WHEN you are in the business of getting the best out of people, there are a lot of things to consider.
The balance in physical, mental and spiritual wellness for athletes, students, employees and artists will eventually define if they succeed in their goals or not.
Finding that necessary balance by pushing here and pulling there becomes the ultimate goal for those that want to accomplish something extraordinary.
Over the course of these 50 plus weekly sports columns, I have written about a variety of things that can both positively and negatively influence the outcome of a performance.
Some things you simply have no or very little control over; like natural given talent or body type (a combination of your parents genes), the climate you live in and the air that you breathe.
However, other things are well within your own reach of adjustment and control: your daily food intake, your physical conditioning (strength, flexibility, speed, endurance, power, agility and coordination), your personal hygiene, your mental and spiritual condition, the use of supplements - which I STRONGLY advice NOT to take! (I refer to my column on 26 February 2014) - and the amount and the quality of your sleep!
Any coach, instructor of teacher that has taken the time to learn something about biorhythms, circadian (internal) clocks, sleep and nap patterns and jetlag protocols will draw the conclusion that different cultures have different ideas about the subject sleep which comes with its own pros and cons.
From my own experience I can share this with you.
I’ve worked in countries where people wake up every morning early with the first sunlight and go to bed when the sun goes down.
I’ve also worked in countries where people spend most of their time indoors (due to the extreme cold weather) and seldom see direct sunlight, which makes them moody and depressive.
On the other hand, I’ve also worked in three very different geographical countries with an enormous amount of daily sunlight and heat, which makes people happy but a bit slow and lazy at certain times.
And all of these countries have produced excellent athletes, students, employees and artists.
It is widely believed that humans are at their best when spending one third of their day sleeping. But even the smartest of scientists still haven’t really found any conclusive evidence why exactly we need to sleep - but they have found very strong evidence that being deprived of sleep for a long period of time causes serious health issues.
So generally speaking, about eight hours per 24 hours should be spent sleeping - preferably in the dark and in a horizontally position.
And we know sleeping usually takes place at night.
Looking at the animal kingdom we see there are animals that sleep at night just like humans do and there are animals that sleep during the day and live and hunt during the night.
I deliberately make this comparison with the animal kingdom because our ancestors also decided to sleep during the night and live and hunt during the day - since this was their most logical option.
In the dark you don’t see much, so you better rest. During daylight it’s easier to catch prey, so you better hunt. Simple.
And then we invented fire and later electricity, and everything changed.
Not only did we start cooking, baking and grilling our food (which will be the subject of a future column), but we also had light in the dark whenever we wanted, so from now on we could be active at night and be inactive during the day - if we wanted to.
And now many years later this is where we are today. Some professions partly or entirely take place at night.
Stewardesses, journalists, night shift nurses, musicians, security guards, bartender, waitresses, office building cleaners, etc. The result of that is that those people will have to sleep (partly) during daytime to make up for the usual night time rest.
This is also the case for some athletes and coaches. At least in swimming it is (and I know also in sports like gymnastics).
My own situation is that I wake up four to five times a week at 4.15am to coach young athletes in the swimming pool from 5-7am who then go to school, have their second session in the gym and pool from 3.30-6.00pm, go to bed at 9.00pm again to get ready for another early morning the next day.
While this is not ideal, swimming from 5-7am is the only possible way at the moment to combine lots of training before school hours.
As you likely know for yourselves, schools in Brunei are not exactly encouraging young students to be extraordinary in anything else other than memorising textbooks, so an option to enter the school a bit later which would allow these young athletes to train from 6-8am is simply not present (I can feel another future column coming up!).
It is what it is, and over the years we have found a way, just like millions of other young athletes all around the world have.
A coaching colleague of mine told me once: Champion swimmers are built during countless, invisible morning practices!
Now, ones of his swimmers would end up becoming the most decorated Olympian ever with 18 gold medals, and that same boy just announced yesterday that he is making his comeback to competitive swimming and is committed until the Olympic of Rio 2016.
His name? Michael Phelps (you might have heard of him).
So how do these athletes, musician, stewardesses, night shift nurses and the rest do it?
How do they still get enough sleep to get through the day?
Well, some of them shift their night and day rhythm slightly (which is doable but socially difficult when you’re in a relationship) and many of them take what is called power-naps, short naps from 20-40 minutes at a time which make you wake up refreshed.
Some athletes have become really good at it. They can sleep almost anywhere, anytime on command. You should try it one day when feeling tired (for example after driving back from Miri at night) put your car on the side, take a 20-minute power nap and continue your journey. You’ll feel refreshed.
I myself sleep with a sleep tracker. A device you wear around your wrist at night that registers the amount and the quality of your sleep. It wakes you up at the appropriate time, which is usually between REM and non-REM sleep cycles.
Therefore, you will accomplish a better, deeper sleep and more importantly, feel more refreshed when you wake up. I can highly recommend these relative cheap and widely available products.
Another recommended product to improve your sleep can be found in the form of a free smartphone app called Entrain.
It helps you to stay refreshed while crossing time zones through a jetlag protocol. I myself and many athletes I’ve coached have had great experiences with protocols like these.
You basically train your brain and body to start adjusting to light and dark before you cross a time zone. Highly recommended for any serious business-person or international athlete!
Often I hear from colleague-coaches in Brunei that they don’t understand how I’ve managed to get such a large group of dedicated athletes to show up at the swimming pool at 4.45am to start their workouts at 5.00am. They almost cannot believe it.
To them I say this: If you yourself are not able to stand up daily at 4.15am, how do you expect young athletes to do so?
Lead by example! Make it happen! Be creative!
Here’s a little trick: most of the population and therefore most of the athletes in Brunei are Muslim, so most of them will be awake around 4.15am anyway since this is around the same time they start their morning prayer.
Find a way to engage the parents of these athletes to bring their kids them to the sports venues where their coach is eagerly awaiting their participation for that day!
And think about this when you wake up tomorrow morning (while I’ll be coaching): If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren't willing to do (Michael Phelps).
(Eric Landa, PhD, is the aquatic sports head coach of Brunei and his ambitious goal is to deliver the first ever aquatics medal for Brunei by the Sea Games in 2019, held in Brunei)
The Brunei Times