Are you active in sports? When sports are your life, it can be hard to stay positive after the season is done, and you could be feeling the off-season funk settle in as the warmer months arrive.
As a three-sport athlete, staying fit is built into my school year schedule in much the same way as homework and tests. I train for cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and lacrosse in the spring. Just a few weeks into Summer, though, the lack of structure begins to take both a physical and mental toll. First, no matter how hard I try to exercise, I find it difficult to replicate the intensity of everyday practices and captains’ workouts. Second, I miss the camaraderie of working with teammates towards a common goal, and the lack of connection and purpose feels disorienting.
Not wanting to wish away the otherwise fun summer months, I’ve landed on a few strategies to ditch the off-season funk and promote fitness and mental health until pre-season arrives:
1. Be outside.
Enjoying summer weather by heading outdoors allows you to soak in tons of good vitamin D from the sun (even with sunscreen covering most of your body) and has been proven to boost happiness and ease of exercise. In addition, time spent taking in nature while hiking, biking, picnicking, swimming, or canoeing reduces stress and increases creative thinking.
2. Grow a garden.
Ever since I was little, I have LOVED summer fruits and veggies – plums, peaches, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries – all of them! The past few summers, my grandmother has let me take over a small section of her garden. Working the dirt and tending to the plants has made me mindful of sustainable growing practices, and gardening has proven to be pretty good exercise too! Live in the city? No problem! Here are 17 fun and decorative city gardening ideas.
3. Find a running buddy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a couch potato or triathlete, cardiovascular exercise is famous for releasing what I call the happy hormone (endorphins). Find a partner who is your pace or a little faster to run or walk with, and use the positive peer pressure to motivate, support, and challenge each other. In keeping with our theme of mental and physical health, remember to stretch and pace yourself to prevent injury.
4. Set a goal, and accomplish it.
As enticing as a day of Netflix on the couch may be, knock out ten pages of that summer reading you’ve been dreading, walk your dog, or play with your little siblings. It doesn’t matter; goals give you structure and emotional boosts similar to that of a team sport, so setting even a small goal and accomplishing it will make you feel so much better both mentally and physically.
5. Find assistant coaching or camp counseling opportunities.
Does your school have athletic camps for kids? Is there a sleepaway camp in your area? Chances are that the coaches and counselors are looking for extra help during the summer. Being a coach or camp counselor is a great way to feel like part of a team during your off-season. In addition, nothing is more rewarding than passing on the sport or activity you love to younger athletes.
6. Volunteer in your community.
There are always great volunteer options during the school year, but warm summer months open a wide array of active and outdoor volunteer opportunities. Plant a neighborhood garden, clean up a local park, mow your neighbor’s lawn – whatever you choose, try to plan it with friends to combine the physical rush of a good day’s work and the mental high of working as a team.
7. Plan activities.
After you finish your goal of the day, reward yourself with a fun ACTivity (emphasis on the action part). One of my favorite summer activities is having a picnic with friends or family. If you have access to a pickup truck, clean up the bed, load it up with pillows and blankets, and drive to a nearby state park or camping ground to set up shop for a picnic under the stars. Remember to pack a basket filled with fruits and vegetables from your garden and whatever sandwich or easy to eat food you choose. AND because you’ve been so active all day, feel free to indulge in a tasty summer treat such as homemade s’mores or popsicles.
For more info from a range of experts on why you might be feeling “off” during your off-season or after your organized sports life is finished, read this!