On a team long, long ago, I had a player with a troubled friend in her dorm. This friend would have episodes which involved seizures and scary blackouts. My player, ever the mother hen, felt it was her duty to stay up with her friend even though these episodes happened during the wee hours of the morning. This would happen night after night.
No sleep for days.
And she expected to be able to function well in the classroom and in the gym. She would tell me, “Don’t worry coach, I don’t need much sleep.” Huh?
Not every scenario is as crazy as this one. Some are just your players stay up too late doing homework. Or they aren’t able to get uninterrupted sleep. Or they think they can party the weekend away and pay the homework piper on Sunday.
This should be important to us not only because we’re counting on our athletes to perform, but also part of our role in their lives is to teach them how to be functioning adults.
What’s the problem?
According to this Harvard Business Review article, Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer, there are four parts to sleep that affect performance. The first part is our natural drive to sleep. We think we’re in control of it, but essentially, our bodies will force us to sleep if we put it off too long. The second is the amount of sleep we get over the course of a few days. The third is the part of us that says, “Oh, it’s light outside, it’s time to get up.” Finally, there’s the groggy wakeup. Apparently, we need about twenty minutes in the morning to get our bearings.
What can we do about it?
- If we schedule morning practices, we’ve got to give them time to truly wake up. If I go in the morning, I usually do some sort of conditioning first. That way, they don’t have to tax their brains until later in the practice.
- We’ve got to talk to them about how important sleep is to their performance.
- If there’s a way to show them they’re not being heroic by staying up all night writing papers and studying, we’ve got to show them.
- Sleep has to be equated to going to the training room, getting strong in the weight room, and watching film…it’s what we need to do in order to be good.
The article equated lack of sleep with drunkenness. We wouldn’t tolerate our players being in a perpetual state of intoxication and we shouldn’t tolerate sleeplessness either.