Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rockstar (and then hungover) athletes

So here's how it goes:

I am a collegiate athlete all of 22 years of age. A senior on my team. A "team leader". I train excruciatingly hard 4-5 days per week, nearly year round. On the weekends, I hit the bars and parties until sometimes 2-3, maybe even up til 4 or 5, in the morning. I usually eat a large pizza when I get home to slave off the next days hangover, or I just pass-out (sometimes not even in my own bed) and wake-up the next day around 11 or 12 pm. If I'm lucky and it's only Saturday, I'll get a bite to eat, maybe take another nap in the afternoon and then awake to start the partying and same routine all over again. From here I'll use Sunday to lay in bed all day long (head throbbing), maybe do some homework if my brain can handle any thinking at this point, but mainly just try to recover enough so that Monday can start the next week of hard physical training.

This is common. Common among many college athletes. Don't believe me? Please wake-up.

Maybe it is just me... but it sure seems as though alcohol use is rising and is becoming more and more the norm within athletic environments. It seems as though coaches expect it, are ok with it, and hell, maybe even promote it (not even aware they are doing so).

Alcohol seems to be the white elephant no one wants to deal. Maybe because it's so sacred to everyone. No one is up in arms about smoking bans, but an alcohol ban... well we already know what happens with a ban of alcohol. But does alcohol and athletics have a place together? Where do we draw the line between being "rockstars" and athletes? This day and age it seems we don't. The culture is about being "cool", not necessarily good... or at least good for a long time. Everyone can usually get a taste of success (it's not beer), but it's the great ones that sustain it. Maybe being a "one-hit wonder" is all anyone wants anyway; maybe it's too much work for anything more.

Let me be clear, I am not entirely against having a beer or two (I'll drink, in moderation, once in a great while) every now or then (alcohol has been shown to have some health benefits), but most of these athletes aren't having just a beer or two... many are completely "wrecked" after one of their all-night benders, let alone doing it 2 nights out of the week. I know many athletes are hitting it hard both Friday and Saturday in the off-season training... I mean really?! What happened to the athletes who cut the drinking because 'they are in training'? Yes it is the culture, but does it have to be? It seems that it has become more and more acceptable, and the only other activity to do outside of sports and school. Kids must not know how to comfortably hang-out or pick-up ladies (or ladies meeting guys) without a little self-esteem "boost" from drinking. Obviously all this is a reflection of much bigger issues in our country, but I'll digress here.

*A disclaimer... I have experienced the wild nights and the next days hangover. It wasn't a common occurance for me, but I've been there and done that. I've learned and no longer advocate it. Just because one makes mistakes, doesn't make one a hypocrite for trying to help others from doing the same.

I sit and 'fight' in my head daily, 'should I include this exercise in the program? Should I periodize it this way? Should they be eating this? Having these supplements?' Yet the drinking that many do, just totally annihilates them on some of the most important recovery days of the week.

How about foam rolling? Massage? Ice baths? Any recovery method for that matter? How about just not drinking for one weekend? Let alone a season and/or off-season.

It's not even just the act of drinking that effects things. Heavy drinking is usually accompanied by late nights with little sleep or horrible sleep, ordering a pizza late to hopefully keep away the hangover (junk diet), and it could be considered a gateway drug. Sure alcohol is legal (if your 21), but so is candy, and staying up all night, and living a sedentary lifestyle.

Being in the line of improving sports performance, I am again amused at the level of detail that we go into on things that I think may not do a damn thing, yet we barely get the basics right, let alone even 'touching' the alcohol issue. We'll harp on nutrition, getting good sleep, but alcohol? Forget it. Are we as coaches, sport and performance, even promoting it? Or stating that it's acceptable, by are words or actions?

We all want better and better performance. We all think we have new and great ideas on training. Yet many of us struggle to get our athletes to do the basics well; and to limit or stop the use of alcohol is one that is too sacred for anyone to even touch on. Maybe it's something we can't live without? But think about it... I know of many athletes who 'get their drink on' 2 nights a week. This is nearly 30% of their year. About 100 days of 365 in a year. Holy shit... think what an athlete could do with 100 extra days of something positive happening per year!

And to add, much of this complaint could be thrown back on parents, as it seems that included in the weekly grocery list is to make sure there is enough alcohol for the entire family.

I guess just half a commitment and mediocrity is what we'll take and accept. Or is it? Is having a different philosophy and rules on alcohol not possible?

These are just thoughts I wanted to put out there; things I think about when trying to decide if I should be discussing nutrient timing, working on breathing techniques, theraputic/corrective exercise, stabilizing the dynamic neuromuscular system, wondering if the athletes need the first 30 progressions before they can scratch their ear, and so on... (c'mon fellas, please have a little humor here. I have used, still do, and maybe will use anyone of these things in the future, just not for 95% of the training)



jleeger said...

Great post, Aaron...

A lot of this is cultural. "Look at your five closest friends and you'll see yourself"...or something like that.

That's the immediate culture. Then there's a larger, US, culture, which promotes consumption, raging parties, etc.

Beneath all of this is an apparent (maybe not real) degrading of value.

I, personally, trace this to the ongoing loss of self-authoring/self-responsibility that has occurred because of the media-driven herd mentality that our culture has promoted over the past 100 years (actively...passively, this attitude may have been in effect since the beginning of civilization).

It's an uphill battle.

Perhaps you can demonstrate constructive ways to party (only on Friday/Saturday), and the benefits that come from getting good sleep, being well-nourished and well hydrated, and having a mental attitude that is focused on improving performance, in all areas of life...

jleeger said...


Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Once again Josh, I agree.

Culture is the driver, but, like you said, we can still create tribes that stand for something.

Nick Efthimiou said...


I'm not sure what kind of culture exists in the U.S., but here in Australia, most sports clubs have a very large drinking culture. We don't have the college system you have there, but nearly every sports club has a bar/social room that everyone retires to after training/games for what is often more than a 'few' drinks.

There is also a huge problem with professional athletes and drinking, with the AFL (Australian Football League) having to put constraints on the serving of alcohol at the end of season best and fairest awards, due to players in the past getting ridiculously drunk and creating a negative image, as well as setting a bad example (whether they like it or not, people look up to pro athletes).

There should be a push to remove alcohol sponsorship from sport, just as tobacco sponsorship was outlawed, which, whilst not solving or eliminating the problem, will take a big step towards dissociating drinking and sport, which is often where the culture is embedded - at a grassroots level.

*Disclaimer - I have also been drunk, many times, I have learnt the hard way. I worked in bars early in my uni career, around a culture of drinking, and for me, the culture engulfed me. Now I'm older, more confident and sure of myself, I find saying no to not be an issue, but as a younger adult (18-22) it definitely was, so if the culture is not there, it will go a long way to decreasing the excessive drinking associated with sports.

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...


Thanks for the comments. Great insights and points.

As you've stated it's become so much of the "norm", and yet can have drastic effects on recovery.