In over 10,000 NCAA 1-A Football games, the home team won 59.97% of the time. From body paint to crude taunts, teams and fan bases will go a long way to create any sort of edge to increase their probability of success. In 1979, the head coach of Iowa football, Hayden Fry went as far as painting the visiting locker room pink in attempt to create a psychological hindrance to the opposing team.
Are we providing a home field advantage for our clients?
In our client interactions, there is an internal and external component to home field advantage. These factors live outside of the x’s and o’s but these less considered factors can have a strong impact on whether you and your client achieve your collective goals or if no show’s, decreased adherence, or frustration derail a process. They ultimately can determine the clients readiness for the interventions you are throwing at them.
External “Home Field Advantage”
This is the environment that the client finds them self in. Do they feel welcomed, secure, and safe to learn? Does the environment create an impression of where the process intends to take them? Do they enjoy being here for 30-90 min 1-3x/week? Picture a geriatric client walking in for a first training session with no weight training experience. They are nervous and unsure if this is going to be appropriate for them. They have been goaded into giving it a shot by their kids but are very concerned about the potential for injury. Imagine them walking into a musty gym with death metal and dropping barbells shaking the walls. Is this person inclined to double down on their fears or jump in to the experience with both feet? This environment will likely create an extreme “away game” experience. This is not to say it cannot eventually become a home game, however, the initial resistance will likely be high.
Of course, a home field advantage for some is an away game for others. We must curate our experience as best we can to fit the clientele we serve. Home field advantage is more than the color of the walls or music playing. It’s a timely reply to a phone call. The tone of voice and a smile. Allowing the person to feel heard. And ideally, making this a place they look forward to coming to. Our initial encounter should be centered around optimizing this environmental perception for the client. It will set the stage for the process to come, and just like with a sporting event, increase your probability of success.
Internal “Home Field Advantage” ⠀
This is the persons physical and mental state. Is the body ready to spare resources for adaptation? If the kitchen is on fire, this may not be the best time to build that new sun room. For many pain problems in our clients, the rate limiting step may be general levels of fitness. We may be unable to create the adaptations needed because they simply cannot yet tolerate the work it will take to do so. Their internal environment is always an “away game” any time the stimulus is applied. The threatened body rejects it like a gas station hot dog. We need to first create an internal environment that is ready to handle adaptation. We need to produce a “home field advantage”.
From the perspective of motor learning, we can prime a home field advantage through aerobic training. It has been shown that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise before or after a learning stimulus increases the amount of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. BDNF is like fertilizer for sprouting new neural connection. BDNF thus, increases the potential for motor learning in an individual increasing your probability of success. Now how’s that for a home field advantage?
Addressing these variables as needed and modifying or even stepping away from the rehab/training process temporarily to create an internal and external environment conducive to make the desired changes can sometimes be the best call. We must adapt the environment to the person in front of us and be their biggest fan. No body paint required.⠀