How Blue Light Electronics can affect a Young Athlete’s Performance

We all know that eating well and getting the right amount of sleep are paramount in terms of achieving optimum performance levels amongst young sportspersons. The positive sporting benefits of a healthy and balanced diet have been well-documented and it is now pretty easy for young players and their coaches to access information about sports nutrition.

But as any coach or parent knows, even with a huge amount of evidence available about the benefits of eating well, it can still be hard to get young players to commit to strict regimes.

Sound familiar?

But let’s be fair, they are children after all and they are bound to be swayed by peer pressure as much as they are the advice of their teachers, parents and coaches.

Even children who are very focused and committed to their sport still want to have fun. So adults have to strike a balance when it comes to guiding the eating habits of their kids.

And remember. There is fine line between being a welcome voice of experience and wisdom, and an over-bearing nag that is ultimately ignored!

Another big issue for active kids is getting the right amount of sleep and more importantly, the right kind of sleep. A lack of quality sleep can have a major impact on an athlete’s performance. Even a child who is very healthy and eats well will suffer if they do not get enough quality rest.

And that brings us to another modern phenomenon.

Last year, I spoke to one of soccer’s most forward-thinking coaches, Jed Davies (current 1st Team Assistant Coach at Ottawa Fury FC) and during our chat another issue was raised — the negative effects of blue light technology on a players’ performance.

Now you may be wondering: what the hell is blue light? So let me explain.

Blue light basically refers to the kind of light emitted by many of today’s modern communication and entertainment devices.

In the last few years, blue light-emitting electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and televisions have resulted in a situation where youngsters often spend a large part of their day staring at screens.

This can result in poor quality sleep and may also have a negative impact on focus and concentration skills. There has also been suggestions that spending a long time in front of such screens can affect other areas such as peripheral vision and reaction times, as well as having long-term adverse health effects on users.

Perhaps even more relevant at youth level, are the knock-on effects that a lack of sleep can have on the confidence and self-esteem of young athletes. Constant tiredness can cause a child to become withdrawn and less motivated to take part in high-energy activities.

Jed also mentioned how the area of lifestyle is often neglected in youth education, and other coaches that we work with have also noted the lack of professional guidance available regarding this topic.

Okay, this is not good, so how do we tackle the Issue?

For parents and coaches, this once again creates a difficult situation. Of course, children want to use their devices to communicate, take photos, play games, watch videos and engage in social media. But if they are left to their own devices and only exposed to the pressure of their peers, there is a risk that their use of blue light electronics could get out of hand and affect their performances, or worse, cause them to drop out of sports altogether.

Of course, it can be hard to convince a child of the negative effects of such devices when a large number of the population now spend so much time exposed to blue light. As a result, it is important that those responsible for young athletes approach the subject in the right way. And just like with eating regimes, a balance needs to be struck.

We can start by framing the issue in a sporting context.

In the first instance, youngsters need to understand the effects that over-exposure to such devices can have on their sporting performance. By approaching the subject from a sporting perspective, young athletes are more likely to respond and make changes to their habits on their own accord.

Secondly, by introducing and encouraging them to use such devices in a positive way and actually integrating them into the coaching regime; for example, by recording training sessions and uploading the videos to social media, coaches can change the way in which their students view such tools.

Another way is to establish a recovery regime that requires abstention from exposure to blue light.

After training, it is always important to remind players about the importance of recovery. All the effort that they have put in on the training ground will only be truly effective with proper recovery.

So, when talking about recovery, parents and coaches should mention the importance of avoiding electronic screens close to bedtime in the same context as eating healthily, maintaining hydration and sleeping well. That way, children will link all these habits together and view them as best practice.

The aim is not to keep them away from blue light devices permanently but to get them to think about using them less at those times when it may affect their performance the most.

A good tactic is to advise players to slowly reduce their use of blue screen devices in the three hours leading up to bedtime, to the point where they avoid them altogether in the final hour before sleep. Suggest that they switch to reading a book or listening to music to relax at this point. Get them to think of this time as a period of mental cool down that is just as vital as physical recovery.

Always focus on the positive benefits

By avoiding as much blue light as possible in the hours before sleep, the human body is more likely to fall into a natural sleep pattern. Blue light acts like artificial sunlight and keeps us awake later than we would naturally without such influence. And this effect is enhanced even further amongst teenagers.

For the modern coach, addressing this issue should be an integral and natural part of their dialogue with athletes. Rather than being heavy-handed (e.g. banning devices) and laying down strict rules, coaches and parents should guide and encourage their children and students to think about their use of devices in a positive and practical way.

This article also appeared on Medium.