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Teens and Tournaments: Strategies for Optimising Recovery

By Rachael Pelly | Exercise Scientist | Kind of Sporty Instagram & Website

As a basketball parent, you’ve probably seen firsthand the toll that a gruelling competition schedule can take on a young athlete’s body. For them to perform at their best and avoid injuries, it’s vital to prioritise solid recovery strategies. In this blog post, we’ll take you through the best tournament recovery strategies proven to support your teen athlete’s health and wellbeing. And we’ll save you time by highlighting which strategies are more hype than help.

A well-rounded recovery plan addresses the build-up of fatigue and tissue damage, as well as replenishing the fluid and energy stores that have been depleted during competition. And while the ease of massage guns and foam rollers is highly appealing, there are no substitutes when it comes to the pillars of recovery:

1. Sleep - a hugely underrated strategy for recovery, and it’s completely free! Sleep is vital for clearing accumulated mental fatigue and facilitating muscle and soft tissue repair. The recommended amount of sleep for adolescents between 7 and 19 years is 8-9 hours per night. An extended pattern of less than 8 hours per night can significantly increase a teen athlete’s risk of musculoskeletal injury (1).

2. Nutrition and hydration - these play a key role in refuelling depleted energy stores, promoting musculoskeletal repair, and clearing waste products that accumulate during intense activity. A balanced diet that accounts for increases in activity levels ensures that athletes have all that they need to both perform and recover well (2).

3. Training load - athletic programs are purposefully designed to challenge and improve an athlete’s physical capabilities. Too little training can lead to a talented player missing out on key improvements, and too much training is a fast-track ticket to injuries and burnout. To support our athletes’ physical health their training load should be tailored according to the additional load during tournaments.

4. Stress levels - managing stress is more than just mindfulness exercises and scheduled ‘brain breaks’. To appropriately handle stress we need to recognise that it takes many forms. Exercise and training, academic studies, extracurricular demands, and relationship and family dynamics, among others, are all stressors that impact a young athlete’s ability to recover. Thoughtful planning in these areas and adequate downtime around the tournament schedule can set your athlete up for successful recovery.

Most assume that recovery starts as soon as the final whistle sounds, but what happens in the lead-up to the tournament also has a drastic impact on how quickly an athlete bounces back. If a player goes into the tournament with a half-empty tank, not only will their performance be negatively impacted but they’ll take longer to get back to ‘full’. This analogy applies to each pillar of recovery. Below is a detailed recovery strategy for the days before and following a basketball tournament.

BEFORE Tournament

  • Sleep: Aim for 8-9hrs/night in the days leading up to the tournament. Nerves may sabotage sleep as the competition approaches, so avoid accumulating a sleep deficit in the days leading up to the tournament (1). Limiting screen time in the hour prior to sleep and incorporating muscle relaxation activities can assist athletes to fall asleep faster and easier (1).

  • Nutrition: focus on fluids (water) and ‘fuel’ foods to optimise stored energy levels. Fuel foods are meals that are rich in carbohydrates and low in fat alongside lean protein eg lasagna, pasta, burgers, or stir fry (2).

  • Training: reduce training load within the 48 hours prior to the tournament as training sessions within this period increase overuse injury risk during competition (3). Sometimes training is scheduled outside of the coach’s control eg. school sports commitments. Encourage your athlete to consider selecting sports other than basketball, this will reduce their overuse injury risk and could even enhance their athletic performance in the long run (4)

  • Stress: Consider the impact of school and extracurricular commitments eg assessments and paid work or volunteering schedules.

DURING Tournament

  • Sleep: prioritise achieving 9hrs of sleep at the end of a tournament match day especially if the tournament spans more than 1 day.

  • Nutrition: ensure fluids are consumed regularly from waking and include carbohydrate-rich low-fat meal 2hrs before the first game. If your athlete is hungry then a high-performance snack (2) can be offered up to 1hr before the game. Avoid rich/high-fat or unfamiliar foods to avoid an upset stomach. A comprehensive list of meals, foods, and ‘Energy Boost’ snacks, which are ideal for in-between games, can be found in the Sports Dieticians Association factsheet (2).

  • Training: athletes should complete an active ‘cool down’ for 5-10 minutes after each game to allow the heart rate to slowly return to baseline. Dynamic movements such as light jogging, walking, and active range of motion exercises (where joints are moved continuously through their natural range) are ideal. Contrary to popular belief, static stretching (where the stretch is held at the end of range) does very little to promote recovery or help with muscle soreness (5).

  • Stress: Ensure athletes have a chance to engage in restful and enjoyable activities during breaks.

AFTER Tournament

  • Sleep: it’s normal for your athlete’s sleep needs to increase in the days following the tournament. Ensuring that your teen has the opportunity to sleep a little longer will ultimately enhance their recovery (1). Avoid early morning commitments in 1-2 days following a tournament.

  • Nutrition: returning to a more ‘balanced’ diet with a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and fats will provide the nutrition required for repair and recovery (2). Post-tournament is a great time to enjoy the occasional takeaway food, especially if it’s an enjoyable social meal with teammates.

  • Training: Complete physical rest may seem appealing to an exhausted athlete but continuing some activity is important for aiding blood flow, which in turn supports recovery. To avoid overuse and figure-related injuries opt for light-intensity non-basketball exercise like walking, swimming or yoga in the days following. Training can recommence once the athlete is feeling refreshed and has had adequate rest (roughly 48hrs).

  • Stress: Ensure your teen has time for mental recovery to unwind, relax, and socialise.

There is a small amount of evidence to support cold water immersion (6) and massage for further recovery in adults, but it’s not well-researched in adolescent athletes. Incorporate them into your athlete’s recovery if you wish, but never at the expense of the above pillars of recovery. The largest bang for buck in recovery will come from sleep, nutrition, appropriate training load, and stress management.

Supporting the recovery strategies of your teenage basketball player is a huge part of being an involved and caring basketball parent. By emphasising sleep, nutrition, and mental wellbeing, you can help your teen thrive in their sport while minimising the risk of injuries. A well-fuelled and well-recovered athlete is generally a happier one. Investing in these recovery strategies could help more teens, especially females, to continue playing for years to come. Remember, your guidance and support play a significant role in shaping their athletic journey and overall wellbeing. Be sure to take care of your own physical and mental wellbeing through these gruelling tournaments as well- you’ve got this!

Hi, I’m Rach. I’m an exercise scientist on a mission to inspire and empower people to play sport. Whether you're preparing for your first game or just want to know more to support your teen athlete, my beginner-specific content inspires and educates. I share expert advice, beginner-friendly tutorials, and funny fails from my own journey.

Head over to @kindofsporty_ on Instagram to check it out!


1. Sleep and the Young Athlete DOI: 10.1177/19417381221108732

2. Fuelling Active Kids: Junior Basketball Players

3. Sports-Related Injuries in Youth Athletes: Is Overscheduling a Risk Factor? DOI: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e3182218f71

4. Sports Specialization, Part II: Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes. DOI: 10.1177/1941738115614811 Teens and Tournaments: Strategies for Optimising Recovery 5

5. Post-exercise Recovery Methods Focus on Young Soccer Players: A Systematic Review. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2021.505149

6. Cold applications for recovery in adolescent athletes: a systematic review and meta analysis. DOI: 10.1186/s13728-015-0035-8


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