Post By: Brian Rutz | Thursday, June 25, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS environmental wellness

When people think of environment, they often refer to a place outdoors that includes green trees, clean water and fresh air. People who participate in athletics may have a different concept of environment and may associate it with team culture. More often than not, people overlook how environmental wellness can affect a person's performance.

When athletes, coaches, and fans arrive to Kinnick Stadium on a fall Saturday morning, they are entering a special environment. Game day for football at any college university is a special feeling. There is nothing better than the smell of beer brats and charcoal. Kinnick Stadium can be a unique environment, where young college-aged fans, and fans that have been coming to watch Iowa play for decades, come together to cheer on their Hawkeyes. A school with years of tradition, fans are proud to wear their black and gold. However, the best tradition that this university has to offer is only seen by the opposing team: the visitor's pink locker room.

When I say pink, I mean pink. The walls are pink, the floors are pink, even the toilets are pink. This tradition was started by legendary coach Hayden Fry. Hayden coached the Hawkeyes for almost 20 years. Hayden painted the locker room pink because he read that pink can have a calming effect on others. However, visiting coaches and players can become quickly distracted by the color of the locker room. Every time a coach mentioned the pink locker room to Coach Hayden, he knew he had the psychological advantage. Not only was Coach Hayden playing psychological mind games with his opponents, he was also negatively affecting the opposing team's environmental wellness.

Environmental wellness is one of the most forgotten topics by coaches when it comes to developing a team's culture. Environmental wellness is how a player lives, learns and plays. Often coaches overlook environmental wellness when they are attempting to develop a team environment and culture. One of the main reasons environmental wellness is so important is because it helps reduce stress and anxiety for athletes.

College athletes, on average, can spend 30 hours a week in their chosen sport when you include practices, team meetings, and travel time. If you have ever spent time around a basketball team for a season, it is easy to tell when the “dog days” of the season have arrived. Not only have players attention spans shortened by this point, but now there is an unusual scent coming from the locker room. The culprit of this odor is usually from four-week-old socks rolled up in a player's locker room.The image of the socks is not meant to make you sick, it's more to make you think, “How can athletes perform in that environment for an average of 30 hours per week?”

As an NAIA and Division III basketball coach for the past 10 years, I have been in a lot of locker rooms with poor environmental wellness. I have been in locker rooms that are just over-sized bathrooms, locker rooms with temperatures that felt like I was in as hot as the desert, only until the next day to arrive at another locker room that feels like I was at the north pole, and locker rooms that were overtaken by cockroaches. What I always wonder is, when are coaches going to stop hanging up motivational quotes and start hanging up air fresheners?

Coaches at non-high major schools often state there is no money in the budget to improve environmental wellness. Below are three simple tips that won't break the budget and provide improved environmental wellness:

1.Turn up those lights! Bright rooms with artificial and natural lights are scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression. This is one of the simplest ways to improve environmental wellness. I have been in a lot of dim locker rooms that can easily put people to sleep. It's important that any maintenance professional knows not to skim on low light bulb wattage. The higher the wattage the brighter the bulb. If you are lucky enough to have a window in your locker room, please open it up! Yes, I understand the window needs to be covered for the privacy of the players, but when athletes are spending time in the locker before practice or a game, open that window and let some Vitamin D in.

2. Breath easy. Fresh air is key. If a coach had it in his or her budget to complete a locker room makeover and knock down some walls, any certified on demand performance coach would provide you a hammer and encourage to do so.The majority of coaches can't afford to do that, but if you are lucky enough to have a locker room with windows or a meeting room, don't cover them up! Open those windows and use the performance enhancer of fresh air. If you have no windows, get a fan. Keeping air moving helps provide fresh air and reduces the smell from those 4-week-old socks. Humidifiers can assist in keeping the air clean as well.

3. Is it hot in here? Temperature is key in the locker room. There is ample research on how different climates affect athlete performance. However, certain temperatures are also essential to athletes' focus. I can't count how many times I have been in a locker for a pre-game speech, after a wrestling team just got out of the shower. Hot showers increase the heat in the locker room. Have you ever tried to focus on a game plan sitting in a hot and humid locker room? It's impossible. If it's impossible for the coach to focus, how is the player going to focus on important information that's being given about the opposing team. Change the location of the pre-game talk to a place with better environmental wellness. This will help athletes be able to focus on what the coach is talking about.

“Only worry about what you can control.” This is one of the biggest lessons that you learn as a coach and one of the most common sayings by any mental performance coach. As coaches, we often overlook environmental wellness, which is one of the easiest things we can control. Whether it is changing a light bulb in the locker room or painting the locker room a different color, taking the time to change the environment will improve the performance of the athletes. At times you might feel like a parent reminding your athletes to take care of the locker room, but that simple reminder may be the difference between a win and a loss.