At the most basic level, sports are focused on simple goals: How far can someone carry a funny-shaped ball down a striped field, or how many times can they put a ball through a hoop. But that doesn’t mean we can’t glean some real life lessons.
At the professional level, a lot of time and effort is put toward ensuring a team performs those simple tasks to the best of their ability. Just ask David Tenney.
As high performance director for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, his job is to manage an entire staff of nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, psychologists, conditioners and trainers, all dedicated to ensuring individual members of the Magic are in peak condition when they step on the court.
It’s all about making the best decision for the individual players, which, in turn, is the best decision for the team, Tenney said.
“That’s where the rubber meets the road in professional sports: How do you, as an organization, make very good decisions?” he said. “You don’t just say: Oh, he’ll be fine, he can play.”
“First, broadly, people performing at their best is a mixture of working hard and then recovering,” Tenney said. “The five main areas would be sleep, eating, hydration, activation prior to exercise, and strength.
“And then, once you’re on the court, knowing what your body can tolerate and how much you should do and for how long.”
Those may be geared toward professional athletes, but they’re pretty useful off the court, too. Ever tried to run a meeting on little or no sleep? And how well do you concentrate if you’re feeling bad because of a junk food binge? Let’s take Tenney’s list and build it out:
Sleep is key
Experts recommend that most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. To help that along, make sure you have a good sleeping environment – cool, dark and quiet. If quiet is a challenge, try some white noise devices. Establishing a bedtime routine is helpful, too, especially one that eliminates electronics before bed.
Professional athletes obviously have special dietary considerations, but eating right is important for everyday health, too. To be at your best, ensure you are getting the three foundational nutrients:
- Macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates
- Micronutrients: vitamins and minerals
- Phytonutrients: organic components found in fruits and vegetables
As a rule, to ensure you get the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, make sure they take up half your plate at mealtimes. (If you need a little help, consider dietary supplements to help fill the gaps.)
Drink your water
Every cell of your body is affected when you don’t get enough water. Even your bones are made with water. How much you should drink each day depends on your body size, your physical activity, and even the climate in which you live.
The average person should drink between 72 and 96 ounces of water each day to replace fluids lost through daily activities. If you have an 8-ounce glass, that’s between 9 and 12 glasses each day. Too busy to think about it? Here are some tips!
Activation is the technical term for warming up your muscles. Doing some small exercises with the muscles you’re about to really work on tells your brain to get those muscles ready, or activate them so they can perform at their best when the real challenge comes.
Off the court, it might be compared to drinking coffee and reading your email to get your brain ready to take the deep dive into your main project for the day.
It’s not just for bodybuilders and professional athletes. It has real benefits for your overall health, too. It can help you reduce body fat, burn calories more efficiently and prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that happens as you age.
It can also help develop strong bones, manage your weight, improve your balance and sharpen your thinking and learning skills.
One more thing: Regular exercise
It wasn’t on Tenney’s list, but that’s to be expected for people with a full-time job running up and down a basketball court. For the rest of us? We should try to get 20-30 minutes of movement three to four times a week – even if it’s just walking.
Don’t you wish you had your own personal high performance director to keep you on track? Unless you plan on joining a professional sports team, you’ll just have to settle for tips and tricks like this. Here’s some more.