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Match fit – Lessons from the beautiful game

The beautiful game

A privilege to be invited by Glamox to speak at the football museum in Dortmund alongside the wonderful Ralf Heinen and Torsten Braun. This shiny shrine to soccer covered every angle – there was even a practice net for penalty shootouts on the ground floor. And yet, there was one gaping hole in the line-up.  The lights! 

We take night-time games for granted. And yet, innovations in lighting and football go hand in glove. 

The first night time game, held in 1892, was really a sales pitch for John E Cummings, the local distributor for General Electric – Joyce’s Search Tip.  One of the players was injured running into the light pole in the middle of the pitch and the game was abandoned at half time because nobody could see what they were doing. Today, the UEFA guidelines are very exacting, demanding an average horizontal illuminance of more than 2,000 lux, colour temperature above 5,000k, less than 5% flicker and colour rendering index of at least 80 –  UEFA Stadium Lighting Guide 2016.

Delivering these TV studio light levels in the open air come at a heavy price for the neighbours and the planet too.  Football stadiums account for between 10% and 30% of the light pollution in their home cities here in the UK, more than street lights and advertising billboards put together according to a recent paper led by a citizen scientists – The Scale and Impact of Sports Stadium Grow Lighting Systems In EnglandThis recent House of Lords report is a grim catalogue of physical and mental health conditions, paradoxically directly linked to sports stadium sky glow –  APPG for Dark Skies.

An estimated 28% of the electricity is wasted lighting up the night sky – Light pollution and sports lighting in dense urban areas: Early results in a case study of a stadium.

But when we look beyond these obvious issues on the pitch, premier-league football has some valuable lessons to teach the armchair enthusiast.

Optimising timing for peak performance

Night time fixtures are best for night owls: they’re firing on all cylinders around 11 hours after waking while larks and middle of the road types are ready for bed – we do our best work  between 5.5 and 6 hours after the alarm goes off – Sleep and chronotype influence aerobic performance in young soccer playersThe Impact of Chronotype on the Sleep and Training Responses of Elite Female Australian Footballers.

The problem is that an evening match – just like a meeting after hours – means they get to bed later, and lose1 1/2 hours on average – Influence of Night Soccer Matches on Sleep in Elite Players , Sleep and chronotype influence aerobic performance in young soccer players.

Crossing time zones to the West gave National Basketball League players a 16% advantage compared to those heading East – Greater circadian disadvantage during evening games for the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and National Football League (NFL) teams travelling westward.

That loss of sleep makes them – and you – likely to get hurt – Case Study: Sleep and Injury in Elite Soccer—A Mixed Method Approach.

One study found an over 2-fold increase in injuries after less than 8 hours sleep in army training – Chronotype and Social Jetlag Influence Performance and Injury during Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Physical Training.

But learning about sleep hygiene, including morning and evening light exposure improved the quality of sleep in football players by 11% – Acute sleep hygiene strategy improves objective sleep latency following a late-evening soccer-specific training session: A randomized controlled trial.

Please join me at the Atrium showroom in London on the evening of the 20st of November to learn more about the science of circadian rhythms – and earn CPD credits too! link to register is here.

Sight and diet

Early research with elite baseball players drew a link between levels of carotenoids and the ability to catch, bat and pitch. Simply eating more greens improved visual performance, reaction times and processing speed. It also improved ability to recover from the damage caused by staring up into the sky to cats the hall – Influence of the dietary carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin on visual performance: application to baseball.

We can now see the power of the visual system effects in action – Macular Pigment Optical Density – an indicator of those caretonoid levels in the eye and brain-  is critical for eye-brain health in pre-teens too. New work shows a link between MPOD levels and more efficient cognitive processing and the ability to maintain focus with lower cognitive load – From neuro-pigments to neural efficiency: The relationship between retinal carotenoids and behavioral and neuroelectric indices of cognitive control in childhood.

Colour and performance

Individual wavelengths trigger different pathways in the brain as we saw in the articles last week. But coloured locker rooms and uniforms also seem to affect how we feel and behave.  The celebrated Baker Miller pink experiments in the 1970’s suggested that painting prisoner cells in this colour could reduce heart rate and muscle strength to effectively render aggression impossible. More recent studies have debunked this myth, pointing instead to the ‘colour in context’ theory – essentially your associations with a colour will trigger a powerful physiological response. So if you associate pink with your feminine side it will be harder to throw a punch – The Myth of Baker-Miller Pink: Effects of Colored Light on Physiology, Cognition, and Emotion?

The basic problem is to isolate the cause from the effects: are you behaving differently because you feel tougher in red, or because others see you differently in that colour? Either way, red seems to confer an advantage in perceived dominance compared to blue (which paradoxically means that the referee is more likely to be tougher on your side) – The influence of colour in the context of sport: a meta-analysis.

Whatever the mechanism, colour has the power to put us in a winning mood.

You don’t need to paint the walls though – a coloured LED strip will transform the space at the touch of a switch – (Neon Flex delivers the light without the dots). 

Detecting deception

Those hours of practice teach elite athletes how to spot deception much more quickly and accurately than the rest of us, essentially by training a parallel visual response pathway – their internal motor model.  They essentially  put themselves in the other person’s shoes to spot subtle inconsistencies between the signal and the action.

This may be relevant to negotiating skills in the office too.

When scientists study wired up different kinds of players with transcranial stimulation that blocked selective signaling pathways. They found that all players could use visual information to predict the direction of the ball but only experts, particularly goalkeepers were able to combine that visual input with internal motor representation to predict moves at lightening speed – Neural underpinnings of superior action prediction abilities in soccer players.

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