Thursday, April 10, 2014


I'm coaching my second season of youth soccer this Spring and have to admit that my feelings were a little hurt when the parents of one of the players from last season specifically asked the league to place their child on another team.  I worried they felt their child hadn't played enough, I'd done something to offend them, or they thought I was a bad coach.  Fortunately, none of those are the case.  The real reason they demanded a change though has left me somewhat perplexed.

The parents' requested the move because of my team's snack policy.  Each game a player is responsible to bring a team snack to help keep the kids energized and focused during half-time.  To keep it simple for parents, plus safe and healthy for the players, I've established a rule that the snacks need to be either sliced apples or oranges along with either water or juice boxes for the team.  Severe food allergies are a growing problem with children, my daughter who plays on the team can't eat or be exposed to peanuts for example, and there are plenty of other dietary restrictions that may be based on medical, religious, or parenting preference reasons.  Childhood obesity is also a growing problem in our nation that had an impact on my decision.   

The child that was pulled from my team had been upset because the player had noticed other teams enjoying cookies, candy, doughnuts, and cup cakes as snacks during the games.  To appease their child the parents choose junk food over healthy snacks.  I  respect those parents prerogative to make that decision for their child though I completely disagree with it.  On the other hand, allowing a child to easily switch a team though because they don't like the snack time treats provided really is a horrible precedent for a youth sports organization to set. 

According to Sally Kuzemchak R.D. in a 2013 article for Parenting Magazine, childhood snacking has become an "epidemic" with kids sports becoming "overrun with chips, cookies and other snacks being served from the sidelines." She cites research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health that demonstrates how snacking can have an adverse impact even on active kids participating in sports.  These researchers found that "an 8 year old burns about 150 calories in an average soccer game - yet the typical postgame snack has between 300 and 500 calories." In her article Kuzemchak interviews one of the researchers, Toben Nelson, Sc.D. who says "It's so strange that sports have become associated with sweets...are parents are practically competing with each other to see who can bring the 'best' snack."

Some people may say it is just about FUN and snacks are part of the game time fun.  I wonder though why people need to associate food with fun.  Kids can have fun without eating a snack.  In fact, increasing the number of snacks , even if they are just small ones, may be contributing to obesity with  children.  Kuzemchak points out in her Parenting Magazine article that according to research from both Harvard and Columbia universities "childhood obesity is driven by as little as 165 extra calories for kids ages 2 to 7." 

According the the United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)  has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents during the past 30 years (that would be from the time I was a 10 year old "kid" myself playing soccer and our only snacks were apple and orange slices during games).  According to the CDC, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk of cardiovascular disease, and were more likely to have prediabetes, bone & joint problems, sleep apnea, and social/psychological problems.  The CDC's best recommendation for countering obesity in youth: Healthy lifestyle habits, including physical activity and HEALTHY EATING.

Another issue to be concerned about as a coach and parent when it comes to game snacks are children with food allergies.  I know that problem unfortunately too well myself from our family's struggles with our daughters life-threatening food allergies [The Scariest Moment of My Life: The Day my Daughter went into Anaphylactic Shock]  The CDC acknowledges that food allergies is a growing food safety and public health concern for children in the United States.  They've provided guidelines for how schools should deal with food allergies that I believe youth sports leagues and coaches should be familiar with as well.  CLICK HERE to view these CDC guidelines.  Limiting the types of snacks at sporting games not only addresses obesity issues but food allergy safety ones as well.

I believe in my snack policy and don't plan to abandon it as long as I'm the one volunteering my valuable time at games and practices to coach and mentor these kids.  I just hope that my team doesn't abandon me to go play on other teams that provide them with sweet treats.

So what is your opinion on the Cupcake Conundrum?  As parents and coaches should we make a more concerted effort to enforce healthy snacks with the teams our kids play on or is snacking on cookies and cakes a childhood ritual that players should be able to enjoy?

No comments:

Post a Comment