If you play on or coach a team that drives out of town for games, chances are you have experienced what I like to call “Road Trip Fatigue”.
What is Road Trip Fatigue?
If you’ve ever sat in a car, a plane, or even a board room for more than a couple hours at a time, you probably know what road trip fatigue is. Road trip fatigue is the feeling your body and muscles get when you’ve been confined in a cramped space with little movement for long periods of time.
Why is Road Trip Fatigue a Problem?
Extended road trips can have many affects on athletic performance.
- Physical fatigue can arise.
- Muscle soreness and stiffness is perhaps the most common affect, and while adequate stretching can often make the muscles feel better, the muscles will still experience fatigue which will affect performance.
- Mental exhaustion is a less noticeable, but equal if not bigger issue.
- Carbon dioxide can often build-up in vehicles. This deprives the brain of oxygen, which can lead to players feeling tired, confused, slow to react, and even sick (“car sickness” can partially be attributed to this). This is a particular problem when when fresh air is not readily available – such as riding long periods of time with the windows up; or when large groups of people are being transported – such as an entire team riding in a van or SUV.
- “Droning”, particularly at night, is a problem that is experienced by long-haul truckers that can also affect your team. The term “droning” refers to an over-relaxed state of mind that can occur from a lack of stimulus. It can cause fatigue and headaches. Long stretches of unvarying scenery can often cause “droning”.
- Dehydration and poor nutrition can also be a problem.
- A team on a road trip that stops to eat fast food for a couple meals is far more likely to be affected by poor nutrition, than the team that is able to have a healthy, balanced breakfast.
- Most people, whether athletes or not, do not hydrate themselves properly when driving or riding in a vehicle. Compound that problem over an extended period of time and possibly with exposure to sun continually hitting the body through windows, and dehydration can be a major issue.
For teams that are able to stay overnight at their destination before playing, road trip fatigue is normally not a problem. However, teams that expect to play without adequate recovery time should make an effort to combat road trip fatigue.
Combating Road Trip Fatigue
In most instances, the nutritional and mental fatigue issues can be solved easily.
- Make sure every person (including coaches, parents, families, etc) have healthy snacks available for the trip. If possible, consider bringing “halftime oranges” or other fruit in an ice chest.
- Make sure everyone is hydrating themselves properly. Make sure everyone is drinking as much as they normally would for that period of time. Be aware that you may have to make extra stops for bathroom breaks – I’d personally rather make an extra stop or two than have a dehydrated team take the field.
- Open the windows! Unless environmental factors (extreme cold, smoke, etc) make it impossible, open the windows periodically to let fresh air circulate.
The key to dealing with the physical affects is leaving time for everyone to get out of the vehicles and “stretch out”. A single 15 minute stop on a 3-hour drive can be immensely helpful.
Here are some ideas that you can use:
- Walk around during stops. Make use of those extra bathroom breaks. Instead of just walking to the bathroom and back to the car, take a few minutes to walk around and lightly stretch out. Many rest stops have beautiful scenery or historical significance.
- Explore roadside attractions. There are many unique roadside attractions throughout America (and indeed, the world). Stop off for a moment at that giant chicken statue or the row of cement tepees that you pass on the side of the road. Not only does this help keep the body working well, but it also makes the trip more fun and creates some great photo opportunities.
- Stop at a park. Take a moment to play that practice game they always want to play or organize a pick-up game amongst yourselves or with locals; or, just have some fun on the playground. Just keep it short and keep it fun.