Dabo Swinney’s success at Clemson has always been about sticking to the plan. Since the day he took over the Clemson football program, then as an interim head coach in 2008, he has stuck to his plan. He seldom deviates from it.
However, when he sees an area that can help cultivate positive energy in the culture he has built at Clemson, then he is going to listen to reason.
A couple of years back, during the ACC spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., the conference brought in a doctor to discuss a number of issues to help with the student-athletes mental and physical health. One of the things the doctor spoke about was the lack of sleep student-athletes are getting these days and how it is contributing to their overall mental state.
“It’s kind of all correlated together. I have seen that many times,” Swinneys said. “A lot of times we are having issues, you can sit down and talk to the guy and he is not sleeping.”
Since that ACC meeting, Swinney has been trying to create a culture where his players buy into getting more sleep, just like they have with the importance of physical conditioning and maintaining a healthy diet. Of course, when introducing anything new to anyone, it comes with some resistance.
Swinney has been down this road before. When he brought in a full-time nutritionist four years ago, his players fought it at first and thought it wasn’t cool if they had a nutritionist.
“Nobody wanted to talk to the nutritionist,” Swinney said. “It was rabbit food and … but now it is cool to be with the nutritionist so we are trying to create that same culture with our sleep and get these guys understanding how important it is for their performance.”
The response is getting better. Thirty-five players are currently in Swinney’s sleep study program, which, thanks to better technology, he hopes gives them a good measure of how much quality rest can help a player’s overall performance.
“When you are a little more accountable, you are a little more motivated to try to meet the goal,” Swinney said. “That is one thing these guys are … they’re goal oriented so they will buy into it. I know as a result, they will feel better which will hopefully help them be a little more attentive in their classes and certainly in football.”
Now two years into the sleep program, Swinney reports things are getting better. It helps that the new Allen Reeves Football Complex is equipped with a nap room that has bunk beds, dimmed lights and other amenities to help players rest more peacefully in between classes, meetings, workouts and practices.
“Just having to retrain some of these guys because that is not how they are wired,” Swinney said. “Even when they have a chance to sleep, they don’t sleep. They’re playing games. So … they are stimulated all the time.
“I’m trying to get them to buy into it because I think our guys have really done a good job buying into the nutrition. They bought into the strength and conditioning. They bought into the mental performance with our performance stuff. All of that stuff, they really bought into it all. This is kind of just another piece. I want them to buy into the rest they need. Then I have to make sure we do a good job of giving them that opportunity.”
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