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To achieve greatness in sports be mindful what you feed your brain

Written by Andy on 07 July 2011.

To play soccer at your best, you must keep your mind, body, and spirit healthy. You may be thinking that it's strange I am writing an article on keeping the mind healthy in the nutrition section. As a physician and former athlete, I am aware the importance of keeping the mind healthy and thinking sharp. The mind controls your body. An unhealthy mind will yield poor performance. A healthy mind will achieve greatness. I want to introduce the concept of time management for soccer players and their parents.

We all have one thing in common. We are limited to 24 hours every day. With a significant part of that 24 hours delegated to sleep, personal hygiene (hopefully), school, and chores, there may be 4 to 8 hours remaining for hobbies and "fun time". How you fill your free time will determine how great you will be in soccer and life. Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers" states that elite athletes like Tiger Woods and David Beckham are born with natural talent. Many elite athletes were in the right place at the right time. But one thing they all had in common was 10,000 hours devoted to their sport. How much is 10,000 hours? Ten thousand hours is almost five years of full-time work. For kids with eight hours of free time daily, you must devote 8 hours per day of soccer practice Monday through Friday for five years to become an elite soccer player. For most kids, I think four hours of free time daily is more realistic. This means kids serious about earning a soccer scholarship to college or becoming a professional soccer player must devote at least 4 hours per day of soccer practice Monday through Friday for ten years to become an elite soccer player!

How you spend and invest your time will determine your future. This leads to the topic of video games, which I think is a significant reason why soccer players and young athletes under perform.

A national, cross-sectional study at Iowa State University of 1178 children ages 8-18 demonstrated that 8% of the children demonstrated behaviors of addiction similar to other behavioral addictions like pathologic gambling (http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/042109_revid.pdf). The study showed that about 85% of the kids surveyed played video games. The kids addicted to video games demonstrated lower grades in school, attention problems, and other health problems. There is an estimated 40 million American youths ages 8-18. This study suggests that about 3.2 million youths ages 8-18 are addicted to games. Assuming these kids continue to play games in adult life, and some may play more when parental controls are absent, there may be as high as 10 million Americans addicted to video games between the ages of 8 and 38. The total number of Americans addicted to video games is likely much higher when considering all age groups. I am curious to know how many of the 12.5 million "World of Warcraft" players are "video game addicts". The average person playing "World of Warcraft" devotes 25 hours per week, and many are playing more than 40 hours weekly. Video game addiction is becoming a national crisis. In comparison, there is an estimated 17 million Americans who are alcoholics or exhibit alcohol problems (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/alcoholism.html). Video game addiction is prevalent, is near the magnitude of alcoholism, and families are giving out digital heroin to their kids without knowing the long-term ramifications and harm of video game addiction.

As a physician, I see patients who develop dry eyes because they resist blinking when playing games and using the computer. Kids who are hooked on games often complain of dry eye problems. Game addiction is such a strong behavioral influence that the addict resists blinking, eating, using the restroom, and taking care of personal hygiene, and sometimes may lead to death due to cardiac arrhythmias associated with poor nutrition and electrolyte imbalance due to lack of nutrition during gaming binges (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4137782.stm). Addictive behaviors may be seen in young children too. For instance, one of my colleagues reports her eight year old child does the "potty wiggle" while playing "Age of Empires" and fighting the urge to urinate.

As an athlete, if you are dedicating two hours, three hours, or perhaps four or more hours to playing video games daily, it will be unlikely that you will achieve elite status as a soccer player. The hours devoted to playing video games will distract your mind and concentration away from soccer. Instead of thinking about soccer strategies, you will be planning your "Call of Duty" strategies, what you need to do on "Farmville", or what item you need for your "World of Warcraft" Toons. Video game players exhibit health problems and problems with concentration according to the Iowa State University study, neither characteristics will assist you on your journey of becoming an elite soccer player. Time management is simple. If you are investing hours into video games, then you are not investing hours into conditioning, running, strength training, and improving your soccer skills. If you are serious about earning a starting position, being picked for a competitive club team, earning a college scholarship, and perhaps even being drafted as a professional soccer player, then be mindful what you feed your brain. Stop playing video games and work on your soccer game!

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