"Make everyday your masterpiece" ~John Wooden 

Slumber Power

         Most serious athletes’ covet the ultimate training regime or plan that is going to maximize performance. Many training theories exist that have seen considerable amounts of success. What a lot of athletes fail to realize is that they all possess one of the vital golden keys to athletic success, sleep. Slumber  is highly underestimated when it comes to athletic success especially from teenagers. Any good track and field coach or athlete knows that regeneration of the body is just as integral as miles and repetitions ran. The health benefits, cognitive boost, and emotional impact from the power of sleep is remarkable; especially when considering that in large part sleep is free. The best way for an adolescent athlete to improve in a variety of avenues is by controlling their sleep. What exactly is the power of sleep? What strategies are available to achieve healthy sleeping habits? An exploratory search into the power of sleep unleashes a torrent of countless research experiments done on the subject. 

       Sleep provides us with an assortment of benefits. According to the sleep researcher Robert Stickgold,  sleep aids in a “multitude of biological processes-from the inner workings of the immune system to proper hormonal balance, to emotional and psychiatric health, to learning and memory, and to the clearance of toxins from the brain.” (Stickgold, 2015) Understanding Stickgold’s research, athletes are less likely to get as sick with a cold or the flu. They should release hormones at proper training times, which allows for a more focused approach towards intensive workouts. Athletes can remain or build more confidence with their fitness because emotionally they are not fatigued from lack of sleep. Anytime humans feel strong they make quick gains with their athletic performance.

        Relationships with loved ones also improves with a habit of good rest. It makes us smarter by allowing us to absorb and recall more information.  Sleep is the greatest weapon for any athlete/person who wants the best version of themselves. In one of Stickgold’s studies, he found that even going one night with sleep deprivation leads to memory imbalance, which could poorly frame the athlete's mind. “The rather horryifying possibility that when you are sleep-deprived, you effectively form twice as many memories of negative events in your life as of positive events, producing a biased-- and potentially depressing memory of your day.” (Stickgold, 2015) His findings are terrifying. Take for example prom, which occurs during the prep sports spring season in Colorado. Athletes from Broomfield usually attend an after party called JAM at the school which ends at 5:00am.  If a serious athlete stays up so late and breaks from their normal sleeping patterns, the effect will leave the athlete with a negative framing of the mind. By being aware of this information hopefully athletes will try to make more sound judgements in what they choose while deciding between their sleep and social interactions.

          Most research for sleep in adolescence states that the average teenager needs to be getting at least eight hours of sleep a night. Their bodies are going through many rapid changes that sometimes may interrupt various systems in the body. If students are getting below eight hours of sleep or over ten hours of sleep it drastically affects their mood negatively.(Prabhune, 2017) This too,  provides insight for coaches trying to maximize peak performance. Loading up on sleep on the weekends defeats the purpose of establishing proper behavior for optimal health benefits. Therefore athletes who truly want to take action in getting to levels they never dreamed possible must create a strong steady sleep schedule regardless of the day.

           Reading about data and understanding the researchers conclusion can seem indirect, and sometimes difficult to apply to an individual's routine. However when taken seriously and  a balanced sleep schedule is properly implemented there is concrete evidence that sleep can boost athletes on the track, court, field, diamond, or any other field of competition.

           Just examine what sleep researcher Cheri Mah did with Division I basketball athletes. She conducted an experiment on the Stanford Men’s basketball team. She took baseline measures in sprints, reactions, shooting accuracy, and attitude for a couple of weeks based on their pre-established life routines. Then she instructed the team to get at least ten hours of sleep for two weeks and conducted the same tests after two weeks. The results showed that the athletes had faster sprint and reaction times, increased their shooting accuracy, and psychologically felt better. Imagine in a perfect situation that a track coach has all of their athletes get the appropriate amount of sleep every night, which the magic window is 8-10 hours for adolescents. The benefits would be personal records, better performance consistency, more confidence at bigger meets, and more unity as a team.

          According to The Sleep Foundation only 15% of teenagers get the appropriate amount of sleep. These figures are staggering. On average, that means only a handful of athletes competing for the BHS Track and Field are getting the requisite amount sleep to be at their most efficient.  Teenagers do not sleep for various reasons: catching up with schoolwork; overly stressed; irregular sleep patterns; substance abuse; socializing; excessive video games, movies, and television. One of the greatest mistakes that I made as a high school and collegiate athlete was not getting the appropriate amount sleep. In college I would go to bed around midnight to 1am and would wake up around seven. I was only getting six-seven hours of sleep. This at the time did not seem catastrophic, but I limited myself completely with the control to modify my behavior, I just severely lacked the knowledge.

         The greatest detriment to a good night's sleep for a teen is their phone. The connectivity of the devices in the 21st century has introduced another behemoth of an obstacle towards a good sleep schedule.  Many “teens are increasingly foregoing sleep for texting, using social media or watching videos on their phones. Teens who used electronic devices at least five hours a day were 50 percent more likely not to get enough sleep,... That's compared to students who spent only an hour a day on such devices.” ( Oosothek, 2017).  People, especially teens are becoming more dependent on their devices and it is devouring critical sleep time and some good argue critical thinking skills. The blue lighting on many devices that are used, tricks the human brain in thinking that it is daytime not the evening. This artificial illusion on the brain must be stopped by the greatest perpetrator, ourselves.

        Another essential component to sleep is the actual quality of sleep that we all get. Psychophysiologist Leslie Sherlin, suggests that sleep is more than just the hours logged, but people should be aware of other variables such as heart rate, core temperature, and darkness of environment. Elite athletes are elite sleepers. Now, I’m not saying all athletes need to take their temperature before going to bed but they certainly could make better decisions by eliminating technology use around their sleeping quarters and darkening their rooms.

         Sleep is important know one doubts that, but athletes that want to see and feel the greatest gains need to take sleep as seriously as they would approach their training and diet. The health improvements that comes from constant solid sleep and the emotional boost, creates athletes that coaches want to be around. Sleep makes us super and their is power in that 

          

The Intermediates

          Cross-comparison of athletes in sports is commonplace for networks like ESPN and Fox Sports. You will hear comparisons to Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Tom Brady as all time greats in their respective fields. What many of these analysts fail to recognize is one of the greatest athletes of all time Edwin Moses. In fact, Edwin Moses, arguably is the greatest athlete in regards of longevity at the highest level. In traditional team sports you need more collaboration to be better. Moses  won two Olympic gold medals, broke four world records, and was victorious in 122 consecutive races. 122! In other words Moses did not lose a professional race at the international level once from August 26, 1977 until June 5, 1987. Moses is the epitome of the hurdler. Hurdlers are as pragmatic and resilient as they come. Moses was a specialist at the intermediates and track teams should place emphasis on developing intermediate hurdlers.

          The event, in high school,  itself is a race that is contested at 300m around a traditional 400m track with eight hurdles that are 36” high for male athletes and 30” high for female athletes. From the start to the first hurdle athletes have 45m to build up speed, after that the hurdles are spaced 35m apart leaving only a narrow 10m finish off the last hurdle. With each hurdle comes the opportunity to make several mistakes.

          Possible mistakes at each hurdle could be take off position (too far/too short), floating a hurdle (not transferring speed through a barrier), non-linear movement over a hurdle (creating imbalance and deceleration), clipping a hurdle (depends on what part of the body makes contact with the hurdle but nonetheless not ideal), mental weakness (self explanatory), physical weakness (lack of training), slow trail leg (loss of velocity), gaining/losing a stride (rhythm disruption), skying a hurdle (parabola too high creating posture collapse), and lack of grit (not willing to make yourself uncomfortable, you have no business delving into the 300s).  The intermediate hurdles requires the greatest blend of skills necessary to compete at any level. Hands down it is the greatest event at a track and field meet, yup I went there.

          The intermediate hurdle requires a physically fit body but the mind also needs to be just as resilient to stress. As described above a lot can go wrong. Rarely does a hurdler have a perfect race. The most accomplished hurdlers understand that mistakes are inevitable it is how you eliminate them as much as possible. With each hurdle and the distance in between; there are a lot of possible pitfalls. If a critical error is made in the first hundred meters the veteran hurdlers know that they are more likely to physically feel it on the last two hurdles thus more output is needed to get over the hurdle and maintain momentum. To have the presence of mind to compute all this while in the middle of long sprint takes composure.

       The best type of athlete that competes as an intermediate hurdler is patient, coordinated, curious, gritty, and unperturbed. The hurdler understands that acquiring the skill and technique takes drill after drill, repetition over repetition. Patience is also another key element, and a trait that I need to constantly remind myself to have. Ideally any elite intermediate hurdler will have the gift of natural speed. Speed helps in almost every event; long jump, pole vault, 100, 200, 400. 800, 1600, and yes even distant events.

          Hurdles are poetry in motion, that is the only way to explain the beauty and mystique of the intermediate hurdles. The nuances of track and field are plentiful, but the event that blends all the disciplines together is the intermediate events. A hurdler needs the explosiveness of a short sprinter/jumper, the technical know how and focus of a discus thrower/vaulter, the aerobic ability of a miler, the anaerobic tolerance of a long sprinter  and mental composure of any true athlete; these skills are necessary for success in the intermediate hurdles (High School 300m Hurdles, College/Pro 400m Hurdles).

          I love the 300IM with all of my heart and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I start feeling exhilaration when the 400m is being contested because I know that the 300s are next. Giddy with anticipation I strategically located myself just past the 200m mark in between hurdle 5 and 6. It is the part of the race where earlier mistakes make your legs feel as if they are filled with lead. It is the spot where many races are won from a pure desire to do so, yet at the same time it is where they ugly monster of doubt might prevail. It is the spot where athletes transition their momentum on the home stretch where the hurdles go from 36” to 63”. Not true of course but ask any runner and those last two hurdles seem pretty high. I love every second of the event and what it is able to teach each athletes that commits to it.

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