Taking the Academic Route – a reflection.

I wrote the bulk of this post on Facebook (highest form of evidence) last week after some reflection. Having attended the BASES Student Conference over the last few days, and whilst listening to the keynote speakers such was Prof. Graeme Close, Micheal Naylor, Nick Grantham and Dr. Steve Ingham, I decided to add to it and publish as a blog post.

So here it is:

Into the final few days at university after 5 years.

I was the kid at school who didn’t do particularly well, consequently I was always told to concentrate on studies rather than football. That wasn’t going to happen. Football is my life and has been since I was 9.

I actually started a degree in 2006, but quit after a year and a half. On reflection, I probably wasn’t that bothered about Sports Science/S&C/Nutrition. I just wanted to play or coach. After another serious injury, and my inquisitive nature, I knew there was more to my rehab, to strength training, to my pitch based training. I went back in 2013 and started all over again (fortunately I was allowed back on my course, but had to start from the bottom again).

It has been a challenging, but interesting, few years. I have suffered loss, that of close friends in tragic circumstances, and close family members. I won’t lie, this has been incredibly difficult to process.  I have also had to hold down a full time job and work in football. It’s not been easy, far from it. Time management is crucial – I found that out the hard way.

One defining moment for me was sitting in my hotel room a couple of years ago. We had just beaten Rangers 5-1. I was elated to have been part of the game and the occasion, especially being the first women’s game ever at Celtic Park. I opened an email from the University, and the mark was low, very low. I listened to the audio feedback: “Andrew, this is problematic, very problematic at this stage of your academic career”. From elation to utter disbelief. At that moment everything changed, I decided I never, ever wanted to hear those words again. Ever. I went to work and asked to cut my hours, taking a hit financially was tough but one of the best things I have ever done. I new I had to give it my all. I had quit before and that wasn’t going to happen.

I have been incredibly lucky to have the support from so many, from fellow practitioners, academic staff, family & friends and those within the clubs I have worked with over the past 5 years (especially those at Celtic FC), its been a long journey, but its coming to an end (this part anyway!).

On Thursday I presented the results of my study at the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science in Newcastle, and have had a couple of articles published recently – of which I am incredibly proud (I failed English Language GCSE btw!).

But this post is more about what I have learnt along this incredible journey as opposed to me:

1) Read everything – you will never stop learning.

2) Ask questions, seek out the best in your chosen field and get to know them, ask them what you want to know, be proactive. You will learn far more from listening.

3) Understand your why, what makes you tick and consistently set goals and evaluate them.

4) Be patient. Easy roads lead nowhere. Take your time.

5) Fail upwards. There is no failure, only feedback.

6) Go get as much experience as you possibly can, don’t expect everything to fall into your lap neither. It won’t. You need to develop your craft and then keep refining it.

7) You are never too old to try something new. If I can do this 26 years after leaving school, anyone can!

8) Get out there, go on field trips, visit clubs, do whatever it takes to learn more.

9) Keep your feet on the ground, and stay focussed. There will be huge highs and demoralising lows – but you must learn from the lows. There is a lesson in everything in life, seek it out. There will be detractors, and that can be difficult at first, but don’t give them airtime.

10) Excellence doesn’t go unnoticed, neither does BS. Work hard, seek to improve, but more importantly strive for excellence instead of perfection. Recognition will come at the right time, the right place, with the right people.

I really hope that these words will inspire just one person to go and push themselves to better themselves.

Oh, and one final point…

Maybe you can concentrate on your studies – and do the study in football.


Recent articles:

A critical review of the gender differences in male and female ACL risk factors and prevention in soccer.

Women’s football & the menstrual cycle – how can we further individualise?


Critical Thinking vs Criticism

I have been meaning to write this particular blog for a long time – so here it goes!

Often in a world dominated by social media, it sometimes feels like it is acceptable to judge a point of view on how many retweets or like a post get. In turn, interactions are created between authors and followers that may have positive and negative consequences for both parties.

However, are we losing the art of conversation and debate? Where does criticism end and critical thinking begin (or vice versa!), and what is the difference between the two?

Let’s start by having a look at two very broad definitions:

Critical Thinking

“The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising or evaluating information from, or generated by, research, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication as a guide to a belief and action”


“Being inclined to judge severely and find fault”

Critical thinking is an active process as we are effectively thinking about our own thinking, constantly evaluating our thoughts and actualising. Criticism is a passive process whereby we act on our first desire, thought or emotion without any evaluation. As there is no real evaluation or questioning in our thinking or any process involved,  criticism is easy to give and often hard to accept.
Critical thinking is not negative and should not be perceived as such. Whilst critical thinking is about judgement, which can include finding faults, it has more emphasis on questioning and analysis, whereas criticism will have negative undertones as it is finding fault based on passive thinking and / or emotion.
Another big difference is getting personal, something I have seen a lot of on social media very recently. Criticism is more than often directed at a personal level. However, critical thinking should always be directed towards the argument (this may include published work, or theories / concepts).
The critical thinker is open minded, will question their assumptions/beliefs and consider all views, but not necessarily accept them.
The Open University (2008) uses a ‘stairway’ to demonstrate the skills involved in the critical thinking process:
Step 1: Process – Take in the information (i.e. in what you have read, heard, seen or done)
Step 2: Understand – Comprehend the key points, assumptions, arguments and evidence presented.
Step 3: Analyse – Examine how these key components fit together and relate to each other.
Step 4: Compare – Explore the similarities and differences between ideas.
Step 5: Synthesise – Bring together different sources of information to serve an argument or idea you are constructing. Make logical connections between the different sources that help you shape and support your idea.
Step 6Evaluate – Assess the worth of an idea in terms of its relevance to your needs, the evidence on which it is based and how it relates to other pertinent ideas.
Step 7: Apply – Transfer the understanding you have gained from your critical evaluation and use in response to question.
Step 8: Justify – Use critical thinking to develop arguments, draw conclusions, make inferences and identify implications.
Source: ‘Critical thinking: online guidance’, the Open University (2008) no longer available but cited in Williams (2009)


Hopefully this blog has demonstrated not only a few of the differences between critical thinking and criticism, but also the real skill in training the mind to think critically.
Further reading:

Williams, K. (2009). Getting critical. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reading Scientific Literature

After a long month I have recently completed a literature review for a research project I have been working on. Anyone who has been through this process will empathise that it can be a long, laborious task that can be painstakingly frustrating at times. However, it is an incredibly important part of the research process. It can often feel like a project within itself, but it is a key academic skill that demonstrates the ability to not only critically review the relevant literature available for a research project,  but to identify any gaps  within the literature that you will be attempting to address in your own research.

Reading scientific papers is something I am used too and it provides the underpinning of my practice. However, it is a skill to be able to read a paper and interpret it,  something that can seem daunting to those from a non-scientific environment.  Every now and again though a paper will come out that lead to an individual (or group of individuals) reading the abstract and forming a conclusion based on this very small part of the paper. This can lead to total mis-interpretation and mis-information being passed on.

For this blog, I am going to attempt to put some small tips up to help you with reading the various sections of a scientific paper. It is worth noting that there is no set-in-stone way of reading a paper, but hopefully the following tips will help you make sense of the scientific literature.

The starting point for me before searching for a paper is by asking myself what my research question is. It could be, ‘Does squatting improve sprinting in footballers?’ or ‘What are the absolute speed thresholds in female football players?’

After a brief search (PubMed, Google Scholar, EBSCO, University Library etc) and finding literature that relates to my question its time to get reading.

Generally, research papers are split into six sections, while others may read papers in a completely different order. However, for the purpose of this, blog I am going to keep to the order in which the sections of the are paper generally divided:

Title & Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion & Conclusion

Read the Title & Abstract 

It may sound incredibly obvious but this is the first step. While reading this part of the paper I am asking myself if the paper is relevant to the question I am asking. The abstract will give you a quick overview of what the paper is about and will help you decide whether the paper is actually relevant to what you are researching. The abstract will summarise why the research was needed, how the researchers carried out their investigation, what they found and how the found it, and what the key takeaway points of the study are. Bear in mind here that most of this information will be condensed into 100-250 words, but should give you a good idea of whether this research is applicable to your research question. While it is short, the abstract is valuable and can help you to ask yourself the following questions:

What is the study is about?

What was investigated and why?

Who are the researchers? Are they credible?

How did they carry out the research and why did they do it a particular way?

When did they do the research? Is it recent?

Where was this research carried out? Is the journal peer reviewed?

After asking these questions you should be able to decide whether or not the paper is going to be of any use in helping you answer your research question. If you are still not sure then read on…

Read the Introduction section

In this section the authors are doing there best to provide you with some background information on their research topic. The introduction though is not a systematic review of their topic. However,  the introduction should give you some information that can connect the research and the bigger issues or provide the writer’s argument as to why this research is important. It should start to become clear now whether the paper has any relevance to your question.

Understand the methods 

For some (and I include myself) this is the most important part of the paper. But it can also be a love/hate relationship for some! It can sometimes seem overwhelming, and appear to be the most difficult section to understand. What did the researchers do to get their results? This is where we need to ask questions about the methods used. Was there any bias in the authors methods? One key point here for the methods section is that if you fail to understand the methods used by the researchers, it could be very difficult to judge the veracity of their results and conclusions. Understanding what the gold standard research methodology here may be incredibly helpful e.g. did investigators use hydrostatic weighing for body composition analysis or did they use handheld bio-impedence device in their methodology? If you feel that the quality of methodology is sufficient, read on! It is worth spending a lot of time on the methods, and try to understand the experimental set up, how the data was collected and and how the authors analysed their data. The methods (and results) section allow you to deconstruct paper to ensure it stands up to scientific rigour.

The real meat – the results

This is the real nitty-gritty of the paper, where we can start to draw our own conclusions about the research. We can normally extract different types of information from the results section: the data from the research methods, ideas about how to improve the methods, and an understanding of how the data is represented. The results could tell you the real story about the experiment! Make sure you examine each figure and table, read the figure legend so you understand what all the research variables are, and head back to the methods section if you’re unsure of how the data was collected.

The Discussion & The Conclusion

Its not uncommon to have the conclusion included in the discussion section, hence the reason I have included them together here. This is where the authors are trying to demonstrate the value of their research and express their opinion. In short, the researchers will interpret their results and discuss at length what they think their results mean to their field of study. They may try to put their results within the context of other studies or exchange ideas for future studies or the authors may acknowledge any limitations in their research methodology.  The key point here its that the discussion may only be the authors opinion or their own interpretations, not necessarily the facts. The discussion section is still a great place to gain ideas on areas within research that may still have unanswered questions and the authors can do a great job of interpreting their results and relating it back what others have found. Here we can find the takeaway points from the authors research (if any!) and/or any recommendations the authors make based on their research. Overall this section can provide some interesting points and help you with points that you may not of thought of before.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is no set way to read a paper. Interpreting the paper is a skill, and as repetition is the mother of skill, I would thoroughly recommend going back over the paper, reading areas you didn’t understand, and highlighting areas you feel are important.

If in doubt – read again. Not all studies are created equal!












The High Performance Orchestra

There are many parallels that can be drawn between high performance sporting environments, other industries and life itself. All of these, to some extent, require a great deal of management to get the best out of an individual, or group of individuals.

However one parallel in the elite team environment is that of the orchestra.

“One analogy [for the manager] is the conductor of a symphony orchestra, through whose effort, vision and leadership, individual instrumental parts that are so much noise by themselves, become the living whole of music. But the conductor has the composer’s score: he is only interpreter. The manager is both composer and conductor”

Peter Drucker

In team sport there are clearly defined roles of others that make up the team and these are influential in the team’s success, and this is no different to the orchestra.

The coach of the team is the conductor of the orchestra.

The conductor doesn’t play an instrument but will have a great knowledge of many different instruments and it is the conductor is responsible for preparing the orchestra, through deep practice, to perform when necessary and ensure that each member is given every chance to achieve their collective goal of a stunning musical performance.

It is important that the conductor identifies not only the strengths of each member of the orchestra but also their weaknesses and defines the individual responsibilities as a team member. Every member of the orchestra should not only be prepared fully as an individual, but should also understand that they must work collectively at their very best to perform their flawless symphony. It is the conductor who ensures that every member of the orchestra understands their roles for them to perform effectively and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance, such as an orchestral or choral concert. It has been defined as “the art of directing the simultaneous performance of several players or singers by the use of gesture.”


The conductor may also face many challenges in their career as it is the conductor who must make decisions on who stays and who goes. It is a tough task but an essential one, those who do not perform consistently well as an individual or as part of the team will be cut.

The conductor must ensure that the musical score is performed the way they hear it in their own head. The plan is ready, but the execution is crucial. The conductor must choose the works to be performed and study their scores and make any adjustments (e.g., regarding tempo, articulation, phrasing, repetitions of sections), work out their own interpretation, and relay their vision to the orchestra to play effortlessly.

The very best conductors attract the very best players. Average conductors attract average players. The best musician’s want to work for the very best conductors.

Every orchestra must have its leaders among the instrument groups. Every instrumental group has a principal who is generally responsible for leading the group and playing orchestral solos. For example, the principal first violin is called the concertmaster (or “leader” in the UK) and is not only considered the leader of the string section, but the trusted second-in-command of the entire orchestra, behind only the conductor.  Each of these leaders help to bring the composer and conductors visions to life with not only flair and style but with consistency and a stunning execution of the plan.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that in the orchestra every member has a very specific, individual role to play, to be a success though each member must play their role with absolute conviction to push the boundaries of performance for the good of the team.

But what can we take from the orchestra to the high performance team environment?

  1. Be clear with the roles and responsibilities of the team members
  2. Coach and teach but provide feedback to work on strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Lead from the front. Most musicians in the orchestra are much more talented than the conductor, but look to the conductor for leadership.
  4. Great conductors must inspire, create excitement and have a clear vision.
  5. Understand when to lead and when to allow others to lead.
  6. Without the orchestra the conductor is nothing.
  7. The conductor is aware of his gestures and how they will impact and influence others. A conductor can’t afford to make an unintentional gesture. Everything means something.

Coaches: To Be or To Do?

As coaches we are privileged to be in a position that allows us to witness some remarkable achievements from our players. We have the pleasure of helping others along their path to success, whatever that may be, to reach heights they thought they would never reach.

Along this path to success the player’s will meet many others who will have an equal, or greater influence on their journey to the dizzy heights of elite football, it’s not an easy path to take and every player and coach will experience the ups and downs that come with success.

A part of coaching is self reflection and in order to evolve as coaches we must continually question our philosophy and purpose – the why of our coaching practice. We must look deep inside ourselves and decide do we want Credit or Influence? Or as American Fighter Pilot John Boyd said, “To Be or To Do”.

You have probably never heard of John Boyd.

Boyd was a quite brilliant fighter pilot, he was undefeated and earned the nickname “40-Second Boyd” for his famous ability to win an aerial dogfight in less than one minute,  Boyd served in the United States Air Force for twenty-four years and through three wars.

However, despite his celebrated career and his contributions – he was never promoted above colonel. Despite never reaching the heights of colonel, Boyd stubbornly refused to stray from his principles for the sake of advancing further.

In his excellent book, Ego is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday describes Boyd:

“Boyd undeniably changed and improved his field in a way that almost no other theorists since Sun Tzu or von Clausewitz. He was known as Genghis John for the way he never let obstacles or opponents stop him from what he needed to do. His choices were not without their costs. He was also known as the ghetto colonel due to his frugal lifestyle. He died with a drawerful of thousands of dollars in uncashed expense cheques from private contractors, which he equated with bribes. That he never advanced past colonel was not his doing; he was repeatedly held back for promotions” 

Boyd was, in a way, a non-conformist. He refused to follow orders down to the final detail just because they were orders, his superiors criticised his abrasiveness while his peers described him as brilliant. Despite his brilliance many of his superiors tried to sabotage his career  frequently passing him over for promotion.

However, Boyd did not quit his job and he continued with his work and was assigned to the Pentagon, although he quickly realised that he hadn’t joined the military to look good in a uniform glittered with rank and file badges.

According to his biographer Robert Coram, Boyd was driven by his desire to “change people’s fundamental understanding of aviation”  He wanted to make a change in the way people thought about air conflict.  John Boyd, despite regularly being pushed away from promotion, understood that the best way to change an institution is not from outside, but to stay in and work for change within it from the inside.

Despite his constant disappointment of not being promoted, Boyd continued his work and used his influence to stick to his principles.

Ryan Holiday describes a conversation between Boyd and one of his mentees:

“One day you will come to a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.

If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises, you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club, you will be promoted, and you will get good assignments.

If you go the other way, you can do something. Something for your country, and for your airfare, and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments. And you will certainly not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and yourself. And your work might make a difference.

To be somebody, or to do something.

In life, there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.

To be or to do, which way will you go?”

To Be or To Do? This question is relevant to coaches during self reflection; do we want to take credit for someone else’s success or do we want to be proud of the influence we have had on that success, however large or small that may have been?

Is Boyd right?? Totally.

There will come a time as a coach when you have to decide if you want to be someone that just does stuff, or just talks about doing stuff, if your goal is taking action and constant progression or if your goal is credit and accolades.

John Boyd despite being anonymous to many of us, was a man who stuck to his principles and influenced from within whilst leaving a legacy. Credit, medals and promotions never  made him tick, influencing others through his work was driven by his desire to be the best he could be.

“To Be or To Do – life is a constant roll call” (Ryan Holiday)

Further Reading:

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Coram, 2004)

Ego is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent (Holiday, 2016)


Alcohol and Performance

Alcohol is the most commonly used recreational drug globally and its consumption, often in large volume, is deeply embedded in many aspects of Western society (Barnes, 2014).

But is it optimal for athletes?


(ăl′kə-hôl′, -hŏl′)


1. Any of a series of hydroxyl compounds, the simplest of which are derived from saturated hydrocarbons, have thegeneral formula CnH2n+1OH, and include ethanol and methanol.
2. A colorless volatile flammable liquid, C2H5OH, synthesized or obtained by fermentation of sugars and starches andwidely used, either pure or denatured, as a solvent and in drugs, cleaning solutions, explosives, and intoxicatingbeverages. Also calledethanol, ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol.
3. Intoxicating beverages containing ethanol considered as a group: the national consumption of alcohol.

The human diet has four sources of energy: Carbohydrates (CHO), Proteins (Pro), Fats and Alcohol.


As well as providing a source of energy, alcohol (ethanol) has metabolic, cardiovascular, thermoregulatory, and neuromuscular actions that may affect exercise performance (Shirreffs and Maughan, 2006).


However, alcohol is non-nutritional and can only be broken down in the liver (at an average rate of 150mg per kg per hour) which inhibits the formation of glycogen and slows the elimination of lactate.


Research overwhelmingly suggests that alcohol use and athleticism do not go hand in hand, in fact alcohol consumption can have a negative affect on overall performance and  from the athletic performers perspective the acute use of alcohol can influence motor skills, hydration status, aerobic performance, as well as the recovery process; consequently, influencing subsequent training and competitions. (Barnes, 2014)


Chronic use of alcohol may lead to poor body composition, nutritional deficiencies and a depressed immune system, leaving the player exposed to illness and injury (Barnes, 2014; Volpe, 2010) and motivation for training and playing may decrease due to the depressant nature of alcohol.


The effect that alcohol has on an individual depends on many  factors such as genetics, gender, volume of alcohol ingested, type of alcohol consumed, body mass, nutritional status – which explains the large variance that the effects of alcohol has across individuals.

Post training / competition we must recover from the stress that has been applied so that we are fresh and prepared for the next session / match, to recovery properly from exercise it is important to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), rehydrate and replenish glycogen stores. Alcohol, however, can interfere with many of these essential post-exercise components and hinder the recovery process.


Replenishing glycogen stores is essential component to recovery, especially when the turnaround between training and competition is short (which is most weeks in football!). It is unclear if alcohol consumption after exercise directly affects glycogen synthesis; however, alcohol can indirectly displace carbohydrate and protein intake (Burke et al., 2003).When protein-rich foods are displaced with alcohol during the post-exercise recovery period, MPS is not optimally stimulated, which can potentially inhibit muscle growth and repair.  A recent study by Parr et al., (2014) found that alcohol significantly decreases MPS even when adequate protein is consumed.


Further to negative effects of alcohol on energy storage and MPS, alcohol has also been shown to negatively affect sleep (both quality and quantity), recover from injury, and the production of hormones associated with muscular growth (Barnes, 2014).


Recent research has found that large doses of alcohol intake after resistance exercise increased cortisol levels (stress hormone) and decreased the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio, which can interfere with the adaptive process of long-term resistance training (Haugvad et al., 2014). However,  its worth acknowledging that sample size of this study was small (eight males and one female), but it was noted by the authors whilst neither a low nor a high dose of ethanol adversely affected recovery of muscle function after resistance exercise, the increased cortisol levels and reduced testosterone/cortisol ratio after the high ethanol dose could translate into long-term negative effects.



When players experience soft tissue injuries, an inflammatory response is triggered by the body to deal with the injury and begin the healing process. Alcohol, when added to the equation, has been shown to limit this inflammatory response via an increase in the production of anti-inflammatory molecules and a decrease in pro-inflammatory molecules (Barnes, 2014).


In addition to an imbalance of the inflammatory response, alcohol also acts as a vasodilator, which increases blood flow to the injured area, and this may not only increase the severity of the injury, but hinder the recovery process (Barnes, 2014). This can seriously impact the rate and outcome of recovery from injury.


To add to all of the above, central nervous system (CNS) function is impaired at high doses, resulting in decrements in cognitive function and motor skill, as well as behavioral changes that may have adverse effects on performance (Sherriffs and Maughan, 2006) and the residual effects of alcohol consumption (the hangover!!) has shown to decrease aerobic capacity by approximately 11% (Barnes, 2014).


Whatever your opinion on alcohol, whether or not it is your tipple of choice post exercise (or pre in some cases!) – I hope this blog has given you some insight into the possible effects of alcohol on performance and how it may influence your recovery from training and games.




Barnes, M. (2014) ‘Alcohol: Impact on Sports Performance and Recovery in Male Athletes’. Sports Medicine, 44(7) pp.909-919.

Burke, L., Collier, G., Broad, E., Davis, P., Martin, D., Sanigorski, A. and Hargreaves, M. (2003) ‘Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise’. Journal of Applied Physiology, 95(3) pp.983-990.

Haugvad, A., Haugvad, L., Hamarsland, H. and Paulsen, G. (2014) ‘Ethanol Does Not Delay Muscle Recovery but Decreases Testosterone/Cortisol Ratio’. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(11) pp.2175-2183.

Parr, E., Camera, D., Areta, J., Burke, L., Phillips, S., Hawley, J. and Coffey, V. (2014) ‘Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training’. PLoS ONE, 9(2) p.e88384.

Shirreffs, S. and Maughan, R. (2006) ‘The Effect of Alcohol on Athletic Performance’. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 5(4) pp.192-196.



You Snooze, You Lose?

Sleep and its effect on athletic performance is an area of growing research which is gaining greater and greater momentum.

Any elite athlete will tell you the value of sleep for recovery and regeneration purposes and how vital it is for them to get good quality sleep. It’s not just elite athletes who know the value of good quality sleep, we should all be able to benefit in some form paying attention to our sleep hygiene (sleep duration, evening rituals, lighting, napping, nutrition).

Often, a lack of sleep is seen as a badge of honour, “oh I had two hours sleep and still worked out” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Great.

“Sleep is the best meditation”
Dalai Lama

Let’s have a look at some of the science of increased sleep and benefits to performance.

Research by Mah et al., (2011)  managed to demonstrate that elite level college basketball players at the  were able to improve their on-the-court performance by increasing their amount of total sleep time.

Extensive research has shown the impact that sleep debt has on cognitive function, mood and physical performance. However,  very few studies have looked at the other end of the spectrum: the effect that sleep extension can actually have on physical performance.

Now, how many times have we been told to get a good nights sleep the night before a competition? But what about the rest of our training week?

Back to the study. Over the course of two basketball seasons, Mah and her colleagues worked with 11 elite college players with a goal of investigating the effects of sleep extension on specific measures of athletic performance, as well as reaction time, mood and daytime sleepiness.

Mah and her colleagues asked the players to keep to their normal nighttime schedule (sleeping for six to nine hours) for two to four weeks (during this time baseline data was collected) and then aim to sleep 10 hours each night for the next five to seven weeks. During this latter period, players avoided drinking caffeine and alcohol, and they were asked to take daytime naps when travel prohibited them from reaching the 10 hours of nighttime sleep.

At the end of the sleep extension period, the players ran faster 282-foot sprints (16.2 seconds versus 15.5 seconds) than they had at baseline. Shooting accuracy during practice also improved: Free throw percentages increased by 9 percent and 3-point field goal percentage increased by 9.2 percent. Fatigue levels decreased following sleep extension, and athletes reported improved practices and games. On average the players had slept for an additional 1 hour and 50 minutes each night. What is interesting is that these were elite players, not children or junior athletes but elite collegiate players.

At the start of the study, using a questionnaire, the authors discovered that many of the players had a moderate to high level of daytime sleepiness and appeared to be racking up a sleep debt. As the season went on the players reduced their sleep debt and the player reported notable benefits in training and performance due to the increased sleep time. However the authors did note that it is unclear whether this period of sleep extension eliminated all sleep debt. Without utilizing an Multiple Sleep Latency Test (a sleep disorder diagnostic tool), it is very difficult to determine whether objective sleepiness, and thus sleep debt, was completely eliminated.

The authors concluded though that extended sleep beyond one’s habitual nightly sleep likely contributes to improved athletic performance, reaction time, daytime sleepiness, and mood and that it is likely that optimal sleep habits and obtaining adequate sleep will play an important role in peak performance in all levels of sports. There were some limitations to the study which was noted by the authors, the sample size was small and the study didn’t focus on in game performance, only measures from their testing battery.

While things such as nutrition and physical training are part of an athlete’s daily regimen, should it be that athletes at all levels focus on optimizing their sleep as a tool for recovery. They are usually just told to get a “good night’s sleep” before a competition, which as Mah and colleagues have demonstrated, may not be enough.

Good sleep hygiene is critical for quality sleep and recovery in athletes. A strong foundation of good sleep habits is essential and is especially helpful when you may have difficulty sleeping during competition or post-exercise. Our bodies like regularity, so start by evaluating whether you have a regular approach to sleep. Then, ask yourself if you’re following these tips on sleep hygiene:

1. Optimize your sleep environment – make your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. A sleep environment conducive to quality sleep is important both at home and on the road. Make sure your bed is comfortable.

2. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Our bodies like regularity so prioritize the same bedtime and wake time every day.

3. Establish a regular 20-30 minute routine before bed – try reading, journaling, listening to music. A regular routine before sleeping can help your body wind down and anticipate sleep. Turn off television and remove smartphone from the room.  Take a warm bath or cool shower.

4. Reduce liquid consumption 2 hours before bed & avoid large fatty meals. Stay hydrated during the daytime, but reduce liquids before sleeping. Make it part of your routine to stop by the bathroom before turning out the lights to reduce awakenings at night. Cut down on caffeine.

5. Difficulty sleeping or have a racing mind? Try 30 minutes of stretching before your 20-30 minute routine before bed. Utilize this time to process your thoughts on practice/game before winding down to sleep. Breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation may also be useful.



Further reading.

Mah et al., (2011) The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players

Marshall and Turner (2016) The Importance of Sleep for Athletic Performance






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