James Gilliland is a USA Volleyball Referee and Volleyball “Dad” in Dallas, Texas. Below he shares his journey from novice volleyball parent to the team’s resident ‘crazy uncle;’ an experience that many families take on the long, wild journey that is this sport.
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Here we are again on the verge of yet another Girls Jr National Championships tournament. The biggest challenge we face during these multi-day competitions is the “What do we get the girls to eat” dilemma. A few years ago we had the pleasure of taking the girls to Willie Mae’s Scotch House when we were in New Orleans. We went there because it was voted by Yahoo! and Business Insider magazine as having the #1 fried chicken in the nation. Was it the best choice for our situation? Well maybe not. But it was so good.
More often than not, large competitions (such as national qualifiers) subject athletes and spectators to what is known as Containment Environment Pricing or CEP. This is when one is trapped in an environment like a convention center, where there is little food and beverage choice. The options available are often very over priced and processed. The low quality food often sits in one’s stomach for long period of time and is nutrient poor. I would venture to say it’s not the best for a bunch of athletes who are navigating their way through hours of pool play. Here are some tips and tricks on how to navigate the CEP Trap.
- Designate someone to meal plan- having a “Team Mom” that focuses on the P’s (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance) can make a huge difference. This person is responsible for scouting new cities to find places that have good quality, convenient, and affordable food for the team. They also call ahead or make reservations to limit the amount of time waiting for the athletes so they can spend their valuable down time recovering. Additionally, they can use proper judgement to determine what type of atmosphere makes most sense depending on where in the tournament the meal falls. If it’s early on and there’s a lot of competition coming up, they should focus on quicker meals. If it’s the last meal before everyone heads some, something fun can allow the athletes and parents alike to let loose and build comradery. (It’s recommended that the person being assigned this responsibility not mind fronting funds in case some restaurants require deposits to make reservations).
- Breakfast– this meal is most easily done at the hotel. Try to call ahead and see if your hotel offers breakfast. If they do, see what types of foods are on the menu. If not available, I recommend requesting: eggs, bagels, toast and fruit. Fruit such as berries and melons (in both juice and raw form) provides natural, easily digestible sugars that will help kick start the day. Keep an eye on coffee consumption too. For some of us parents it may be a necessity, but we don’t want our athletes crashing after the caffeine in the middle of competition.
- Lunch & Snacks (Meals in the Venue)- these are really important for maintaining glucose levels and preventing “crashing” or sleepiness during competition. I recommend that if you’re going to have sports drinks, either drink G2 or dilute your chosen sports drink with water. Avoid heavy meals during the competition and stick to lighter options such as half a sandwich (go light on dressings), nuts, or protein bars. My personal favorite protein bars are the ones made by Power Bar. While they pack 20 grams of protein, they’re relatively low on sodium and sugar.
- Dinner- this is a great time for the girls to dress up and spend time decompressing. Try to not head to the town’s most popular spaghetti shop. The 1980’s fad of “Carb Loading” for regular athletic competition is over. Carbs take longer for the body to digest, and an excess is not your best bet. Instead, look for a good balance between the food groups and keep it healthy! If competition resumes in the morning, keep an eye on travel time, wait times, and avoid desserts. And parents: be good examples to your daughters. If you want to stay up and hang out with your friends, wait until after the girls have gone to bed.
- The CEP Police– make sure you’re aware of what can and cannot be brought into the venue holding the competition. Some places are stricter than others. If there are strict rules, don’t be afraid to leave for a little while so that you and the athletes get a break from the competition atmosphere. Sometimes a break from the environmental stresses of being surrounded by competition and constant whistle blowing can make a huge difference in your athlete’s recovery.
- Individuality- keep in mind that not all athletes are made alike. It’s not uncommon for athletes to burn over 4,000 calories a day. In fact, the average 6-foot volleyball player has a Basal Metabolic rate of around 2,800 calories. Your daughters position and stature can play a large role in how much snacking and how many calories are needed to keep energy levels up.
- Have Fun!– once competition is over, don’t be afraid to let the team celebrate. Regardless of whether they win or lose, try to have something fun planned for the last night of competition. Check out Yelp to find a fun venue that the parents will approve of. If there’s some place unique to the city your visiting or that serves a signature dish- check it out! It’s great to give the girls something to talk about unique to the city when they get home.
Keep in mind it’s important to properly plan, keep balance… and fried chicken is not a snack!!
Good Luck at the GNJC. See y’all in Minneapolis!