Brad Fittler is not only one of the best rugby league players ever but also one of the most successful Origin coaches, with back-to-back series triumphs in the past two seasons.
What is the secret to his success? Eight hours of sleep, every night.
In his experience as a player, sleep was the most reliable way to get his body and mind back to 100 percent. At the same time, he knows sleep can be incredibly elusive for a professional athlete.
"After games, it was extremely difficult to sleep. Sometimes you would get no sleep. Broken habits meant it was hard to sleep the following nights too," Fittler says.
The benefits of a good night's sleep are now well documented. It's why Fittler has made sleep a priority for all his Origin players since being their coach. There are times when he has even pushed out schedules to ensure his players got the rest they need.
"We set a consistent wake-up time for the training part of the camp. And as the game gets closer, we delay other commitments so that the players get as much sleep as possible," he says.
He also keeps an eye on his players' phone habits and asks his players to make their own beds as part of their morning routine. He believes that if you don't get adequate sleep, much of the time spent on training is wasted.
And Fittler is right. According to ResMed sleep expert, Dr. Carmel Harrington, sleep and training work hand in hand.
"The payoff is that exercise will make you sleep better. And better sleep means more energy. It's a cycle that has only positive effects."
"You will notice the effects of a few nights of bad sleep more than a few days of reduced exercise," she added.
Fittler is leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of a marginal gain. In addition to sleep, he has also embraced meditation and breathing exercises to help give his players a mental edge. People may be curious about these new-age techniques, but they are nothing new.
If you have seen the recent Netflix documentary, The Last Dance, you would know about the mindfulness exercises Phil Jackson asked his players to practice. In his time as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, his team won six NBA championships, with two three-peats.
With a three-peat possible for Fittler and the NSW Blues this year, you can hardly blame him for wanting to emulate Jacksons' methods and success. Since asking his players to sleep better and practice mindfulness, he claims both him and his players now have greater mental clarity.
"Playing and coaching has one thing in common. There is always something to think about. And I've definitely gotten better at controlling the thoughts."
Whether it's sleep, yoga or meditation, Fittler and his players will no doubt find their peace if they manage to win their third straight Origin series.
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