Put me in Coach –I’m ready (and rested) to play!
Brendan Duffy discusses the importance of optimal rest for your peak performance
You can feel it in the air. Winter is finally almost done! The ice is disappearing and the flowers are starting to appear after a long winter.
Down in Florida and in Arizona, the baseball boys of summer have arrived and have started to prepare for another grueling travel filled 162 game season.
Yes baseball is back, and with the season just around the corner, teams are trying to make sure they are preparing the proper way. While spending much time preparing to face their familiar opponents, there is another opponent that they are focusing on that is coming to the forefront more often now in professional sports … How to deal with player fatigue.
Along with the preparing for the long season, the travel, the extra inning games, the rain delays, the travel delays, the time away from home and family, they also must prepare and learn from sleep professionals about how to get sufficient rest so they do not wear down physically and mentally as the season grinds on.
Fans may not realize that for a 7pm start time during the season, a player may get to the park at 1 pm and work out, or hit batting practice for an hour in the batting cage, or perform other tasks or complete required training. The trainers and team managers must find the right mix of training and rest for each athlete.
The New York Yankee’s management actually made schedule changes this month in their spring training facility in Tampa to better simulate the regular season's steady diet of late games and late wake up times in the morning. They instructed their players not to arrive until 11:30 AM so that they could get some extra shut-eye. Their manager, Joe Girardi, told the players he would not be impressed if he saw them early at 7AM so please stay in bed and get the rest! The players have noted how much better they feel and they self report better ability to focus as opposed to on their old schedule of waking up at 5:30AM to arrive at their training facility at 730 AM .
Past sleep research studies have indicated that as the baseball season wears on, the players have more of a propensity to swing at bad pitches. This is thought to be attached to fatigue as they play deep into the season. This decline has been happening since 2006 and it is probably no coincidence that it is around the time that amphetamine use was banned in baseball. Prior to this, these stimulants were readily available to players in the clubhouse. Ron Darling, a former pitcher for the Mets said about amphetamines that the expression among MLB players was “you don’t go out on the field alone” – referring to the use of these meds to help you focus on the field.
Chipper Jones, former Atlanta Braves star, stated after the ban on amphetamines in the clubhouse that it would “eliminate the marginal players’. He spoke out against their rampant use during his playing days. He stated it was almost as much a part of the players uniform, much like carrying a glove. And while use of ampletamines may have helped players focus on the field, it could make for a more difficult attempt at falling asleep later.
Times are changing. More scrutiny and testing is being implemented to try and discourage drug abuse of these types as a solution to maintaining alertness during a long season of games that are sometimes slow paced or long extra inning affairs. Now teams are working with sleep scientists and other companies to help players manage sleep and fatigue during the season. They are now using better sleep tools such as blue light blocker glasses, more seat room on airplane flights, better travel schedules, naps, more days off during each month, and sleep hygiene education rather than amphetamines.
Just a few days ago Prince Fielder, a star with the Texas Rangers, was sent back to Texas from spring training to get tested for his difficulty sleeping. Perhaps this difficulty was highlighted once he was forced to wake up at the mandated early start time for daily training and could not “sleep in” until he felt refreshed as he was able to do in the off-season. Resolving this problem now is a great idea for both the player and the team as they start the season. Other studies have indicated that the players with problems sleeping tend to be out of the majors at a quicker pace than those that do not have problems sleeping.
All this research is encouraging if we wish to see athletes truly perform at the best of their best natural abilities. One day they will retire and they will not be saddled with dangerous and addictive habits that were honed to maintain their place on a major league roster.
As teams do more to keep their players fresh, and include sleep and rest as an important part of an athlete’s regimen, we hopefully will see well executed and well played games during the long summer and 2016 World Series - and more importantly, healthier athletes that understand how sleep is an important part of their training!
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