No sex at the World Cup: Does abstinence help players perform?
According to Mexican national team coach Miguel Herrera, there’s no room for sex when it comes to soccer and the World Cup.
There are early mornings, long days of practice and a strict diet that coaches traditionally put their teams on. And then there’s the month-long stretch of no sex that Herrera enforced on team Mexico for the 2014 World Cup.
“If a player can’t go one month or 20 days without having sexual relations, then they are not prepared to be a professional player. All the players we have selected have a pretty good resume, they all have won great things, they have been champions, and they know what we want to achieve,” Herrera told Mexican newspaper Reforma.
“So then we will not be looking for sex or having sex at the World Cup just to have it, we are going to go after what we came for, a competition that gives us the opportunity to rise above and do something great,” he explained.
Maybe it zaps you of your energy. Or it strips you of a competitive edge on game day. Or it leaves you lusting for more while you’re on the field.
For whatever reason, athletes tend to abstain from sex before game day. Muhammed Ali, allegedly, wouldn’t have sex for weeks before a fight. During the 2010 World Cup, Argentinian soccer players were allowed to have sex with their wives and girlfriends, but English players were only allowed to see their partners just once post-game and even less if they were on a winning streak.
“Coaches like to control the situation and rightly or wrongly, there is this belief that having sex before a competition can affect an athlete’s performance,” Dr. Todd Loughead told Global News. He’s a sports psychologist at the University of Windsor in Ontario. There, he’s part of a lab focusing on enhancing athlete performance to make sure they compete at their best while enjoying the experience.
“For many countries at the World Cup, soccer is religion and teams want their players to stay focused, so they may see sex as a distraction,” he explained.
But is there science behind that theory?
In 2000, Canadian sports medicine specialist Dr. Ian Shrier studied how sex the night before competition affects performance.
He wrote that the abstinence ritual is more or less a “long-standing myth” that sexual frustration might boost an athlete’s aggression.
Dr. Kate Hays says that, as far as she knows, there is no concrete evidence in favour of abstinence for better game play.
A decades-old study dating back to 1968 had men squeeze a device that measured force — sex or no sex the night before, the men performed all the same.
Sex doesn’t exert too much energy, either. A Canadian study pegged 30 minutes of sex at between 90 and 120 calories. (Unless, of course, you’re having acrobatic sex, which Brazil officials have banned before World Cup matches.)
In some cases, having sex might even make players sleep better and relax.
Or it could have more to do with camaraderie.
“It becomes a team aspect too. Does it add some level of bonding if you’ve got certain restrictions? Does it make us more capable as a team?” Hays, a Toronto-based sports psychologist who runs the Performing Edge clinic, told Global News.
“They think it works, whether I think it works is a whole other question.”
Collectively, the shared experience of avoiding women and sex may bring the team closer. Giving up sex to focus on soccer is just one of the many superstitions athletes will take to heart when the stakes are high.
“These are all beliefs, they’re not based on actuality. It may relate to when you sleep, what you eat, what you wear, what you say, who you speak to,” Hays listed.
At the heart of it, being game-ready has to more to do with managing the “appropriate level of energy and intensity for being able to focus and deliver at the moment,” Hays explained. How teams get there is at their own will.
So do the men have a backup plan? Bosnia’s coach — who was also quoted saying “there will be no sex in Brazil” — is offering a consolation prize.
“They can find another solution, they can even masturbate if they want,” he told British outlets.
Read more World Cup coverage here.
© 2014 Shaw Media