids are playing multiple sports during the same sport season, you can see why so many kids become burned out from sports, with many quitting prematurely as a result.