March 29, 2010
Athletes learn about health, leadership
National Guard leads youths in team-building exercises
Nine Cortland High School students stood Saturday in a gymnasium at SUNY Cortland’s Park Center and tried to work as one unit, walking as they kept their feet on strips of cloth and lifted their feet using stirrups.
It was a mess at first. Senior Justin Burns took over.
“Left foot when I say ‘one’ and right foot on ‘two,’ ” Burns told the others. They followed his lead, moving steadily across the gym floor. He switched to saying, “One, two, three, right foot.”
For 45 minutes, the students tried different team-building exercises, guided by Staff Sgt. Stanley Norton of the Army National Guard. Burns often led, along with fellow senior Alexis Keeney. Gradually, all of the group’s members began to offer suggestions for how to solve problems.
Problem-solving, team-building and leadership exercises were part of the Cortland Area Communities That Care Coalition’s 4th Annual Youth Conference. The other part focused on how to improve as an athlete and student, by following sound nutritional habits and avoiding alcohol and drugs.
About 100 students from Cortland and Homer high schools, all athletes, participated along with their coaches. Volunteers from CACTC and SUNY Cortland helped to manage the event, which concluded with a keynote talk by John Underwood, a national-caliber runner who now trains Olympic athletes and is a consultant for the Navy SEALS.
CACTC is a community group that supports youths by trying to reduce teen pregnancy, delinquency, substance abuse and violence.
Divided into teams of eight to 10, the students tried team-building exercises such as the walking in unison, lifting a 6-foot rod using only their index fingers, rolling a ball through a series of handheld chutes, crossing a distance by erecting a plank bridge and turning over a tarpaulin while the entire group stood on it.
They also took part in an exercise directed by Tim Davis, a SUNY Cortland physical education professor who specializes in adaptive physical education, where they tried moving about in wheelchairs. They then headed for presentations about emergency medical care, the danger of concussions and the impact that alcohol and drugs can have on the mind.
The group led by Burns and Keeney was a mix of ages and sports. The group surprised Norton by lifting the 6-foot rod using not their fingertips, as everyone else tends to do, but by crossing index fingers with the person across from them and resting the rod between them.
“I’ve never seen a group do that, in five years of leading that exercise,” Norton said.
“I always try to take control,” Burns said, adding the rod-lifting method was Keeney’s idea. He said he began to solicit ideas from the other students because it would make them more comfortable.
The Homer varsity girls’ softball team did the exercises as one group. Coach Cris Colasurdo said she wanted to get the girls working together before the season, and to identify leaders.
“It looked like it was good for kids,” she said of the whole afternoon’s mix of advice and interactive events.
In a classroom presentation during the afternoon, Underwood told groups of about 12 to 15 students that talent is not enough, they must work hard to achieve. He said that only 2 percent of high school athletes play a sport in college, and high school athletes tend to reach only 40 to 65 percent of their potential because they are distracted by other things or do not work hard enough.
He said even Olympic athletes he has polled said they could have achieved more.
Underwood showed the students how marijuana smoking over years causes the brain to work harder to perform simple tasks.
He urged them to sleep six hours and 40 minutes per night. He said spending too much time with electronic devices, such as a computer or cell phone, hurts their ability to sleep.
Underwood told the students that the 12 hours after they work out are crucial, as the body recovers 70 percent in the first hour, 20 percent in the second to eighth hours, and the final 10 percent in the eighth to 24th hours.
He said to help their bodies by eating protein and carbohydrates after they work out, along with some sugar. He suggested soda as a sugar source, just four to six ounces, not an entire 12-ounce can.
He said a protein drink and chocholate milde are better than a protien bar.
For carbs, he suggested raisins, Fig Newton cookies, dried fruit and bananas.
“There were a lot of things to learn, for adults as well as kids,” said Bob Vidulich, Cortland cross country and track coach. “The material about nutrition is important, although I was surprised to hear him talk about drinking soda, since we’re always told it does no good.”
Vidulich said he hoped the wrestlers among the students would understand the value of nutrition, as they lose weight to reach their weight class.
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