Is there ever really an off-season: maintaining fitness and mental health for athletes as seen through the eyes of cheerleading

As competitive seasons fade into the heart of summer, many athletes find themselves navigating the off-season.


It may seem like a time to kick back, relax, but it’s not. The off-season, instead of being a break from training, games, and competitions, is an opportunity to benefit athletes’ overall health, improve skill, and prepare mentally for challenges ahead.


Physical Fitness: the foundation of athletic success


The importance of staying in shape during the off-season cannot be stressed enough. For professional, college, and high school athletes, their ability and physical skills are the foundation of their sport and requires consistent care and maintenance. The off-seasons are important stepping stones for the competitive seasons.


“I stretch every day, while making sure I am physically and mentally in shape for the upcoming season by running and working out,” captain of the Penn State University cheerleading team Katie Sardella said. “I continue to tumble twice a week and make sure to do my standing tucks and other tumbling along with stunting.”


Is there really an off-season?


Athletes – college, professional, or high school – should find a life balance prior to their respective season. And, when trying to figure this out, keep in mind the coach has already also committed to them. So, mental and physical fitness shouldn’t fade when you’re also recuperating. If you’re unsure of the coach’s expectations…ask them.


“Athletes are to attend strength and conditioning with the strength and conditioning coach who works with all of athletics at the high school,” said current Hunterdon Central and former Rutgers University cheerleading coach Lauren Battaglia. She said training takes place twice a week, and athletes are often required to submit proof of more exercise outside of that.


“We are required as a Penn State athlete to show how dedicated we are to the sport all year long,” Sardella said.


Overlooking mental health in athletes


Without truly having an off-season, the constant work and habit of pushing themselves may lead athletes to “burn out” and fall out of love with their sport.


“Burning out is almost inevitable,” said Battaglia. “We try to prepare as early as possible for competition so we have opportunities for downtime in the season if athletes feel it is needed.”


For athletes like Sardella, she is lucky to always fall back in love with her sport.


“My mental health is not affected from either season because I love the sport and the people who come along with it. The burnout will come and go depending on how long I take a break from it, but I keep coming back to it.”


A Happy Medium


Combining physical training with mental health practices creates a holistic approach to off-season training and preparation for the next competitive season. Athletes who prioritize both aspects are more likely to improve performance, resilience, and well-being.


Coaches and trainers play an important role in this process. By encouraging athletes to have a comprehensive off-season program, they can help their athletes maintain fitness, prevent injuries, and stay mentally healthy.


The off-season is not just a break but an opportunity for athletes to invest in their overall health.


By staying active and focusing on mental health, athletes can be sure they are ready for the upcoming season. Maintaining this balance is a crucial aspect of athletic success and personal health.


Abby Giordano is a student at Penn State University and a freelance writer from New Jersey

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