During summer or at other times throughout the year, many athletes will have a welcome break from regular season practice and competition. The off-season – the time of year that falls between post-season competition and pre-season training – offers athletes a unique opportunity to rest, recuperate and improve their overall athletic ability.
Josh Adams, a certified strength and conditioning specialist with Children's Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS, shares why the off-season is so important and how athletes can develop an effective off-season training plan.
"Research has shown that focusing on one sport year-round can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout," Adams explains. "It's important for athletes to step away from their primary sport during the off-season to let their bodies and minds recharge after an intense season of competition, games and practices."
In competition, the majority of an athlete's energy goes to sport-specific practice and play. The off-season allows time to dedicate resources to learning to move properly, build muscle, and work on mobility and power training – all of which will help them become a better overall athlete. This is the groundwork for improving performance and excelling at a sport once competition season returns.
The off-season also allows athletes a much-needed mental break.
"Competing year-round is taxing for young athletes," Adams says. "We often see mental fatigue long before physical fatigue. That mental fatigue is significant because it can lead to injuries and burn out. It's very difficult for young athletes to maintain their focus, interest and intensity on one sport year-round."
How can athletes have an effective off-season?
The key is to step away from your primary sport, Adams tells athletes and their parents.
"The best thing athletes can do is to make sure they have an off-season, and that can be really tough," he says. "The pressure to compete on traveling teams or follow a training plan that focuses on one sport is very high for some athletes. But we see it in research and we see it first hand – taking a break can improve performance."
The off-season isn't about inactivity but activity that's different than your primary sport.
"We need to encourage our athletes to be healthy and active during the off-season," Adams says. "This is a time to try out new activities or sports that expose them to different skills or motions than their main sport."
For example, baseball players should avoid throwing and instead focus on activities they wouldn't normally do in their singular sport, such as power and agility training.
One of the most important goals for the off-season should be for athletes to remember why they play sports in the first place – because they enjoy them.
"Fun should be a priority in the off-season," Adams reminds athletes and parents. "High-level competition year-round can take a toll on athletes. Encourage athletes to relax and really enjoy their activity without having to be in a high competition mindset."