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Recent graduate Kylie Schlottman put herself to the test by playing both volleyball and basketball at East Haven High School. Athletes like Schlottman have to make sure they stay in prime condition throughout the year to handle the physical rigors of their athletic endeavors, while also striving for success in the classroom. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Indians’ Jake Watrous tries to get an edge on his defender in the chase for a loose puck when the Guilford boys’ ice hockey team faced off against Farmington-Avon for the Division II state championship this past winter. The physical demands of hockey provide just one of the challenges that people who play the sport have to deal with. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Balancing the workload of sports and schoolwork is a responsibility that people like Hand's Sam Riordan have to manage throughout their high-school careers . (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Addie Byars stayed busy by running year-round at Valley Regional as a member of the Warriors’ girls’ cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track programs. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Recent North Haven graduate Riley Powell competes in a relay for the Indians' boys' swimming and diving squad during the 2017-'18 winter season. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
2017 Morgan graduate Juan Avila battles for the ball with Haddam-Killingworth's Jhonnyer Paida during the Huskies' boys' soccer squad's game against H-K in last fall's Shoreline Conference Tournament final. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
In addition to running track at Branford, Marzio Mastroianni is also a member of the Hornets' boys' soccer squad and will soon begin his senior season with the team. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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As a staff writer for Shore Publishing, I’ve interviewed numerous athletes across the state. During those interviews, I’ve learned about the variety of ways they stay in top shape, so they can turn in peak performances throughout their teams’ seasons. This doesn’t just mean during practice. Athletes need to keep their muscles moving in the offseason, as well.
There are plenty of options for high-school athletes who are looking stay active throughout the year. Some compete year-round by taking part in three varsity sports, in addition to playing on AAU and club teams. I wanted to delve a bit deeper into how student-athletes maintain their conditioning, battle their way through setbacks, and balance the responsibilities of school and sports.
You Get Out What You Put In
The founding pillar of fitness is nutrition, which provides your body with the proper fuel to burn while active. To get that fuel, athletes often gather as a group for team dinners prior to games.
“As an athlete, you try to eat as healthy as possible,” said John DeLucia, a member of boys’ ice hockey and lacrosse squads at Guilford High School. “We will have pasta parties the night before games at teammates’ houses, or at the rink or lacrosse field. I also try to eat something that will sit well in my stomach before a game, so I’ll typically have an egg and cheese sandwich.”
Athletes like former Haddam-Killingworth runner Andrew Meredith maintain a balanced diet. However, when it comes time to hit the course, he makes sure to take in a lot of carbohydrates beforehand.
“Because I’m running and need the energy, I eat a lot of carbs during the seasons. In the offseason, the same diet continues, but I don’t have as many carbs,” said Meredith, who ran cross country and track at H-K. “The night before a meet, I will eat a good amount of rice or pasta. My post-meet meal will involve a lot of protein or meat. During the day, my diet is usually eggs and oatmeal in the morning and then a sandwich at lunch.”
On the wrestling mat, athletes have to manage their weight to a T, especially before a match. Recent Hand graduate Mark Hartmann said that making weight was a constant concern throughout his career.
“Making that initial weight cut is never fun, and I would have to lose 8 to 10 pounds to make weight. The hardest part is making weight before the start of the season,” said Hartmann, who wrestled in the 132-pound division. “If I was a half-pound under before a match, I would eat chicken breast and water. Other guys would have carbs for a quick energy boost.”
Hand gymnastics Head Coach Kelly Smith said that her coaching staff implements a week-by-week focus, sometimes emphasizing a specific aspect of nutrition, while focusing on different areas during other weeks.
“On particularly difficult weeks, we talk proper water and fuel to make sure they have enough energy to get through physically demanding workouts,” said Smith. “Other weeks, we prioritize talks of sleep and schoolwork.”
Will the Weather Cooperate?
Whether it’s multiple nor’easters in the winter or those rainy days during the fall and spring, events often have to be rescheduled due to Mother Nature. When competitors are denied access to their terrain, how do they keep the blood pumping? DeLucia said the weather often provides a much-needed break, although he tries to keep moving regardless.
“Between games and practices, we typically work out six days a week, so it’s good to rest the body on that day off,” DeLucia said. “When things get postponed, I try to stay active and shoot around with teammates.”
Julia SanGiovanni, a Class of 2018 East Haven graduate, tried to be resourceful with the ways she stayed in motion whenever the weather interfered with her daily routine.
“For softball, when it rained, the complex in North Branford was open, so we got some swings there, but doing stuff on my own was very important,” said SanGiovanni, who played volleyball, ice hockey, and softball at East Haven. “I would always try to keep myself going, even if it was hitting off a tee. Captains would run light conditioning drills with activities like running, and then we would have sports-specific activities.”
The winter can prove the biggest nuisance when it comes to inclement weather, and it’s also the longest season on the schedule. Some teams use those snowy hiatuses in order to recuperate.
“We often use these unintentional breaks for exactly that—a physical break. Muscle memory is powerful, and they can handle not being in the gym doing routines for a few days if there’s a big snowstorm,” Coach Smith said. “That’s a time to do increased mental preparation and workouts. Visualizing routines, analyzing routine videos, reflecting on progress, and goal setting for what’s to come are all things that can be done with a meet turned practice or with a day out of the gym.”
With high-school programs becoming more tech-savvy, many coaches rely on different apps to get their athletes caught up on the X’s and O’s of their team’s strategies when they can’t be on the field.
“Perhaps the most important addition to our program has been the game film-sharing app, Hudl. If we miss a practice or game due to inclement weather, we really want them to watch film, which they can access on their phones,” said Hand girls’ basketball Head Coach Tim Tredwell. “With Hudl, we can add notes or comments making any point we would have made during a game or practice. Hudl allows us to track which of our players is watching film and for how long. If they spend some time on the treadmill and watch film, it’s as close as they can come to actually having practice under the circumstances.”
Football brings a different approach to preparation since teams only play one game per week. Valley Regional-Old Lyme football Head Coach Tim King said that using Hudl is just one part of his team’s weekly itinerary.
“Unless we are in the playoffs, Sunday is an off day, and then we start on Monday wearing full equipment in practice to get them used to that again,” said King. “We split off into sections of offense, defense, and special teams, and it all carries over into Tuesday. We also take the varsity guys into the weight room, and then watch film after, but we have Hudl.”
A Balancing Act
The lifestyle of a student-athlete can be hectic as their preparation for competition extends beyond the sport. Before games comes the schoolwork. It may seem like a lot for one plate, but Meredith believes that juggling all of those responsibilities helps keep athletes on top of their game.
“I find when I’m not in a sports season and have that extra free time, I’m less focused to do work,” Meredith said. “I’m a high-energy guy, so going every day helps me focus when I get home to do homework.”
Recent North Haven graduate Riley Powell served as a senior captain for the Indians’ boys’ soccer, swimming and diving, and tennis squads. Powell said that balancing athletics with academics requires a lot of grit, as well as some opportunistic scheduling.
“To achieve greatness in sports and school, it would take a lot of time management. I would train for sports in between seasons, while also balancing homework,” said Powell. “During the seasons, I would have practices and games and had to find time to do all my schoolwork. The time I lost due to practices and games, I made up for in study halls and got the work done I needed to catch up on.”
For the athletes whose offseasons don’t arrive until the summer, the balancing act goes beyond the classroom. Three-sport athletes like SanGiovanni need to prepare for the upcoming season on the horizon as the current campaign is winding down.
“Three sports didn’t always benefit me, because during hockey season, I wasn’t practicing for softball as much as someone who played just softball,” SanGiovanni said. “I focused on the sport I was currently playing, but I would also try to practice my offseason sport.”
When the Injury Bug Bites
Athletes are constantly in motion and, when they suffer an injury, it can provide an emotional hurdle on top of the physical challenges. One of the best ways to mitigate the effects of an injury is through the efforts of an effective training staff. Guilford’s athletic trainer, Caitlin Chaput, details the screening process that her athletes go through whenever injuries occur. When they do, she is always there to help.
“Every athlete must have a pre-participation physical done by their physician every year. With a minor [on-field] injury, I re-evaluate the injury more in-depth and determine—with the athlete’s input—whether they can return immediately, or if any quick treatments are required,” Chaput said. “If more severe, I will take time on the field to evaluate and determine how the athlete will be removed. I may apply a splint or brace to keep body parts immobile during transport. I take a thorough evaluation and contact their parents. I follow up with the athlete and their doctor concerning a diagnosis and treatment plan. I then see them through rehab and, once cleared by their doctor, they can return to play.”
Guilford cross country and track runner Meredith Bloss explained how she tries to lessen the wear and tear on her body, while still training and competing hard. By focusing on specific muscles and not over-working certain areas, Bloss aims to prevent from wearing herself out.
“I do some cross-training with weightlifting, core training, and biking,” said Bloss. “It helps to keep me in shape and prevents you from having injuries from over-usage of muscles.”
When the final horn sounds on a high-school team’s campaign, athletes find ways to continue their grind into the offseason. Coach Smith said she always appreciates the measures that her gymnasts take to keep fit.
“Our most successful gymnasts are practicing at private gymnastics clubs outside of season. That is by far the most effective way to stay in gymnastics shape,” said Smith. “We also have some gymnasts that stay in shape by playing other sports in the offseason. Many of our gymnasts are also divers and a few do CrossFit.”
Many athletes work with trainers throughout the offseason to help them achieve specific goals. SanGiovanni said that athletes have to determine the areas in which they need more work, as well as the ones in which they are already succeeding.
“I would have trainers ask me what I wanted to excel at more. For volleyball, it was jumping higher,” said SanGiovanni. “We made specific workouts, and I would do squats, jumps, and dead lifts, and then we would test my growth with long jumps.”
No matter what sport an athlete plays, Coach Tredwell said that it all comes down to whether they want to put in the work to maximize their results.
“If they have one [sport], the kids who are serious about athletics and hope to play at the next level usually go to CrossFit, a trainer, or play club sports,” said Tredwell. “The kids who spend time improving strength and speed during the offseason see benefits.”
Guilford cross country and track coach Jon Rivera echoes those sentiments and firmly believes that fitness is a year-round endeavor.
“We have preseason conditioning for all three seasons, so there is always an opportunity to be getting fit with teammates,” Rivera said. “I don’t think doing those alone can prepare you for a sport. They can be an appetizer, but not the main course. Kids that are involved will always be ahead of kids at home doing nothing.”
The competitive grind can certainly take its toll on a student-athlete. However, the satisfaction of honing an individual skill that leads to a team’s success often proves an exciting payoff.
“It was a lot playing three sports, but I loved it,” said SanGiovanni. “I wouldn’t give up any of them.”