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Effects of air travel on the performance of Wanderers Players


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I noticed this article which concentrates on the effects of air travel on sportspeople.

 

The article specifically refers to the amount of air travel undertaken by the Wanderers last season & includes comments from our strength & conditioning coach Adam Waterson.

 

I suggest all Wanderers fans, particularly those who question Popa's rotation policy, read the article. 

 

http://www.ultimatealeague.com/blog/2014/07/up-in-the-air-the-performance-of-the-wanderers-in-201314/

 

Up In The Air – the performance of the Wanderers in 2013/14

July 31, 2014 by Jonathan Northall

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The 2013/14 season for Western Sydney Wanderers fell slightly short of their impressive first season in the A-League. Having finished runners up to Brisbane Roar in the league, they were denied again by Brisbane with an extra time defeat in the Championship game.  In addition to their domestic campaign, Western Sydney started their first Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign.  Being so close, but yet so far away, from repeating their success, an analysis of their season may allude to where things went slightly awry.

One difference between the two seasons was the amount of travelling required.  Domestic travel is part and parcel of Australia’s expansive geography.  However, combining this with regular trips to Asia, it begs the question whether there could be a compound effect.

In order to understand the issues, the science of air travel needs to be considered and how it can impact on the performance of professional athletes.  There have been many studies conducted on the effects of air travel. A 2013 review by the British Journal of Sports Medicine explored air travel and professional athlete’s performance.

The science of air travel shows that there are three main effects: changes to the circadian rhythm (body clock), depletion of oxygen from the body (hypoxia), and lethargy in limbs due to lack of exercise.  The human body runs on a circadian rhythm of 25-26 hours so crossing of time zones changes sleeping patterns.  The effect of this (‘jet lag’) is that cells in the body change abruptly and therefore stop the body functioning efficiently.  The review made reference to two separate studies that looked at travel and team performance in sports.  One study, of Major League Baseball in North America, demonstrated a correlation between travelling through time zones and decreasing numbers of games won.

Looking at the Wanderers’ 2013-14 performances, after travelling, does suggest that there may be some credence to the studies.  The home winning percentage, after returning from away games, is 46% (won 6, drawn 5, lost 2).  Compared to their overall win percentage of 56% then it may suggest a connection.  Staggeringly, home games won without travel (i.e. back to back) shoots up to 80%.  The BJSM review suggested that travelling from east to west was less detrimental to performance than travelling the other way.  Western Sydney did slightly better because their win-draw-loss record, after west to east journeys, was W4-D2-L2 compared to W0-D1-L0 for east to west journeys.  A calculation of their air travel last season suggests that they racked up over 50,000 air miles.  Another way to look at this is that they spent close to 5 days in the air merely travelling to games.

Seeking a knowledgeable opinion, I spoke to Dr Craig Duncan who is an expert in the field of sports medicine.  He is senior lecturer in sport science at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), has worked extensively in football in Australia, and most recently was director of performance for the New South Wales State of Origin team.

“There is no doubt travel can have a significant impact on the circadian rhythm and thus performance. Efficient sleep should be a major priority for any athlete as there is no use striving for 1% advantages if sleep is inefficient. Travel and change of time zones can affect the hormonal balance and thus sleep. Poor sleep increases fatigue and therefore leads to a decrease in performance and increased risk of injury. A systematic approach to travel can decrease these negative effects.â€

Taking a methodical approach regarding travelling can involve several different methods.  One way of arresting the effects of jet lag is to take melatonin.  Followers of AFL will be aware of melatonin, as this is the drug that Essendon’s James Hird got into trouble with as part of a wider doping story.  It isn’t a banned substance on World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) lists.  Dr Duncan has considered other factors that need to be addressed:

“I always advise athletes to limit the consumption of food and caffeinated beverages during travel. It’s also vital that athletes remain hydrated by primarily drinking water. It is also imperative not to drink alcoholic beverages during this time.â€

Reduced oxygen pressure in air travel does have a short term debilitating effect on athletes.  â€œModern commercial airliners fly with a cabin altitude of between 4,000 and 8,000 feet when at cruising altitude, which means a reduction in ambient pressure of the order of 20% compared with sea level and a consequent reduction in blood oxygen saturation of about 10%†(‘Your Patient and Air Travel – A Guide to Physicians’ from British Airways Health Services).  Dr Duncan put this in the perspective of professional athlete compared to the general public:

“The effects of travel have similar effects on athletes as general public – however people who have a superior physiological status will adapt to travel demands quicker. The major difference is that athletes travel and then need to perform where many [in the] general public travel and then can relax.â€

I wanted to know what other issues would be relevant with air travel.  Again, Dr Duncan provided his expertise:

“Obviously, sitting for long periods increases stiffness and if players have issues with lower back they will also be compromised. To try to minimise this, it’s important to get athletes to move (e.g. stretch at regular intervals and during stop-overs). There are some other products that can help this process as well that stimulate muscle and the nervous system that are beneficial.â€

The man who has the responsibility for keeping Western Sydney’s players fit is Adam Waterson.  Adam is their Strength and Conditioning Coach and I sought his opinion on the challenges encountered last season. â€œSquad rotation was a key asset for us last season.  Each player knew their role and was at a fitness level where they could just step in and do their job.†Adam also reiterated the point on getting ‘in tune’ with time zones as soon as game and travel plans would allow.

Success and travel are interconnected in modern football and, therefore, are just one more factor to deal with.  Western Sydney Wanderers have evolved quickly as a new force in Australian football.  This success for a young team undoubtedly means steep learning curves.  I am convinced that the challenges to be faced by the Wanderers, and the other ACL participants in this coming season, will be tackled as part of a constant improvement cycle.  The scientific effects of air travel can’t be overcome, but they can be managed.

People like Adam Waterson will be challenged to manage these situations and they will have to cope with more fixtures, with the inaugural FFA Cup now being played.  It is safe to argue that Australian teams are automatically at a disadvantage due to the distances required to travel for domestic games.  For example, Perth to Wellington is a flight time of around 7 hours.  I would contend that teams playing in the European Champions League wouldn’t have such a flight time, let alone for a domestic fixture.

Sports science can’t change geography, but it can try to fight the by-products of it.

Photo Credit: Adam Waterson

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The changing of time zones is a well researched area in American sports,  especially in baseball when some games can finish after 11pm

When teams on the west coast play at home at night time against eastern teams, their winning percentage is through the roof compared to normal home ground advantage.

 

example, so when we play Perth Glory in the games that start at 9:45pm AEST on a Saturday night, our players body clocks are tuning themselves into start to begin to sleep.  such as changes in hormones etc...

Same for when we play in Asia

 

When the Phoenix play night time games in Australia it's the same issue, it's 9pm here but their body clocks are tuned in for it to be 11pm

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Must be the reason why Perth Glory and Wellington are always struggling.

Nah. Both those teams are chronically under funded and have been lead by people who simply aren't up to the standard of the rest of the A-League.

 

Perth were a dominant force in the NSL, but once the A-League came along, the rest of the teams massively improved their professionalism. Anyone with a small insight into the Wanderers or Brisbane backroom over the past few years knows exactly how far ahead those two teams were from Perth.

 

Perth didn't even have a fitness coach last year, while WSW had Waterson leading scientific based programs designed for maximum effectiveness per player. I think Dr Craig might have consulted with WSW at some point, as well as bringing Efrem Bunguric in.

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Craig is my lecturer at uni. He consults regularly with the club and his honours students assist with GPS data collection at each training session. Also Efrem is no longer with the wanderers

Edited by hughsey
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"A calculation of their air travel last season suggests that they racked up over 50,000 air miles.  Another way to look at this is that they spent close to 5 days in the air merely travelling to games."

 

Given that we are playing ACL game(s) pre-season & again in the 2015 group stage after Christmas, WSW could easily clock up 60k+ in air miles before the completion of the 2014/15 HAL season.

The depth of our squad is going to be severly tested over the next 9 - 10 months.

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The whole moving through time zones is an interesting one. In Formula 1 the Singapore GP is a night race so that it starts at the regular start time in Europe. Rather than trying to adjust to the local time the drivers and teams just stay on European time.

 

They wake up late morning, have breakfast at lunchtime, lunch at dinner time, dinner at about midnight then go to bed at about 3am. That way to them the late evening race falls between their lunch and dinner and feels like an afternoon race.

 

It's an interesting idea although a bit harder for WSW to pull off as we mainly head the other direction. I wonder if they start trying to adjust their body clocks as soon as the previous match is over.

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You mean, you can't just play the same players every single game, regardless of where the match is being played or how long it is until the next game, like you do on FIFA?

 

You actually do need a rotation policy?

 

So maybe, just maybe, Popa had it right all along last season in his rotating squad, and he actually did know what he was doing......

 

:shok:

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The whole moving through time zones is an interesting one. In Formula 1 the Singapore GP is a night race so that it starts at the regular start time in Europe. Rather than trying to adjust to the local time the drivers and teams just stay on European time.

 

 

 

No the Singapore race is a night time so it's on Sunday afternoon/evening television in Europe, 

It's purely for TV ratings in Europe. 

 

The Australian GP is at risk of being axed from the calender because the Victorian government won't spend the money the make Albert Park a night time track.  Hopefully NSW government can get their act together and bring a night time race to Sydney to keep the Australian GP

Edited by Nnnnnathan12
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I know it's a ratings thing. That's why they make the race start at the regular start time in Europe. Because the regular start time in Europe was chosen for ratings.

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You mean, you can't just play the same players every single game, regardless of where the match is being played or how long it is until the next game, like you do on FIFA?

 

You actually do need a rotation policy?

 

So maybe, just maybe, Popa had it right all along last season in his rotating squad, and he actually did know what he was doing......

 

:shok:

 

Definitely can't be this.

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You actually do need a rotation policy?

 

So maybe, just maybe, Popa had it right all along last season in his rotating squad, and he actually did know what he was doing......

 

:shok:

We did in fact state to leave all scrutiny until the end of the season to see if it worked or not.

2nd on table, grand final appearance and quarter final berth in the ACL is pretty damn successful and justifies it

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