Athletes are People First | What Are You Doing About The Missing Hours

Many people are inclined to think that somehow professional athletes are kind of like robots.  They go out onto the court, the field or the ice surface and they just play.  They are not human beings but professional athletes!

The idea that athletes are like robots has been exacerbated by several trends in the sport world including; the ‘Moneyball-ization’ of athletic performance, the expanding world of fantasy sports, the ever increasing amounts of money paid to professional athletes and of course the ubiquitous media chatter and hype.

Consequently, the idea that what takes place away from the playing surface could impact a professional athlete seems like a ridiculous notion to many fans.  ‘Well, statistically speaking he should produce X based on his past performance.’  ‘He can’t have an off night, he makes nearly Y millions of dollars a year!’

When I coached collegiately, as a statistically inclined coach, I remember a colleague who would say, ‘at the end of the day, stats are for losers’.  It was a statement that irked me tremendously.  In hindsight and in light of the arguable over-statisticifying (?)  of sport although I still don’t get what my colleague was saying, I understand that there is an over simplification of athletic performance taking place.

The advances in bio-metric data collection, the measurement of how athletes use time and space on the playing surface, and how each play or decision is measured and scored have allowed for an unprecedented peak under the hood of an elite athlete.  This leads many to assume if an athlete’s body is healthy and he is appropriately rested, trained and prepared to perform, why wouldn’t he perform to expectation?

Interestingly, what continues to be viewed as secondary are those issues that can truly derail elite level performance. for instance; stress and anxiety management.  Conflict and a lack of conflict resolution skills.  Interpersonal communication and relationship skills.  A fear of what the future holds beyond sport.

For example, if a player in the midst of a horrible divorce how likely is it they are going to be dialed in at the requisite level to have the performance they want and the team needs.  I can point to several players across different sports who had down years as a result of nasty divorces.

Another recent example, is Greg Hardy.  Whatever, you may think of him, he is acknowledged to be a very, very good football player.  However, when the photos of the abuse he inflicted upon his girlfriend at the time were released to the public, his performance suffered as noted by an opposing lineman, Lane Johnson:

“He wasn’t all that emotional in the game. I guess he is in other games. I don’t know if the stuff got to him on the news, but he kind of seemed out of it a little bit.”

The point being, regardless if a player is facing an issue that is a national news story or a private personal struggle, performance will be impacted.  Athletes who are only able to view their lives through the prism of their sport experience will struggle mightily to develop the coping skills to deal with off the playing surface issues.

Organizations, both professional and amateur (read NCAA institutions) that only view their athletes as stat producing automatons don’t get it.   The issue of performance starts outside of the training room.  Away from the arena or stadium.  Away from the practice facility.  It starts with the individual as a human being who wants to excel.

The solutions are simple.  First both professional and amateur teams can assess their athletes and staff to identify potential trouble areas or areas where athletes are seeking to improve or develop.  Professional athletes (in most sports) typically have a lot of free time.  Organizations should be taking an additional hour of a players time per day and providing them with training that serves to bolster their personal development and support that of the individual.

Colleges need to wake up to the reality sport provides a great educational foundation to build great people.  Colleges need to allow students to take courses and earn credit that bolster that foundation and the individuals development in the context of their sport.  Students can take theatre, music or art courses that allow them to fully immerse themselves in the topic (see for example the Yale music course list ‘Listening to Music 112a’ is a real course that is somehow less academic than say, video analysis and breakdown of football tape?), but this frowned upon for student athletes? Student athletes enrolled in Football or Basketball or Soccer or Hockey ‘majors’ could not be academic?  I can already envision a hockey major that includes courses on leadership, motivation, self management, dealing with media, conflict management, developing team culture, data analysis, data collection and management, communication, developing teams, marketing and you get the point.

That is a sidetrack rant and blog unto itself.  Ultimately, to drive performance that the stat jockey’s can get excited

Where are your athletes missing hours and what are you doing about them?

about, teams, clubs, organizations and institutions need to wake up to what we call The Missing Hours™.  The Missing Hours™ are those hours where coaches, trainers and other athletic or team staff aren’t directly engaged with an athlete in either practice or games.  The true key to driving elite performance is to help athletes better manage those missing hours.  The average professional athlete (this obviously varies by sport) is likely engaged anywhere from 2-6 hours a day.  What are organizations doing to better optimize those missing 22 to 18 hours?  Address those questions and acknowledge that players aren’t robots and move forward to optimize the person as well as the athlete.


Game Change was founded in 2011 to serve and enhance the athlete development needs of major professional and elite sport organizations and athletes.  Game Change specializes in customized research and assessment services, the development of applied interventions and resources designed to provide long-term positive outcomes for organizations and individual athletes.  Game Change believes strongly in sport as a catalyst for societal change and adheres to the philosophy of ‘changing the world one athlete at a time’.


Duncan Fletcher