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Signs of Body Image Disturbance, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in Physically Active Adolescents

Published August 14, 2014

By Nick Galli
University of Utah

Major Point: Seemingly healthy behaviors such as careful monitoring of food intake and regular exercise may actually be signs of body image disturbance, disordered eating, or an eating disorder in teens.

With the rise of sedentary behavior and obesity in American youth, most parents are pleased when their son or daughter takes an interest in being physically active. Indeed, regular participation in sport, recreation, or exercise can lead to a variety of positive social, psychological, and physical outcomes for youth. Unfortunately, societal pressures to achieve the "perfect" body and attain optimal performance may have unhealthy consequences for adolescents. These consequences include body image disturbances, disordered eating, eating disorders, and substance abuse. It is thus important to be aware that some seemingly healthy behaviors exhibited by your physically active teen may actually lead to harmful outcomes. Here are five warning signs that your teen's efforts to get in shape or improve performance may be detrimental to his/her health. It is important to note that the presence of one of these signs does not necessarily indicate that your son or daughter has an eating disorder or is abusing substances.

1. Preoccupation with Bodily Appearance
It is certainly not out of the ordinary for adolescents to be concerned with their appearance. However, frequent comments regarding their weight or shape, comparisons to athletes on TV or models in fitness magazines, and questions such as, "Do I look fat," or "Do I look any bigger?" may be indications of an unhealthy preoccupation with the size and shape of their body. Spending an excessive amount of time in front of the mirror, and daily use of the scale to check body weight are further signs that your teen is at-risk for a body image or eating disorder.

2. Strange Eating Behaviors
Extreme changes in food consumption may indicate that your teen is making an effort to gain or lose an unhealthy amount of weight. Failure to eat, eating an excessive amount, sticking to a rigid diet (e.g., only eating carrot sticks and crackers), or meticulous tracking of calories and nutrients may be attempts to drastically alter body weight and/or composition. Physically active adolescents who are concerned with appearance and performance may also use supplements such as Creatine, protein powder, weight gain shakes, or "fat burning" pills and liquids in attempts to gain weight, gain muscle mass, or lose fat. Teens may even choose to substitute supplements for regular meals. It is important to understand that although many supplements are advertised as being healthy, the long-term health consequences of usage for many dietary supplements are unknown.

3. Drastic Changes in Appearance
Changes in food consumption and/or the use of supplements and other performance enhancing substances may result in changes in the appearance of your child. Teens who restrict their diet will likely lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time. Hair loss and pale skin may be apparent in teens suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Alternatively, teens who eat in excess and/or use supplements in an attempt to gain weight, strength, and muscle mass will likely exhibit drastic gains in weight and muscle mass. Boys who turn to anabolic steroids in an effort to gain muscle mass may develop acne, as well as breast tissue. Girls who use steroids may develop facial hair and experience a reduction in breast size.

4. Drastic Changes in Personality
Along with changes in appearance, personality changes may also occur as your son or daughter attempts to gain or lose weight. Uncharacteristic moodiness, aggravation, or fatigue, are signs that your teen's dietary changes are having a negative influence on his/her well being. Teens who use anabolic steroids to gain muscle mass and improve performance may become overly combative, a side effect known as "roid rage." Further, the cessation of steroid use may lead to depression.

5. New Priorities
A key sign that your teen has an unhealthy interest in sport or exercise is when people and activities that were once highly valued become secondary to the goal of improving appearance or performance. For example, teens who wish to gain muscle mass may consistently choose strength training over social gatherings with friends and family. Invitations to go out to eat, even to their favorite restaurant, may be rejected by teens adhering to a strict diet. School performance may also suffer among teens who prioritize workouts over homework or studying.

Although the epidemic of obesity in youth and adolescents highlights the need for increased physical activity in this population, societal demands for the "ideal" physique and a "win-at-all-cost" mentality may influence physically active adolescents to adopt unhealthy beliefs and behaviors. Several warning signs that your teen's efforts to achieve societal standards may be detrimental to their health are offered. Extreme changes in your teen's behavior, coupled with the presence of multiple warning signs, are cause for concern. In this case, you should approach your teen in a non-confrontational manner and inform him/her of your concerns. Avoid threats and accusations, and emphasize the fact that you are concerned about her/his health. Depending on the result of this conversation, you may wish to consult your teen's doctor, school psychologist, or another licensed mental health professional for advice on how to proceed.

Beals, K.A. (2004). Disordered eating among athletes: A comprehensive guide for health professionals. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Pope, H.G., Phillips, K.A., & Olivardia, R. (2000). The Adonis complex: How to identify, treat, and prevent body obsession in men and boys. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Published in: Parents & Youth Sport, Mental Health

Eight Tips for Communicating with Adolescent Athletes Immediately after the Game: Win or Loss

Published August 14, 2014

By Larry Lauer
Michigan State University

Major Point: Eight ways parents can communicate with their adolescent children after games to enhance their relationship.

Youth and high school sport has the opportunity to be a tremendous experience for adolescents and for their parents. The bonding that occurs in sport can last a lifetime. Many of you can probably think back to a time where your parents were involved in your sporting activities. I would hope these are wonderful memories of spending time together, of learning life lessons, and of having fun.

Unfortunately, many parents unintentionally make the sport experience less than fulfilling for their children. These parents may have an inappropriate perspective of what sport is all about, but often it is the well meaning parent that says the wrong thing at the wrong time (and does not learn from it) that gets into trouble. It does not take much for a child to feel pressure to appease his or her parents. And, you can create pressure just by being at a competition, let alone acting negatively.

After the game is a critical time when adolescent athletes are still recovering from the intensity of the game. They may be elated, upset, indifferent, or angry. Their emotions will run the gamut just as yours would. Knowing what to say, and how to say it, will facilitate positive parent-child relations. Therefore, you should think through what you are going to say before approaching your child. Next, are eight tips for communicating in a positive manner following a tough loss or an exciting win.

  1. Be a positive source of support and encouragement. Save the critical evaluation of player performance for your coaches, they are the experts. Be an unconditional source of support. Criticism will break down parent-child bonds.
  2. Be an attentive listener! We all love to explain our competitive experiences to others, so allow your child to talk about the game. Listen to understand first, and then reply.
  3. Along those same lines, allow your child to start conversations about their performance. Try not to get into the details of the game as your child is still dealing with the emotions of it. If this is later that night or the next morning that is okay. They may just need time to get over it. If you do feel the need to speak to them about the game then wait a few hours and then ask “Would you like to talk about the game?”
  4. Avoid undermining the coaching staff in post-game conversations, even if you think your coaches are out to lunch. You may not always agree with the coaches, but they are the leaders of the team. Second-guessing the coaches in front of your child can confuse him or her as to what he or she should do and ultimately may hurt performance. Also, you are undermining team chemistry and negatively affecting each person involved with that team.
  5. Following tough losses or poor performances (or riding the pine) remind your child that their worth as a person is not related to their abilities as an athlete. Helping them recognize that tomorrow is a new day and that with hard work they can overcome what is keeping them from their goals will help your child deal with the frustrations of sport.
  6. Be honest and sincere. Some parents get into trouble by saying “good game” or “you did your best.” If Billy does not think this is true you are going to get a sneer or sarcastic remark back. Be supportive in your comments but do not lie or exaggerate. Children will see through your well-intentioned attempt to support. If you attempt to hide your disapproval for your child’s performance your body language will signal the truth. Remembering that the goal of sport is to have fun and improve should help you in providing positive support and maintaining positive body language.
  7. Stick to your normal routine no matter the outcome of the game. If you go to lunch after a win, do the same after a loss. Otherwise, your child might relate the activities after the game with winning and losing.
  8. Avoid comparing your child to other children even as it relates to training methods or skills. It can create hurt feelings and pressure.

Ultimately, you want to have a plan of attack for post-game. Get your emotions under control and check your body language. Remind yourself of what matters – being a good sport and giving your best effort. And, if you are in a tough situation you can always just give them a hug or a pat on the back and wait until emotions subside.

Best of luck in the emotional world of sport!

Published in: Parents & Youth Sport

Developing an Effective Team Culture

Published August 14, 2014

By Ryan Hedstrom
Manchester College

One of the most important jobs as a coach is to develop and foster a team culture. This culture, or identity, is really the foundation of all effective teams. As a coach this culture is your vision or philosophy put into action. As you think back to teams on which you have coached or played, the team culture probably was a main ingredient in your success or failure. So, what are some ideas for developing an effective team culture?

  1. Clear Goals and Expectations. As I am sure you know from past coaching successes and failures, clear expectations is one of the most vital ingredients in leading a team. For instance, a basketball coach I know lays out his ABC’S for the team…Academics, Basketball, Community, and Service. Each of these tenants has several points that he advocates throughout the season. All of his players know the ABC’S and the team culture is built around these fundamental ideas.
  2. Use Your Supporting Cast. Utilize different members of team in developing the team culture. Captains, assistant coaches, parents, etc. can all facilitate team identity. For instance, if there are certain tasks that could be taken on by others then delegate to the appropriate member(s) of the team. Spreading the group work around will foster a sense of ownership in players and support staff. Also, getting everyone involved in deciding on team goals and expectations can alleviate discipline and team chemistry issues during the season. Having everyone understand their unique role is vital to overall success. For instance, helping a bench player understand the contribution that he or she makes during practice or with other tasks (and helping others see the importance of that role as well) can really help in commitment to the team. However, remember that ultimately you as the coach set the tone with expectations so make sure your entire supporting cast are working towards the same goals!
  3. Praise Your Culture. Make sure as a coach you focus on praising the “right kind” of culture. If you value hard work and maximum effort…when you see it praise it. If your team identity is based on working on individual goals…praise goal attainment in a team setting. Focusing on the “right kind” of team behavior (based on goals and expectations) really sets a tone for what you expect and how the entire team can live out the team culture.
  4. Show Off Your Culture. It is important to find tangible ways to show off your culture. Items such as T-shirts with a special team saying or signs that show off a team uniqueness definitely provide a feeling of team that facilitates a sense of identity. These items do not need to be costly but do need to focus your team around those things that make your culture unique.

Creating an effective team culture is vital to your leadership as a coach. Here are some questions to ask yourself when preparing for the season:

  1. What are my goals and expectations for the team?
  2. How can I facilitate team feedback in developing these goals and expectations?
  3. What can I do to stress these goals and expectations during the season?
  4. How can I use team members and others in developing our team culture?
  5. What are ways the team can show off their culture and uniqueness during the season?

Suggested Reading:
Martens, R. (2004). Successful coaching (3rd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishing.

Published in: Coaches

Reducing Anxiety in the Competitive Environment

Published August 14, 2014

By Vikki Krane
Bowling Green State University

It is the last match of your regular season. If your team wins, they will advance to the championship game. All season the team has been improving steadily and the last few games the team has played remarkably well. In the locker room before the game, the players keep reminding each other how important this game is and that they have to win it. They seem very excited to play, and win, this game. Unfortunately, once on the court, the players make a lot of fundamental mistakes and do not play at all to their potential.

The above example can be very frustrating for coaches. While most athletes will experience some, too much anxiety will interfere with their performances.

Coaches can reduce the chances of their team suffering from excessive anxiety by implementing several relatively simple strategies:

Realize the Needs of Individual Team Members

Observe Team Members

  • You may notice that players have their own unique way to prepare for a match.
  • Athlete needs to be psyched up enough to be ready to play, but not so aroused that performance suffers.
  • Some athletes will need to relax and calm down before competition, while others may need to be more energized or psyched up for competition.

Coach Actions

  • Be careful when giving pre-game talks. A rousing pep talk may help some athletes, yet also make other athletes too anxious.
    • Limit the pre-game talk to essential information needed for team and individual strategies
    • Save the pep talk for individual athletes who need to be psyched up
  • Provide some time for athletes to prepare on their own
    • Build some time into your pre-competition warm-ups for athletes to do some individualized mental readying
    • Some athletes will want to relax, calm down, or be by themselves. Other athletes may stay close to teammates, get psyched up, or perhaps joke around as a distraction from thinking too much about the game.
    • It is important to learn how your athletes like to prepare for competition. Then individualize how you interact with athletes before matches.
      • Build the confidence and try to calm athletes who need to relax.
      • Use motivational remarks for athletes who like to get excited before they compete.

Reduce the Importance of Winning

  • Athletes cannot always control whether or not they win. A team may perform almost flawlessly and still lose a match.
  • Encourage athletes to differentiate between playing well and winning by stressing the importance of improvement and playing to the best of one's ability.
  • To help athletes focus on playing well, set realistic goals to improve specific skills. As players accomplish their goals, they can feel proud of their performance, even though the team may not have won the contest.
  • Reward players' efforts, not only the final outcome.
  • Provide instruction on how to correct skills as well as encourage them to continue working hard.
  • As athletes realize that you are satisfied with improved play, not only winning matches, they will experience less anxiety prior to and during competition.

Reducing Uncertainty in the Competitive Environment

  • Help athletes prepare for all possible situations that may arise.
    1. Discuss with the team possible "worst case scenarios" or unfavorable situations that may interfere with performance.
    2. Develop coping strategies for each situation.
    3. Finally, practice being in an uncomfortable situation and coping successfully.
  • If this situation arises in real life, athletes will feel prepared, confident, and less anxious, increasing chances of performing well under less than ideal circumstances.
  • EXAMPLE: “Pretend” your team bus is stuck in traffic. Consider how the players may begin to prepare while still on the bus.
    • begin stretching on the bus
    • put on any sport equipment and shoes
    • mentally prepare by reviewing team strategies

These activities may help athletes avoid a "flat" beginning of the match.


  • Eliminating anxiety from the competitive environment is not possible, nor desirable.
  • Managing anxiety and reducing the chances of team members experiencing too much anxiety will be beneficial.
  • As anxiety is reduced, players will feel more comfortable in competitive situations and have more confidence in their abilities, and perform better.

Adapted from: Krane, V. (1992, August/September). Minimizing anxiety in the competitive environment. Coaching Volleyball, 28-29.

Published in: Coaches

Encouraging Good Sport Conduct in Athletes

Published August 13, 2014

By Jennifer J. Waldron
University Of Northern Iowa

Parents often enroll their child in a sport program to build the child’s character. Sport participation by itself, however, does not develop character in athletes. Just like any physical skill, athletes need to be taught positive behaviors. Coaches play a vital role in developing positive attitudes and behaviors in their athletes. Two major ways that coaches can develop good sport conduct is via positive role modeling and actively teaching good sport conduct.

What is Good Sport Conduct?

Good sport conduct or sportspersonship is the behaviors appropriate of a sport participant. Sportspersonship occurs when athletes show respect and concern to opponents, teammates, coaches, and officials. In other words, coaches should teach their athletes to “treat others, as you would like to be treated.” Sportspersonship is an important issue facing all people involved in athletics. Episodes of coaches, parents, and athletes behaving poorly at sporting events are often reported in newspapers and on television.

Examples of good sport conduct include:

  • shaking hands with opponents after a game
  • helping an opponent up after a play
  • showing concern for injured opponents
  • accepting all decisions of the referees
  • encouraging less skilled teammates
  • congratulating an excellent effort by opponents

Examples of poor sport conduct include:

  • trash talking
  • causing injury to an opponent on purpose
  • cheating
  • making fun of teammates’ effort, skill, race/ethnicity, or size
  • blaming losses on others
  • running up the score against your opponents

Model Good Sport Conduct
There are many ways that you can teach sportspersonship to your players, but the most important way is for you to model good sport conduct.

Knute Rockne, former football coach of Notre Dame, said “One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”

Young players look to their coaches as role models and are likely to observe their coaches’ behaviors. It is unlikely that athletes will be able to control their behaviors, if their coaches are unable to control their own behavior. Coaches who show respect to officials and opponents before, during, and after games can truly expect their players to do the same.

Examples of showing respect to officials

  • avoid calling the officials names
  • civilly question calls
  • be open to idea that the official is correct
  • put yourself in the official’s shoes

Examples of showing respect to opponents

  • give your best coaching effort
  • celebrate victory respectfully
  • engage in the pre- and post-game handshake
  • give credit to opponents

During practices and games, it is imperative that coaches remain under control during interactions with players, assistant coaches, officials, and opposing coaches. Parents observing the good sportspersonship attitude of their children’s coach will soon understand the responsibility they have to engage in good sport conduct as spectators.

Actively Teach Sportspersonship

  • Set up rules of sportspersonship or a code of conduct at the beginning of the season. Make sure to include consequences for breaking the code. These rules and consequences must apply to all athletes in all situations.
  • Expect sportspersonship during practice and competitions
  • Bring examples of the good or poor behavior of professional or college athletes to practice. Discuss the behavior of these athletes with your team.
  • Encourage athletes to reflect on their behaviors by asking them questions. One discussion format that could be used is as follows.
    1. identify the problem
    2. identify negative and positive actions
    3. identify how each action influences people involved
    4. choose best action
  • Reward athletes on your team who behave as good sports. Discipline athletes who behave as poor sports. By allowing poor sport conduct to happen on your team, you are teaching athletes that poor sport conduct is acceptable.
  • Teach athletes to be considerate of their teammates and their opponents when they win and lose.
  • Emphasize respecting opponents and officials whether they win or lose.
  • Stress the importance of sportspersonship at parent meetings.
  • Make sure your athletes know and follow the rules of the sport.

Online Resources
Institute for International Sport: National Sportsmanship Day
Michigan High School Athletic Association: Sportsmanship
Minnesota State High School League: Sportsmanship
Ohio High School Athletic Association: Sportsmanship

Published in: Coaches