Do athletes in all 3 sports really need longer breaks?
Thomas Lee sat in a hospital room wondering when he could be released.
Lacrosse season was only days away, but the elder Demarest was in no condition to play.
Lee was bloodied and bandaged after taking an elbow to his left eye during a regional wrestling match. And the doctors wouldn’t allow him to train until all 25 stitches were out. It didn’t matter that his lacrosse team needed his starting goaltender.
“As soon as I got (the stitches) out, I knew I had to come right back,” Lee said. “I needed all the reps I could get.”
Lee is just one example of how difficult life is for a three-sport athlete. There were days this spring when he raced from practice to practice, stopping at his car only to swap his helmet for a headgear.
That’s one of the reasons the NJSIAA is considering a proposal to shake up the schedule starting in the 2022-23 school year. If approved Wednesday, the plan would shorten each high school season and allow more time between each.
Part of the impetus came from a group of student ambassadors, who raised concerns about burnout and the mental health of athletes across the state. Proponents of the amendment say it restores a better balance between studies and athletics. But many students and coaches wonder if less really is more.
“After a sport, I don’t want to get used to taking a break,” Lee said. “I just like to keep going.”
“I like the season the way it is,” said Samantha Moleti, a tri-sport star at Westwood. “It takes a toll on your body, but honestly, it’s worth it. I hate rest.”
NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire outlined three main goals behind the new plan: to bring consistency to all seasons, to ensure fairness for all sports and student-athletes, and to give schedule flexibility to its members. member schools.
The proposed plan sets a standard length of the regular season between 49 and 53 days.
Brick Memorial senior Trent Burton estimated that about 90% of his fellow student ambassadors support the changes.
“It’s fair and just,” said Burton, who plays ice hockey and tennis. “He tries to be as consistent as possible for every sport and every season. I really like what they’ve done.”
In the first year of the proposed plan, fall sports — excluding football and tennis — would begin training Aug. 22 and end the playoffs Nov. 13. Winter sports would take place from November 28 to February 26, while most spring sports would take place between March 16 and June 11.
In some cases, the playoffs could extend into the week following the stated end dates. But for the most part, athletes could expect at least two weeks off after the fall and winter seasons.
“This schedule ensures there is a transition period between the two, gives student-athletes a break and prevents them from leaving the sport,” said Meghan Lichtenberger, student ambassador and senior at Rutherford. “And the same for coaches.”
The length of the season and its impact on student health has been a focus of student ambassadors, who advise the NJSIAA. Lichtenberger said the panel received comments from doctors and psychologists on the subject.
“The burnout is real and the pressures from academics and athletics are real,” said Erin Butler, a former three-year runner at Glen Rock. “As my mother always said, too much of anything is not good.”
Most athletes interviewed for this story said they would like to keep the length of the season as it is.
Immaculate Heart senior Megan Bizub said she prefers the current format because running sprints on the winter track keeps her in shape for the lacrosse season.
“I’m the midfielder, so it prepares me to move up and down the pitch consistently,” Bizub said. “I think it gives me stamina.”
Ridgewood senior Clare McCooe agreed that she doesn’t care about the short time frame between winter and spring.
The basketball season usually ends around the same time as her lacrosse tryouts, but McCooe said coaches are flexible if she wants to take a day off. It’s a comfortable transition because most of the training drills are the same.
“It’s fun to play back to back,” said McCooe, who committed to Division I Manhattan. “I’m going to miss it in college because all I do is play lacrosse.”
Reg Grant, director of human performance at Holy Name Medical Center, said a “little break” isn’t a bad thing for high school athletes. Reducing some of the stress can help reduce the risk of overuse injury.
“It’s common sense to think that if you go non-stop without a break, the body is more likely to break down,” Grant said.
This does not mean that athletes have to stop completely at the end of the season. Stretching and staying active during a break can be a key part of injury prevention. Grant said it’s common for athletes to run into trouble if there’s a big jump in activity at the start of training camp.
“You want to have active recovery,” said Grant, who also consults Bergen Catholic. “And what you eat and how you sleep are of monumental importance.”
Find the right balance
A 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found that 45% of high school athletes major in a single sport. The report also showed that today’s athletes are reducing their focus at an earlier age.
The average high school athlete in the survey began majoring at age 12.7, about two years earlier than their college and professional counterparts.
One of the ideas behind the new sports calendar is to reverse the trend by facilitating the practice of several sports.
“A lot of times the kids who come out of football don’t play another sport because their body rests for about a month after being beaten,” said Tony Mottola, Demarest’s football and men’s lacrosse coach. “At that time, it’s the middle of the winter sports season.”
Communication between coaches and players can also ease the transition between seasons.
Mottola said it’s important to be smart with athletes who play multiple sports to make sure everyone gets enough rest. He points out that a basketball player who comes into shape in the spring may not need to go through the same conditioning drills as his teammates.
“We all share athletes and try to do our best,” Mottola said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for the calendar, as the winter and spring seasons have overlapped for three to four weeks this year.
Mottola said he reached out to his school’s wrestling coach to coordinate preseason workouts. In the event of a conflict, Mottola and other coaches have stressed that the priority should be in-season sport.
“If they’re still in season, you have to respect that,” said Daniella Wagenti, who coaches three varsity sports in Passaic County. “I wouldn’t want another coach to do this to me.”
Sean Farrell is a high school sports reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get the latest news straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.
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