Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating", identifies the "nutritional gatekeeper" as the individual (usually one parent) who is responsible for the purchase and preparation of the food items allowed and eaten in the home. After all, the food in the house is the food that is eaten.
Responsible for approximately 70% of what a child eats, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the "gatekeeper" is in charge of not only the home-cooked meals, but also snacks, packed lunches and restaurant meals.
I propose that coaches are also nutritional gatekeepers.
Some coaches don't realize this role, leaving it up to parents to make decisions about nutrition for the entire team. This can be a good thing (a parent who brings nutritious foods) or not (one that serves up processed items, sweets or sugary beverages), depending on who is in charge. When parents vary on their opinions about what constitutes a healthy food versus an unhealthy food, it can make things more difficult. Many coaches want to steer clear of this conflict.
Other coaches take full control of gatekeeping, going as far as implementing a snack policy, a drink standard, a junk food rule and even a training diet. For example, my daughter's volleyball team has a "no junk food" policy during tournaments (these last 3-4 days) and water is the drink of choice. My son's soccer team had an orange slice and water snack policy.
Still, other coaches are somewhere in between. They may feel they have some control over the food items their athletes eat, but also feel it is the parent's responsibility to feed them.
When the coach or parent doesn't take a stand, a real snack policy may not emerge. I think that's why snacks on the playing field are a controversial topic today. Nobody has emerged as the clear leader.
The team needs a nutritional gatekeeper.
I think the coach should take on this role, whether assuming the responsibility or assigning it to a responsible parent. Acceptable snacks and drinks should be outlined upfront, and followed.
We all have to be stronger in our position on good nutrition for athletes. It's our responsibility to set the expectation and practice of good nutrition.
Do you think there is enough nutritional gatekeeping in youth sports? Sound off in the comments below!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
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