It’s been a while. The team is back from All Star Break, and I’m getting back to writing from what can be thought of as some serious paternity leave. My wife and I had a new little girl over 3 months ago, which is, incidentally, about when I stopped adding entries. Why? My head wasn’t in it. Instead, it was trying to handle all that comes with a newborn: no sleep, two kids under two, spit up, diapers, white noise, RSV; the list goes on. I’ve lived in the throws of no sleep land before, but this time, it just got to me. I was not mentally prepared. I’ve been thinking that my daughter, as wonderful as she is, has stolen my sense of humor and creativity along with my sleep. Then I realized, as I’ve been slowly emerging from the Walking Dead, that I know how to make the Utah Jazz better. Much better. And it’s not by suggesting that Ty redistribute 15 of Jefferson’s nightly minutes between Evans and Burks, or by suggesting that Ty convince Hayward and Burke to donate half of their shot attempts to Evans and Burks. No, my idea is much more foolproof. The Case of Seattle I was incredibly bored by the superbowl this year. But as I watched the Seahawks demolish the team I thought was the best in the NFL, I recalled an article I read in ESPN the Magazine that was written before the season started, and the result suddenly became intriguing. How could this team, with a very young QB at the helm and no obvious superstars, be so dominant? The article, entitled “Lotus Pose on Two” by Alyssa Roenigk, chronicles Pete Carroll’s attempt to change the fundamental method of coaching. And what he is doing there should be turning heads. He has sold this idea that “happy players make for better players.” He is mandating yoga at practice, he frowns upon yelling and swearing, and he’s worked to create status profiles on every player that is updated weekly on an app which tracks the players’ sleep, life situation, stressors, coping methods, and all sorts of other things you would expect to see parodied on an episode of Portlandia. It’s the antithesis of the Dolphins’ Incognito culture and the Saints’ headhunting culture. It’s a revolutionary coaching approach that was just validated by the score of 43-8. I decided to do some poking around on Google Scholar searching for alternative methods of improving athletic performance. And the results have blown my mind. This is pretty new stuff that could change everything for teams who are brave enough to change. And the key is to change first. Then you become the destination spot for players, the envy of the league, the name brand for trendsetting. This is what Carroll has done in Seattle. Let’s do it here. Sleep Gains Three years ago, the Stanford men’s basketball team was enrolled in a study on sleep and performance. The players were told to sleep as long as possible every night for 5-7 weeks, with a minimum goal of 10 hours per night. Those who succeeded at this “excessive sleep” saw their FT% improve by 9% and their 3pt fg% improve by 9.2%. That was not a mistype. Think of what an extra 9% 3pt and FT shooting would do for this team. Yikes. Disclaimer: if this article I’m writing is 9% less funny and 9% more tedious than my previous posts, all of you know why. I’m going to drive the point home here. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s noticed Hayward’s increasingly frustrated facial expressions as his percentages have circled the drain. Here’s a theory. He announced his engagement around Christmas. Five to seven weeks later, his FG% is 30% and his 3pt FG% is 18% for the month of February. I can think of a few reasons his engagement might be stealing his sleep. Just sayin’. Emotional Freedom Techniques About 5 years ago, 26 men and women on PAC-10 basketball teams participated in a study evaluating something called Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT. This consists of a subject “recalling an emotionally traumatic event, measuring its intensity, pairing the recall with a self-acceptance statement, stimulating 13 specific points on the body which are claimed to produce a calming response, and then retesting intensity to determine if the intervention is reducing stress.” Cool. In this controlled study, those who received actual EFT treatment before shooting free throws saw an average improvement of 20.8%. Apparently this EFT process can be done in as little as 30-60 seconds. Who knows, maybe this could get Beidrins on the floor. Can you see him on the sideline during a timeout with eyes closed, getting “stimulated” by the trainer at 13 spots on his body, then calmly checking in to drain two free throws for a win? Now that would turn heads and start trends. Pins and Needles Apparently, sticking needles in your ear can be helpful as well. In 2011, a guy named Lin did a study on “male elite university basketball players” involving auricular acupuncture. The players who received the acupuncture saw significant improvements in recovery after exercise over those getting the sham treatment. In a review article from 2010, acupuncture was shown generally to “increase muscular strength and power” in athletes. Another 2010 study showed that acupuncture before marathon prep led to “highly significant enhancements in running time and complexity factors.” There is such convincing new evidence for the benefits of acupuncture in athletic performance that an article was written in 2011 entitled “Goal-Directed Acupuncture in Sports: Placebo or Doping?” The scientific community is asking whether acupuncture for athletes is ethically akin to doping. Ethics aside (ha!), it seems that acupuncture helps athletes. And there are no rules against it. Yet. Feel the Beat LeBron loves his Beat headphones. I used to listen to “Eye of the Tiger” before my high school wrestling meets. We both dominated. [Pausing for comedic emphasis]. In 2013 some scientists studied the effects of synchronous music (music with a heavy beat) during warm-ups on athletes’ subsequent short term maximal performances. The paper found “significant ergogenic effects.” The music gave players increased perception of self-esteem and sense of confidence, enhanced arousal, and facilitated motor coordination, leading to boosted self-efficacy. Want to be as cool as LeBron with his Beat headphones? Drop the words “ergogenic” and “self-efficacy” in normal conversation a few times. I think lots of players use music already. Before the game, our own PA pumps out Imagine Dragons during lineup announcements. But why give this advantage to the opposing team too? I think we should ask our announcer to play some Vivaldi Four Seasons before the game starts, and slip our players some Bluetooth earphones so they can get their own private bit of Kanye for tip-off. Hey, in a game often decided by inches and seconds, why not? Hypnotized I’m going to out my wife. She had me go with her to a hypnobirthing course in preparation for the delivery of our first child. Because my wife is very strong minded, I didn’t think she was a prime candidate for hypnosis. I was right: class practice breakout sessions where I was supposed to read her a script that would numb her hand and then guide that “anesthesia” to her pelvis (this is not a joke, fathers to be….mock at your own peril) ended in riotous laughter from my wife which gave us “leper” status in the class. But I still found it fascinating that this technique has helped many women be able to tear all sorts of ligaments and tissues and change the actual shape of their pelvis to expel a 10 pound mass without any drugs to assist them. There must be something to it. In one study, hypnosis techniques including relaxation, imagery, hypnotic induction and regression, and trigger control procedures were found to dramatically increase 3pt% in collegiate basketball players. Another study similarly demonstrated increased jump-shooting and set shooting performances after hypnosis, which returned to baseline in the post-intervention phase. The players all stated that the intervention was useful in keeping them confident, relaxed and calm. Think of it as giving a vet’s advantage to a rookie’s mind. Trey Burke, how would you like to get hypnotized? Mindfulness In the past five years, the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology has been publishing interesting work on mindfulness in athletic improvement. The researchers developed a 4 week intervention course entitled “Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement,” which taught the athletes how to develop awareness of and manage personal perfection standards, sports related worries, parental criticism, and other expectation related pressures. They found significant improvement in performance both immediately after the course and a year later. The same researchers found that basketball players’ “mindfulness score” predicted their free throw percentage. The more mindful they became, the better they shot. Other researchers have found similar results. So it appears that the mind-body connection is a real thing. Mr Rogers tried to tell us. Maybe we should have listened. Bringing It Home Still skeptical? Consider home court advantage. This year, the home team wins over 56% of the time just by being at home. Obviously, one benefit is that the crowd cheers for the home team. This leads to reinforcement of player confidence which leads to better shooting percentages and greater effort. Less obviously, the players are more likely to be well-rested at home. Their diets may be better and their personal stressors may be lower because they are home. What if these advantages could be given to our players on the road? And boosted at home? What if the culture of this team was such that every player couldn’t wait to give their best, felt excited to be here, and received an unmatched sense of camaraderie, companionship and brotherhood in the locker room and around the coaches? In the garden of my mind, I’m visualizing a team that sleeps 10 hours every night, has daily meditation, yoga, and hypnosis sessions, and has personalized counseling on mindfulness and stress management. A team that gets acupuncture before games, EFT in timeouts, music therapy, almost exclusively uplifting feedback from coaches, and acceptance into a culture of wellness. A culture that is so pervasively saccharine that players cry when they are traded, and coaches cry with them. Science and I basically guarantee that the Jazz would see improvement at a much faster rate by doing this than by pursuing the one-player-a-year tanking improvement method. And the organization would turn heads. Which could be worth millions in the NBA world. The Utah Jazz would be on the path of the Seahawks. Feel free to call me anytime, @GreginUtah. I’d be happy to help.
Yesterday I found myself in a rocking chair reading a book to my 22 month old while holding my sick 3 month old, and in the middle of the book, my older daughter reached over and gently took the hand of my younger daughter. She held it comfortingly until I finished and put her to bed. Such a little thing for this sleep deprived guy to see, but it made all the difference in the world for me. Seemingly simple things can do that. Suddenly, my head was in the game. I was home, and it felt good.
Credits Huge thanks to www.taxisquadshow.com for publishing this on their site, and to @clintonite33 over at www.purpleandblues.com for promoting this. Check them both out. Also thanks to @Markpeacock11and @giftedpeacock for the shout outs. I am happy to include your twitter handle here if you retweet or tweet out the shortlink http://wp.me/p3AlgK-4K and include my handle @jeffersoniandoc. You’re awesome for reading.