Travel: How time zone travel harms performance

New evidence for a deleterious effect of air travel on sporting performance has come from an Australian study analysing its effects during six seasons of the Australian National Netball Competition.

Archival data from those seasons (1997- 2002) were analysed, with comparisons made between ‘pairs’ of games in which teams played each other both at home and away during the same season.

The aim of the study was to assess the influence of travel within and across time zones on netball team performance. Pairs of games were grouped according to the travel required to reach the opponent’s court, as follows:

  1. Local (LT) – less than one hour’s travel;
  2. North or south travel (NS) without a time zone shift;
  3. East or west travel with a time zone shift of less than two hours (EW1);
  4. East or west travel with a two-hour time zone shift (EW2).

The change in performance with travel was assessed by comparing the points difference for each pair of games for each of the four groups; ie if team A defeated team B by 10 points at home but by only five points away, the points difference (travel cost) would be five points.

Analysis revealed that travel across a two-hour time zone (EW2) was the only condition in which there was a significant difference between points scored at home and away.

‘These results suggest,’ comment the researchers, ‘that relatively brief air travel… can influence team performance’. This finding provides some support for the ‘circadian dysrhythmia hypothesis’ (aka jet lag), but other factors could include the well-established ‘homeground advantage’ and the process of travel itself.

J Sci Med Sport 2004;7:1, pp118-122

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Tagged in Physiology & Winning
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