Teaching Your Young Athlete Good Hydration Habits

Sixty million children between the ages of 6 and 18 play organized youth sports in the US, according to the National Council on Youth Sports. This number does not include the children who engage in outdoor activities, pickup games, and independent exercise. Most children engage in both formal and casual play, which is essential for proper physical development.

Hydration is critical during games, practices, and outdoor activities. However, many kids do not get enough water to drink. A study by Harvard University researchers found that half of all children are not adequately hydrated. A lack of water in active children can harm their performance on the field or the court, but it can also lead to health issues related to metabolism, gastrointestinal functions, and even their immune response.

However, because of the prevalence of dehydration, parents should not only teach their kids how to make healthy choices, but how they can get enough water during practices, games, and other outdoor activities. Here are a few ways to help teach your children good hydration habits.

Mother with Child Drinking Water

Why Is Hydration So Important for Young Athletes?

Hydration is essential for peak athletic performance. According to Texas-based Children’s Health, proper hydration increases agility, mental acuity, endurance, muscle function, and energy while decreasing recovery time. Even if a child is only 2% dehydrated, they will see a noticeable decrease in performance in almost every athletic metric.

In addition to performance, dehydration could lead to conditions like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or cramps.

Children Playing With A Parachute

How Much Water Should Kids Be Drinking?

During exercise, kids need to drink water at regular intervals. The average person loses 17 ounces of water per hour of exercise because of perspiration. That equates to roughly 1 pound of body weight lost every 60 minutes.

Children’s Health suggests the best approach is to consume water before the practice or game and then remain hydrated with four to six gulps every quarter-hour during activity. Recovery after the game or practice should include 24 ounces of water for every pound of sweat lost. Since you lose roughly 1 pound per hour of exercise, you need 24 ounces for every 60 minutes of activity.

Hydration needs can also vary by age. Kids between 9 and 12 will need 9 to 24 ounces of water per hour, while teens need 34 to 50 ounces every 60 minutes during vigorous exercise.

Keep in mind that water replacement after exercise should be in addition to the regular intake for the day. According to Children’s Health of Orange County, kids need one 8-ounce serving of water per year of age. So a 1-year-old needs 8 ounces of water per day, and a 2-year-old needs two 8-ounce servings, or 16 ounces. Those 9 years and older need eight 8-ounce servings per day, which is the equivalent of 2 liters.

How To Reinforce Hydration During and After Activity

Drinking water regularly throughout the day, and during exercise is key to remaining hydrated. However, several issues make this challenging.

In addition to developing good drinking habits, you need to ensure kids avoid the temptation of sugary drinks. Sugar and caffeine, contained in some sweetened soda products, increase urination, which can cause kids to lose water faster than normal. These products can also contain sodium or other additives that can exacerbate dehydration.  

However, some kids may find the removal of these sugary drinks as a punishment, especially if they view water as boring or unexciting. To counteract that, it’s best to find ways to build proper hydration habits in your children early on during exercise.

Have Plenty of Water Available

The first step might be obvious, but it is easy to overlook as you rush to sports practice or prepare the kids for outside play. Youngsters need to have an accessible supply of water to stay hydrated.

If they are out in the sun on a sports field, kids can bring a bottle with them. However, if it’s hot, their water will heat up. A vacuum bottle can help the liquid remain cold so that it refreshes as well as provide the necessary hydration. Many specialty water bottles can offer the same insulation.

You should also look for portable hydration bottles. Jugs with handles or quick-flip lids are easy to carry and offer quick access to the liquid.

A final option is to consider a portable tumbler with a straw or sip lid. Some kids will be more likely to drink through a straw, and an insulated tumbler will still keep the water cool.

Each child will have their preferences, so you can offer them a choice between the types of water carriers. If they get one they like, they will be more likely to use it.  

Schedule Times for Water Breaks

You can schedule water breaks at regular intervals. This strategy is easier for younger kids who are playing at home. Medical experts suggest taking several gulps of water every 15 to 20 minutes, so you can schedule pauses in play at these intervals.

If kids are playing organized sports, they might not be able to stop and drink every quarter-hour. However, you can establish the 15-20 minute habit during home play or remind them before or after practices and games.

In some situations, it might be appropriate to have them set a watch or alarm to add a reminder during practices or outdoor activities.

Stanley Water Jug Hanging On Fence

Model Good Behavior

Children model their behavior after their parents, especially when it comes to things like physical activity. Studies have shown that kids will engage in the same practices as their mother or father, even if they do not fully understand the purpose or reason of the practice.

Parents can model good hydration behavior when their kids are participating in exercise or activities with them. These habits can include hydrating before and recovering after activities, taking regular water breaks, and always remembering to fill up and bring a water bottle.

Schedule Time for Bathroom Breaks

Children need to associate drinking water with positive effects, such as having more energy, maintaining a comfortable body temperature, and being able to play longer.

One challenge to good hydration behavior is a full bladder. When they drink more water, kids will need to use the bathroom more often. If they aren’t able to do so, they may associate water with discomfort, embarrassment, and distraction.

You can solve this potential issue by scheduling regular bathroom breaks during outdoor activities and home play. Kids can then make bathroom breaks part of their hydration habits when they play organized sports.

Incentivize Drinking Water

A reward system can help inspire kids resistant to the idea of drinking water regularly during exercise.

Rewards can encourage responsible behaviors and reinforce them without rules or punishments, which can negatively impact self-esteem and parent-child relationships. You can try social rewards, which include praise, affection, and activity-based incentives, such as added screen time, sitting in the front seat of the car, or reading a story with you in the evening.

Materials prizes, such as toys, food, or trips to a restaurant, can also work. If you want to spread these incentives out, you can use a checklist or stickers to track water drinking habits. If the kids finish their water bottles during an activity, they can add one sticker to their page. Once it is full of stickers (or reaches some predetermined threshold), they get their reward.

If you combine all these practices, you can teach good hydration habits to your children to help them achieve peak performance on the field or court and remain healthy while they play.


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