Youth sport coaches: Tips to help get young athletes to eat healthier

Use your influence as a coach to impact the food choices of your athletes.

As a coach, you can have a powerful influence on the lives of the kids you train. In some cases, you may be the most influential person in that kid’s life. Kids look up to you and see you as a role model, this gives you the ability to inspire, build confidence, shape character and influence attitudes.

Think back to that game when you were playing against “that” coach, the one that is always screaming at the referees, his players, the parents and even you. Before long you start to see the coach’s players begin to yell at each other and the referee too. Your athletes are always watching you and since they look up to you, they will mimic you.

Take the opportunity to use this influence to encourage and educate young athletes about healthy eating habits not unhealthy ones.

Here are six ways that coaches can encourage young athletes to make healthy choices:

  1. If your team’s parents bring snacks for after the game, give them a list of approved, nutritious food items such as fruit or veggies.
  2. Include a 5-minute healthy eating conversation at the end of each practice. MyPlate is a great resource for this.
  3. When eating out with the team, encourage them to choose healthy meals to improve their athletic performance. Encourage them to avoid fried, sugary, greasy foods, pop, candy and sweets.
  4. Let parents know that you need their support in encouraging their kids to choose healthy food options.
  5. Before a weekend tournament, give the athletes healthy eating guidelines to follow. Encourage them to hold each other accountable for what they are choosing to eat, as it might make the difference between 1st and 2nd place.
  6. As many kids are on-the-go constantly, encourage them to always have healthy snacks such as string cheese and granola bars, in their sports bag for when they get hungry.

Practicing these six actions, along with setting a good example for your athletes will make a difference in not only their daily healthy eating habits but also their athletic performance. For more information on health and nutrition and information to educate your athletes, please visit Michigan State University Extension.

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