Friday, January 15, 2016

Dear Mr. Dad, You missed your chance to be a dad!

I had the pleasure of attending a grade 3-6 recreation league wrestling match between Granville and Watkins Memorial last night with my wife.  We live in Granville and my wife teaches in the Watkins school district.  We knew many of the kids competing.  I left practice at Ohio State where I get to work with a world champion, 4 time NCAA champion and many others that I anticipate being in the finals in Madison Square Garden this year, it was refreshing to go see the sport at it's seed stage.  Besides seeing some really cute kids win and lose, an observation of a parent really disturbed me.  Enough to write this.

Early in the duel meet a young boy walked out to what  I think this could have been his first match, if not he didn't have 5 under his belt yet.  He was excited, and I noticed his father helping him to prepare and sending him out.  The match started and the young boy was thrown directly to his back.  Now lets be clear, this happened to at least 10 kids that night, this is rec wrestling.   His father yelled to get off his back loudly, to no avail, tonight's match ended in a rather quick pin.  This is where Mr. Dad, you missed an opportunity.  The young wrestler was upset.  When he walked to you, he was not greeted with love and understanding, he was given a reaction of disgust.  You didn't want to console  or process the match, you pushed him towards his team mates and tossed his t-shirt at him.  It was obvious that you were disappointed and had higher expectations for your son.  

So, Mr. Dad, I hope you get to read this because I don't want you to miss out on anymore opportunities.  These opportunities come quickly and will pass amazingly fast.  My daughter began her athletic carrier the same as your son in Granville Rec wrestling, and lost in much the same way.  But the difference is that when she returned to her mother and I, there was no doubt in her mind that win or lose, we would never be disappointed with the outcome of an event.  Our love is for her, and we support her willingness to explore beyond her boundaries.  Losses are opportunities to coach and parent. As my daughter has grown, without-a-doubt, the greatest privilege I have is watching her practice and compete.  There is nothing I enjoy more.  The season in 8th grade when I was afforded the privilege to coach her and her friends, priceless.  As a coach, your athletes have to know you love them, regardless of outcome.  My daughter is leaving next year to attend a D1 school and compete athletically.  I'm confident, had I greeted her in the same manner as you greeted your son, she wouldn't be in sport today.

Another point of reference, I was privileged to compete at a D1 school in wrestling and was quite successful there.  The experience has defined my life.  But, my athletic career didn't start out like gang busters.  I didn't win my first varsity match until my junior year in high school.  In fact, I cried every day in practice as a freshman.  But while the experience on the mat may have been disappointing, I knew regardless of the outcome, I was loved, my parents knew losing was part of the growth process, and I knew that I was loved.  One time during my senior year in high school as I finished my warm up, to look up to the end of the gym to see my dad standing there in dirty Carhartt's covered in coal dust.  My parents worked opposite shifts in order to see that one of them was home with us at all times.  My dad was a coal miner and it would have been easy for him to miss my match, he was working.  But my dad would schedule his lunch break so he could drive to the school, slip in to see me wrestle, and then go to work and finish his shift.  I learned my love and true understanding of sport from the love of my mother and father.  I lost a lot, but my dad never missed a chance to be a dad.  Mr. Dad, you still have a chance.

I'm attending the funeral of my college coach this week.  It's been a difficult time reflecting on our relationship.  But as I reflect, and as I think, I want to pass along another story.  As I said earlier, I was quite successful as a wrestler in college, eventually qualifying for the national tournament my senior year.  I was the only wrestler on my team to qualify that year.  My coach didn't attend the nationals with me.  He choose to stay home and see his son compete in the state high school tournament.  I was quite salty about this for quite a while after.   It wasn't until I had my own child and began to watch her compete that it I was able to truly appreciate the sacrifice my coach made for me.  I can't imagine missing one of my daughters events.  But what dawned on me was that my coach was missing most his own kids events while coaching us.  What I've come to understand is that he was giving me more than his own sons and daughter.  He made a huge personal sacrifice for me and my teammates.  I was privileged to have great role models in parents and coaches.  The value of being that father who nurtures your son through life has nothing to do with the number of wins and losses.  It has everything to do with how you respond!  Please don't miss this opportunity again.  It's priceless!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Slaying the 3-headed Monster: Weight cut, fatigue and dehydration.

In my last post I addressed the challenge of keeping key metabolic hormones in check during your weight-cutting period.  This blog segment focuses on taking down your hidden competitor: Fatigue. And more specifically, how dehydration empowers fatigue, pushing much of the progress and improvement you’ve trained for completely out of reach.

Sport scientists define fatigue as a decrement in the force output of a muscle.  Psychologists see fatigue as a ‘sensation’ of tiredness.  And physiologists define fatigue as the failure of a specific physiological system. Consider that exercise is terminated at exhaustion—and not at a point of fatigue.  It is widely accepted that fatigue is a safety mechanism that has evolved to prevent injury or death by means of overreaching.  But regardless of how you define it, fatigue is something we all fight with; and regardless of physical and mental preparation, fatigue will always be present.

What causes fatigue?

There are many things that can cause fatigue, not the least of which is engaging in a work event that is beyond your capacity.  This type of fatigue is caused by our body’s inability to deliver the necessary oxygen or nutrients in the blood to the working muscles.  This is why we train: To increase that capacity.  But even if we have trained to, and have the ability to do the necessary work, other factors can creep in and block our ability to accomplish our goals.  Hydration levels have a direct impact on the blood volume and contribute to success and failure rates.

Researchers have identified fatigue mechanisms that originate in the neuromuscular system.  These seem to be protective systems in the body that can originate as high as the brain in the central nervous system.  Research has shown that in some athletes this level of fatigue can limit work output by up to 32%.  Researchers are not clear on all of the factors that contribute to this “central governor” fatigue model, but some that have been clearly shown are an imbalance in electrolyte concentrations, and the brain perception of a lack of fuel.  The ability to replace key electrolytes and, in-turn, draw water into the blood plasma, is an important part of strategic rehydration.  

Research suggests that sweeter isn’t necessarily better.  In fact, scientists have shown that just sensation of sweetness in the mouth—not glucose itself—will dampen the fatigue effect.  In various studies, athletes were asked to “swish the fluid around in the mouth, then spit it out.” Those athletes saw an increase in performance versus those who merely drank water.  Other studies using sugar have also shown that more is not really “more.” Athletes consuming concentrations as low as 2% have had similar exercise times to failure as those consuming 18% concentrations.  In another interesting study, athletes were given glucose through an IV; those athletes saw no improvement in performance over water alone.  This is an area that needs more research, but for now, be confident that a little sweetness goes a long way.

Our brains monitor hydration levels closely.  Because the brain interprets dehydration as stress, it triggers a drop in performance.  Too much dehydration triggers production of stress hormones.  The brain will limit the number of muscle fibers you can recruit.  Remember, a drop in total body water causes a drop in blood plasma volume, which limits the body’s ability to deliver nutrients to the muscles.   We see this in combat sports like boxing and wrestling and it’s been documented in sports as diverse as triathlons.  Many times hydration is a consideration of safety.   Dehydration can lead to cramping, exhaustion and even death due to heat stroke.  But long before we get to the point of illness, dehydration is contributing to fatigue and limiting performance.  The takeaway: Be sure to harvest all the hard work you’ve done leading up to your event by keeping the opponent of fatigue on the bench.  Stay hydrated!