My teams are always eating the wrong food before practice and games. I will look at them and express my disapproval, but it is hard to stay mad. I emphasize too many other things from a culture standpoint off the court and a principles perspective on the court. Nutrition takes a backseat unfortunately. Players and teams would improve with a nutritious diet leading up to competitions. They also would benefit as adults from developing healthy eating habits. It is a concept that professional coach Brandi Poole mentioned to me, but at the high school level we tend to let kids be kids. Mansfield High Coach Michael Vaughan gave me an alternative idea to try to make nutrition more important to the players.
Hiring a Nutritionist
Two seasons ago, Coach Vaughan’s team hired a nutritionist. It was not free, but many other programs in and around Mansfield are doing it. Each school might have slightly different rules regarding fundraising, but I came away from our conversation thinking a nutritionist could be a good investment.
Why a Nutrition Expert
Hiring a nutrition expert gives the players a chance to hear a different voice. Players listen to the coach two hours per day for three months. They learn to tune the voice out. And let’s face it, the coach’s highest priority is never going to be nutrition. A nutritionist’s voice will be more distinguished with much lower frequency. Given the title and background, they are also much more reputable and more likely to influence a permanent change in the habit of the players.
Will Families Support Nutrition?
Given that the money sent to a nutrition expert and to purchase appropriate food, family support is essential. Parents will quickly endorse this idea and assist in fundraising if need be. Teenagers are the human equivalent of caterpillars eating leaves in the summer. They eat a ton (though most of them don’t eat leaves). As a result, parents consistently need to stock their shelves. Fundraising means one less item to purchase at the grocery store. In many ways, funding healthy food options is more tangible to families than purchasing athletic equipment.
The Competitive Advantage of Nutrition
The value of nutrition is most essential in road games according to Coach Vaughan. In a world where players ignore nutrition, they grab whatever they can find in the cupboard after school. The usual pre-meal snacks of champions include Oreos, Doritoes, and Skittles. If they have a license it probably means a trip to the Drive Thru. After stuffing their face, they hustle back to school to catch a 4:00 bus. The varsity players might get a slice of pizza or another “I hate my health fix” from the Frito Lay and Mars corporations during the JV game. Finally, it is time to lace up the shoes. The players will not have had any quality calories to burn and by halftime they will be at a disadvantage compared to any similarly skilled player with healthy eating habits.
The Logistics of Bringing Nutrition to the Players
Asking players to eat granola bars or bananas will result in the players in the top 25 percentile in discipline on your team following through. Coach Vaughan orders food from a local deli. Players can text their orders or submit it through a Google Spreadsheet. From there, Coach Vaughan’s players are eating close to 3:00. That allows players to have a meal about three and a half hours before tip.
Even on days with an unusual start time (vacations for instance), the team plans out the eating for the day for the players. I know it seems terribly unlikely, but occasionally a teenager likes to sleep in. Mansfield will plan out when to get breakfast so that these players are in an optimal position to compete come game time.
As a coach, you can rest knowing that your players are not going hungry and they are receiving the proper nutrients required for competition. I like this idea especially for road games which are much more taxing on everyone’s time when you add in the transportation.