- Travel can have a bigger influence on NBA games than you might think
- A new study highlights how jet lag can negatively influence the performance of players and teams
- The research suggests teams on the East Coast are at a disadvantage
Traveling is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of the grind professional athletes are subjected to over the course of a season, as spending months on end bouncing from city to city is going to take a toll on anyone regardless of how luxurious the accommodations may be.
Earlier this year, retired NHL player Chris Pronger did a pretty fascinating deep dive into what he dealt with during his time playing hockey. As he noted, teams have made a ton of progress when it comes to making sure athletes are as comfortable as possible, but there’s still only so much they can do when it comes to the impact traveling has on their performance.
That reality has been highlighted by a study that was recently published in Frontiers in Psychology by a team of researchers who examined almost a decade’s worth of data to take a look at the potential impact jet lag can have on the result of the 11,481 NBA games they analyzed.
If the findings are to be believed, certain trips can be fairly detrimental when it comes to a number of various metrics that were used to evaluate the performance of the league’s franchises. That specifically applies to home teams coming off of a road trip that requires them to travel eastward across time zones to get back to their arena, as away teams and those traveling toward the west weren’t subjected to the same downsides.
So just how much of a disadvantage are we talking about here? According to the data, jet-lagged home teams saw both their average points differential and rebounds negatively impacted the tune of 1.29 per game and had their field-goal shooting dip by 1.2%. It also led to their winning percentage falling by 6.03% at home, which the study estimated is the “equivalent of 2.47 fewer home wins” over course of the season.
The researchers say the primary culprit is the “circadian disruption and sleep loss” that has been linked with “impaired motor performance and effort.” They also noted there’s a correlation between the length of the journey back home and how negatively the team is impacted, which would naturally put those in the Eastern Conference at a slight disadvantage (the Bulls and the Bucks are the only franchises in that group that don’t call the Eastern Time Zone home).
It’s worth noting the findings only apply to sports with schedules similar to the NBA that frequently don’t give players a ton of time to recover between games, so while the Steelers may have an advantage this season based on the relatively tiny amount of travel they’ll be subjected to, the fact that there’s usually a week in between games essentially makes jet lag a nonfactor as far as the NFL is concerned.