Getting a decent night’s sleep is as important as giving it your all out on the football pitch.
Success is usually associated with effort, sacrifice and hard work. To say that without sweat there can be no self-improvement is undeniably true. But it can also lead to misunderstanding the very concept of progress. When a concept is dogmatised, it ends up becoming a cheap motto, an empty slogan totally alien to the context in which it was originally formulated. If progress means giving it everything you’ve got, the fact of the matter is, it’s impossible to give 100% without proper rest.
“Football players are subjected to a high volume of work, so rest is essential to minimizing the risk of injury,” explains Moisés Falces, head of the Department of Physical Performance Optimization at Marcet. “It’s proven that only after an optimal recovery can athletes return to training or competing in the best possible conditions.”
Naturally, active recovery techniques are essential, such as low-intensity aerobics, stretching, cryotherapy and contrast baths. But it is also about rest. Proper rest. “One of the factors that most influences sports performance is the quality of sleep because sleep provides the body a moment of recovery for everything it has done during the day,” says Falces.
To be in the best possible conditions you have to recharge your batteries. It seems obvious, and that is precisely why it’s easy to forget it. Athletes have a tendency to overestimate the importance of the active part of physical conditioning and to underestimate the passive counterpart. Many players are convinced that constant effort is the only key to success. They believe that the more, the better. And they do not know that, sometimes, less is more.
“Sometimes football players think that the training means two or three hours a day at peak performance and believe that the rest of the time they’re free from having to worry about aspects of self-development such as food or rest”, explains Ángel Aceña, physical rehabilitator of Sevilla‘s main team when they won the Europa League in 2015-16. “But this is far from what’s actually necessary because for a player the importance of what happens during the remaining 22 hours is paramount.”
You could say that rest is just another training session. But neither should recovery be understood as a simple physiological matter of fact. It’s also a psychological and social process, in which habits fostered by new technologies play a fundamental role. “There are many studies that show how the use of tablets or mobile phones interfere with the conciliation and quality of sleep,” warns Aceña, who was also a coach of the Costa Rican National Team during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Pro athletes, at least one hour before falling asleep, stop using these electronic devices, it’s an essential aspect to developing a good habit of relaxation on behalf of a football player.”
“We are tired of seeing players up all night on Instagram, Facebook or any other social network for that matter, in search of popularity and validation or whatever,” says Fran Molano, current rehabilitator of Deportivo La Coruña‘s first team. “Being awake so late means losing hours of rest that are vital to minimize the risk of injury.” Not only that. Sleeping well is essential to strengthening the immune system, promoting oxygenation of cells, releasing growth hormones or preventing obesity, among other things.
According to Molano, football players are increasingly coming to grips with the importance of rest for their sporting careers. However, the Depor rehabilitator has encountered, throughout his professional career, many players who decide to carry out additional training outside the sessions they already carry out with their team. “They do it secretly, without notifying the coaching staff of the club they belong to, they are convinced that they are doing the right thing, but all they get a system overload.” It’s no surprise, then, that those same players are the ones who are more prone to injuries.”