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 Why Do Some Athletes Struggle with Body Image?
(10/21/2020)
 
 
   

Why Do Some Athletes Struggle with Body Image?


Tips on how to help with body image


Body image issues in athletes can come from a wide variety of sources: certain sports value specific weights and body types more than others, athletes will deal with puberty in different ways, and some student athletes struggle with control in other areas of their lives, which can lead to body image issues and unhealthy behaviors around food and exercise.

There isn’t one specific type of young athlete who’s at risk. Anyone can struggle with body image issues, and it’s important for parents and coaches to understand the different ways that those issues can be triggered. Here, Melissa Streno, a clinical psychologist who specializes in athletic performance and its intersection with disordered eating and body image issues, explains what might make certain types of athletes more prone to dealing with destructive body image issues. She also offers tips on how you can help.

Girls have higher risk

"Historically, in terms of gender, I think we would we have seen higher numbers of females with the experience of disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image concerns and thoughts,” says Streno. For some perspective, roughly 80 percent of women in the U.S. reportedly are unhappy with the way they look, and 70 percent of ‘normal weight’ women report that they want to be thinner. Even between the ages of three and six years old, half of girls worry about ‘being fat.’

How to help: Establish an open-door, judgement-free policy as soon as possible with your team or child so they know you’re available to discuss problems. For coaches, pay close attention to behaviors around eating and watch for signs of bullying. You can also consider holding regular team-wide check-ins where you discuss issues like body image, either as a group or with the help of an expert like Streno.

But boys are not immune

“People hear eating disorder and they automatically assume that it’s a female issue,” says Streno. "But there are issues like muscle dysmorphia, which is when someone is trying to achieve a specific body type or a certain amount of muscle to look a particular way. We see a lot of that with males. Now we're seeing a lot more men who need treatment and seek out support."

How to help: Role model open communication habits around body image. “Historically, there has been such a bias and stigma around seeking help and that males need to be strong,” explains Streno. “There was this idea that they can fix themselves on their own, but it’s important to ensure that young men are also seeking help when they’re struggling.”

Aesthetic and weight-class sports

“In certain sports, there is lot of pressure to look a particular way. We know that all sports can predispose an athlete to developing disordered eating, but there are absolutely sports that are more focused on the aesthetics,” says Streno. These include sports like gymnastics or figure skating that have subjective scoring, as well as sports with certain weight classes, such as wrestling or boxing. It can also include team sports, such as football or cross country running, where there are certain body types associated with specific positions or the ability to be successful.

How to help: Ensure that athletes have access to solid nutritional information that addresses how they can meet their sport goals in a healthy way. Streno also suggests that coaches reduce body image concerns by choosing uniforms that are more comfortable and offering a wider range of options.

Athletes going through puberty

As hormones begin to shift and their bodies begin to change, athletes are more prone to experience body image issues, and this can start as young as eight years old. “Puberty hits at different rates for males and females, and at different times,” says Streno. “It's so confusing for somebody to have their body changing outside the sport context, especially when they believe they are supposed to be maintaining a particular body image for their sport.”

How to help: Explain what to expect and what your athletes are going through. Most young people are confused by puberty and you can help by providing information about why and how their bodies are changing — and how they’ll be able to improve athletically because of it. For parents, be aware of how you talk about food and nutrition, especially during this time. Try not to comment on a child’s weight, shape, or size – and don’t compare them to anyone else. Empower kids by role modeling and encouraging self-talk that is kind and respectful.

Athletes with perfectionist tendencies

Unfortunately, the traits that can make an athlete great can also contribute negatively to their body image and lead to disordered eating. “When you think about perfectionism and orderliness and compulsivity, that predisposes some of these athletes to be rigid about the way they look in their uniforms, what they eat, and how much they work out in order to influence their body image," says Streno.

How to help: Watch your language. “As a coach or parent, be aware of what you're saying about your body and how you're treating your body. Kids are sponges and absorb everything that you say,” explains Streno. She urges parents and coaches to avoid talking about anything around body image, physical appearance, physique, food control, and discipline around eating. Seek out positive role models for your athletes, whether it’s professional athletes who are focused on spreading messages around body positivity, experts in sports nutrition, or even team alumni who are doing well in their careers now.

Athletes struggling in other areas

Unfortunately, many young athletes struggle with a lack of control in most areas of their lives, and their bodies can become the one ‘controllable’ component. “We see athletes start to struggle with this a lot when things are changing or they’re having issues in other areas of their life,” says Streno. “They use their bodies to maintain some form of control, whether it’s restricting eating, over-exercising, or beginning the binge-purge cycle. They want to feel like they have some control when everything else in their life is changing, sports-related or not."

How to help: Start by offering emotional support, not advice, and seek help for your athlete from an expert. Lastly, don’t normalize body image issues as ‘part of sport,’ warns Streno. Negative body image can lead to increased risk for depression, anxiety, and even suicidal tendencies. Often, there are underlying issues, and to promote the idea that it’s part of the game can be damaging to the athlete and keep them from getting help in another area of life where it’s gravely needed.

Takeaway

While awareness of body composition and body image is inevitable, there are some risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of negative body image issues. That’s why it’s important for parents and coaches to employ healthy communication and behaviors around body image.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Geography
(10/19/2020)
 
 
   

Geography


Diamond Doc
By Dr. Marc Richard


Dr. Marc Richard, Orthopedic Surgeon at Duke University, discusses how the climate where you live can affect your chance of injury. To have your questions answered by Dr. Richard, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Marc Richard, MD, is an Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University, specializing in elbow, wrist and hand injuries. Dr. Richard’s research evaluates the clinical outcomes of fractures of the upper extremity, with a particular interest in wrist and elbow fractures and improving ways to treat elbow arthritis in young patients. He also has a clinical and research interest in adolescent elbow throwing injuries.


 Don’t Amplify The Problem
(10/15/2020)
 
 
   

Don’t Amplify The Problem Without Trying To Be A Part Of The Solution


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


A couple years ago, I moved into a new development five minutes from where I grew up along the Jersey Shore. Living in this community comes with some great amenities including a clubhouse, pool, and gym, while also enjoying a maintenance-free lifestyle when it comes to things like landscaping and snow removal. Living here also comes with monthly Homeowner Association dues and an agreement to abide by the HOA regulations that make it all go. The perks and the guidelines are not mutually independent of one another and are necessary to work together in order to help the community operate smoothly.

We have a webpage that is a pathway for communication from management to announce certain community events or changes to some of the rules that the builder initially put in place. Additionally, the page acts as a forum for residents like myself to make others aware of various ongoings in the development that may include specific questions about our homes, organizing group outings for the kids who live here, or voicing concern about the way things may be going. Over the past few months, there has been a ton of “concerned voices” to the point where the page has become an incredibly toxic outlet for a very small number of homeowners to loudly complain about anything and everything under the sun.

“The grass is being cut too short.” “The grass is being cut too long.” (Yes, seriously). “Why hasn’t the road been paved yet?” “It just started snowing, so where are the plows that we are paying for?” “My ceiling has a crack in it.” “The landscaping company sucks.” “The builder sucks.” “The snow removable company sucks.” “The garbage truck made a mess.” “These people should be fired.” “My toilet keeps getting dirty.” (Yes, also a real complaint). Some of the issues are serious and absolutely warrant attention. But many, like those mentioned above, are not and highlight a far bigger issue: frequent complaints that don’t ever come with a single idea of solution.

For coaches, this type of behavior probably sounds pretty familiar. Have you ever had a player who was not happy about his role and spent more energy complaining about it than he did work to get better? How about a parent who wanted a meeting because you were screwing their kid out of an opportunity? Or maybe even an assistant who didn’t like the way you were running things as the head coach? Sadly, in our society, these instances are all commonplace in the landscape of sports today.

The dynamics of groups, whether they be communities, businesses, or teams, requires people to work together in order to have any chance of being successful. Our community has an elected board to make important decisions for our development and its homeowners. Businesses have their executives who are charged to do the same to benefit employees, stockholders, and customers. And in the athletic world, we have coaching staffs in place who are responsible for pushing our individual players and collective teams forward, together. Years ago, a wise man once told me that you cannot be all things to all people. One of the greatest challenges of leadership is making tough decisions that some people will not be happy about, and then, continuing to represent those dissenting voices as their leader.

Cheryl Reeve, a four-time WNBA Champion head coach for the Minnesota Lynx, has a practice of involving her players with every significant decision that comes up over the course of a season. Their voice comes with a caveat: because they are involved in making the decision, they release the right to complain about it after it has been made. While they may not agree with it, they had a seat at the table, and understand that in the end, it is a team decision, and as a part of the team, they will support that decision.

Those who are not actively behind the scenes have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. Simple solutions are not always as simple as they may seem from the outside. Until they become coaches themselves, players will never fully understand the challenges that go into playing time and team roles. There are often instances of players who think they are being unfairly treated by a certain coach, when the reality is that coach- as evident in those private meetings- is that player’s biggest sponsor. Until an assistant coach has to sync up three or four different groups of a team, they won’t fully appreciate how hard a daily schedule can be. Maybe there isn’t a better way to organize things because of all the pieces that go into the day.

When problems arise, and they will, challenge yourself to be more than just that person who criticizes everything that you’re not happy with. Come with potential solutions. Are you a player wanting to have a greater role? Then have a conversation with your coach about what exactly you need to do earn more at bats or innings on the mound. Are you an assistant coach unhappy about the way practice is being run? Offer a different option for the head coach to take a look at. Are you the leader of the team in charge of making final decisions? Create an environment that welcomes outside voices, where team members can be heard. If that becomes an accepted norm, while they may not like your final decision, they are more likely to respect it, and continue to be a supportive part of the team.

Very few things in this world run smoothly without issue. Team harmony in sport is no different. But when all people do is only complain about things, they are only amplifying the issue and throwing fuel on to the fire. We all have a choice. We can make problems worse if that’s all we ever talk about, or we can bring potential solutions to the table, and work together to fix it.


Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


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