Happiness versus wellness in elite sport
11 Feb 2020

In team sports, coaches make a lot of decisions and some of them have an immediate impact on the efficiency of the game. It is about picking players who are going to be incumbent and those who aren’t, what game system is going to be used or what substitutions are going to be made according to what takes place during the match. There are some other decisions that apparently don’t have a direct influence in the game but can affect the action on the pitch. Coaches have to decide the training schedule, the travel plan of each match, when the post-match recovery is done, which food menu is preferred before and after a match or how to work with players who haven’t been called up.

In all these situations, the coach’s management of what to do in each scenario is key for a good environment in the squad.1,2 There is scientific evidence that proves the behaviour that has to be taken into account in order to improve the athletes’ well-being (wellness).3 Reducing tiredness or improving the best physiological state of players to compete, have a lot to do with developing the correct protocols for athletes. However, it is known that being in a positive mood has a huge influence on athletes’ performance (happiness).4,5,6

As an example, athletes have to compete more frequently, and they have to travel more during high-density competition periods. Being able to ensure proper rest to the players, is very important throughout the season. We know the number of sleeping hours and its quality is reduced after taking part in a match7. Sleeping the day before and after at the same location where it takes place, should be usual practise to ensure and guarantee the player’s rest. However, athletes choose to break their biological rhythm and accelerate the travel back home to arrive in the early morning, in order to sleep at home with their families. Another example which coaches come across is, it might not be a good idea to do the planned recovery routine post-match right after losing a game that has left bad feelings. It is possible that the consequences of doing what we had in mind are worse than leaving without doing so.

Recommendations which coaches and the technical staff can follow on how to react in these situations are:

  • A recommendable intervention routine has to be designed for usual or common situations which take place: The food menu before and after each match, the post-match recovery, etc.
  • It is key to analyze in great detail the specific context before making a decision. Is it better to do what is recommended or what the players prefer? There aren’t specific solutions to always be right. Whatever decision is taken; it depends on what one observes which fits better at that moment. We work with people and sometimes, what is recommended is what should be avoided.
  • We must be flexible, in order to adapt to the surrounding context.
  • Avoid creating conflicts when taking a decision. Don’t create something unimportant into an existing problem.

Travelling back home the same day of the match, even though it is not the best option, it can be done in moments of the season where there are several days for players to recover between matches. In other moments of the season, it might be better to sleep before travelling back home.

In the end, it is not about being right or always imposing players measures which respond exclusively to personalized recommendations for them. Things are not that simple. Performance on the pitch also depends on what happens outside. Keeping the players happy is very important. It is about finding a balance between what is recommended and what the players prefer.

Carlos Lago Peñas



1 Buchheit, M. (2017). Houston, We Still Have a Problem. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform. 12, 1111–1114.

2 Calleja-González J, Terrados N, Martín-Acero R, Lago-Peñas C, Jukic I, Mielgo-Ayuso J, Marqués-Jiménez D, Delextrat A and Ostojic S (2018) Happiness vs. Wellness During the Recovery Process in High Performance Sport. Front. Physiol. 9:1598.

3 Kellmann, M. (2010). Preventing overtraining in athletes in high-intensity sports and stress/recovery monitoring. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 20 (Suppl. 2), 95–102

Kimura, D. (2016). Work and life balance “if we are not happy both in work and out of work, we cannot provide happiness to others”. Front. Pediatr. 4, 9.

4 Olsson, L. E., Gärling, T., Ettema, D., Friman, M., and Fujii, S. (2013). Happiness and satisfaction with work commute. Soc. Indicators Res. 111, 255-263.

5 Totterdell, P. (1999). Mood scores: Mood and performance in professional cricketers. Br. J. Psychol. 90, 317–332

6 Fisher, C. D. (2010). Happiness at work. Int. J. Manage. Rev. 12, 384–412

7 Fullagar, H. H., Duffield, R., Skorski, S., White, D., Bloomfield, J., Kolling, S., et al. (2016). sleep, travel, and recovery responses of national footballers during and after long-haul international air travel. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform. 11, 86-95.


Building the future of the sports industry