The Role of Fatigue in Sports Betting

When it comes to performance in sports, fatigue plays a big role. It can handicap a superstar player or cause an entire team to play way below its full ability. The good news? It can also pay off big when you’re making bets if you know what to look for.

When teams are coming off particularly grueling road trips or back to back schedules, fatigue can change the odds dramatically. There’s nothing worse than betting on a favorite to win only to see them sluggish and slow when the game starts.

If it’s happened to you, you know fatigue can cost the better team the game.

In this article we’ll help you understand the role of fatigue in major North American sports so you can use it to make smarter bets. We’ll explain the main ways fatigue affects different sports and the most common situations to look for when factoring fatigue into your sports wagers.

Fatigue and Betting at a Glance

If you don’t understand how it works, fatigue can cause big problems in your sports betting strategy. The goal of this article is to help you find ways to use fatigue to your advantage.

Here are some key concepts to keep in mind:

  • Fatigue negatively impacts a team’s performance.
  • Look for favorites who are suffering from fatigue and bet on the underdog.
  • Over-hyped favorites often get inflated odds meaning you get a bigger payout if there’s an upset.
  • When a coach benches a star player due to fatigue it can dramatically change the game’s outcome. Being able to predict it is a big edge.
  • Teams and players in the NHL and NBA are most affected by fatigue.

Fatigue is a factor in all major sports but in terms of gambling, it’s most useful for betting on the NHL and the NBA since they’re both really physical games with heavy schedules. Not only do teams play back to back games or three games in four days, they travel all over the country to do it.

Coaches and managers do their best to manage player and team fatigue and the oddsmakers definitely look out for it too. Even so, if you can understand the role fatigue plays and how specific teams and players react to it, you can use it get an edge on your bets.

How fatigued are the star players in a certain matchup? Are there fresh players ready to break out? Is there an underdog that could have an advantage because of fatigue? These are just a few examples of the questions you can ask concerning fatigue.

Tips and Strategies

Oddsmakers adjust their odds and lines to reflect the role they believe fatigue to be playing. If you can spot clues they’ve missed, like a star player who’s particularly affected by back to back games, for example, you can find an edge.

The most straightforward approach is to look at the schedules of each team leading up to the game. Here are some common schedule trends you can keep an eye out for before placing your bets.

As we mentioned before, fatigue is most important in the NBA and NHL but we’ll also outline a few spots where it can play a role in other leagues as well.

Games on Back to Back Nights

  • This doesn’t matter so much for MLB players since the game isn’t as physical and athletes are used to playing consecutive games.
  • Back to back games do play a big factor in both NBA and NHL games.
  • Don’t just bet blindly against teams playing on the second night of back to backs.
  • Consider the amount of travel between games, how emotionally draining the game previous game was and how fatigue might be affecting the other team.
  • Also, watch for who might be sitting out on the second night of back to backs.
  • For the NHL, make sure to check who the starting goalie is and what his last game was like.

Three Games in Four Nights

  • This situation mainly applies to the NBA and NHL.
  • Sometimes, playing three games in four nights can be even more tiring than back to backs.
  • Look for teams who are on lengthy road trips while also facing three games in four nights.
  • Also, watch to see if the team playing its third game in four nights is also on the second night of back to backs. This is an especially gruelling spot that can affect performance in a big way.

Five Games in Six Nights

  • Teams almost never play five games in six nights in the NHL or NBA so this is a situation that is most common in Major League Baseball.
  • When MLB teams start playing five games in six nights it can significantly affect their performance in a negative way.
  • Sometimes MLB teams even play six games in six nights on some occasions.

Fatigue and Prop Bets

Prop bets are often placed on individual statistics in a game such as the over/under on things like strikeouts in baseball, rebounds in the NBA, goals scored in hockey or touchdowns in football.

  • Look for teams who have been on lengthy road trips, players who are injured, or players who are often overplayed by their teams and bet the under on these stats.
  • Conversely, look to place bets on the over for teams or players who are facing tired opponents.

How Does Player Fatigue in Sports Work?

If you’ve played sports before, you know that fatigue can be a factor from game to game, quarter to quarter, and even shift to shift. If you’ve lost money on a bet that involved fatigue, you’re probably even more aware of how big a role it can play.

Here are the three main concepts to understand when it comes to player fatigue in sports.

How Physical is the Sport?

Fatigue can occur in any sport, but it’s no secret that the fatigue in a sport like golf doesn’t hit an athlete as hard as the physical fatigue of heavy contact sports.

Basketball and hockey are both really physical sports that tire players out. Other sports like football are definitely physical, but since they have big breaks between games, fatigue is less of a factor than leagues that play multiple games every week.

How Heavy is the Schedule?

Which athlete is more likely to recover from physical stress, the one that spends nearly every night on the road or one to who gets ample opportunity to rest up at home?

In certain sports, heavy schedules contribute to fatigue and the likelihood injuries. Leagues such as the NHL and the NBA have heavy travel schedules combined with a physically draining sport. Of course, the MLB is the mother of all regular season schedules, but the nature of the sports, along with the fact that games are often played in series of three, means that the travel schedule isn’t as hard on MLB athletes as it is on NHL or NBA athletes.

Even though baseball isn’t as physical, the heavy schedule can make fatigue a factor that affects hitting and pitching.

How Much Time Has an Athlete Played?

Unless you talking about Superman (or Lebron James), every athlete will suffer from being overplayed by their coach.

The nature of every sport is different, but sports such as soccer, baseball and hockey have really stepped up their game to learn more about how overplaying an athlete can lead to injuries, fatigue and poor performance.

In baseball, tracking the innings of every individual pitcher is perfected down to a science. In hockey, more and more research is leading coaches to play their backup netminder with more regularity because starting goalies begin to break down physically when they play too much.

Exceptions for Fatigue in Sports Betting

There’s a line between fatigue and too much rest. When players have too much time off they can get rusty. Here are three examples where fatigue isn’t the defining factor in the matchup.

“Tired” Teams Against Well-rested Teams

Believe it or not, there can be an advantage to “tired” teams playing against teams that have had too much rest.

This tends to happen in the playoffs in the NBA and NHL, where a team with one week of rest could be facing a team with one day of rest. There is a common belief that if a team rests for too long, they could be rusty against a team that’s in the groove.

“Tired” Teams Playing Against Star Players Coming Back from Injury

Another area where fatigue could play a lesser role is when a “tired” team faces off against an opponent with a star player coming back from an injury. Even when athletes are healthy, it usually takes them time to get back up to game speed after being away for so long.

Pinpointing Teams That Handle Fatigue Well

It is easy enough to look at a schedule and find a tired team facing a team that’s more well-rested. What that doesn’t account for are teams that do an outstanding job of handling fatigue.

When you do find these teams (or individual players, as mentioned above), take a second look at who they might be facing, and consider whether fatigue is really a factor based on how the team or player in question manages fatigue.

Why Fatigue is Biggest Factor in NHL and NBA

To understand how fatigue can factor into sports betting, most of the research has been focused on major North American leagues such as the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL.

All of these leagues have different physical demands. However, it’s pretty obvious that some are are a lot more demanding than others, especially over an entire season.

The NFL is arguably the most physically demanding sport on a game-to-game basis, but with only 16 regular season games it’s hard to consider it the most demanding overall. Major League Baseball plays the highest number of regular season games during the season at 162 but it’s easily the least physically demanding each game.

Physicality and heavy schedules converge to make a perfect storm of fatigue in the NHL and NBA. Teams in both leagues play 82 games per season and both are physically demanding. Of the two, hockey is definitely the more physical game and the one that fatigue arguable plays the biggest role in.

How Fatigue Affects NHL Players

The NHL is one of the most physically demanding leagues in the world with endurance, strength and big hits all playing a big role. It’s the only major North American league where fighting is a legitimate part of the game.

Factors from fatigue mostly affect the goaltenders, the top players on every team, and the defencemen. Goaltender fatigue has been a hot topic in hockey over the past few seasons.

In the early 2000s, the average number of starts for a starting goalie used to hover around 65 games. Now, the average starter plays 55-60 games. This makes it more critical to watch for who’s playing in goal when betting on individual hockey games. Always be sure to check on the starting goaltenders for bets in the NHL.

Defencemen play more than forwards so they’re more susceptible to fatigue. Defencemen are also more likely to be injured since they block more shots and are hit more on average than forwards.

For both forwards and defencemen, the top players still play under 50% of the game (20-25 minutes out of 60 minutes per game). The very best in the game can play nearly 30 minutes per game, but that’s a rare feat in the NHL. Still, if you follow the NHL closely, watch for players who are being overplayed to fall victim to fatigue if their numbers get too high.

How Fatigue Affects NBA Players

In the NBA, fatigue factors are certainly at play even if the sport isn’t as physically demanding as the NHL. For one, there are less NBA players that hit the court in a game (nearly half as many as the average NHL team). Second, the top NBA players are on the court for a lot longer per game.

While physical contact isn’t as brutal as the NHL it’s still an exhausting game. There’s a toll on the knees, hips, ankles joints and overall stamina. Some of the most gruesome injuries we’ve seen in professional sports over the years have been from freak leg injuries from basketball players landing awkwardly on a jump. Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics comes to mind.

That being said, injuries still don’t play the same factor as they do in the NHL. In the 2018-19 season in the NBA, teams had lost 67 man-games to injury at the halfway point of the season. In the NHL, the average team had lost 104 man-games to injuries at the same point in the season.

The Travel Factor for NBA and NHL

As mentioned before, the NBA and the NHL are both two of the most travel-heavy leagues in all of sports. Even though the MLB plays twice as many games, the three-games series actually mean that pro baseball players travel less than athletes in the NHL and NBA.

Both the NHL and NBA have 41 road games in a season, with flights between every stop. The MLB has 82 road games, but if they travel on average once every three road games, then they actually fly from city to city less than 30 times per season.

There’s one other important thing to note about the role travel plays in fatigue.

The West Coast Bias

It’s no secret to sports fans that in North America, eastern teams represent only about a quarter of the continent geographically. That means that teams out West are subjected to much longer travel schedules than their eastern counterparts.

That can be most grueling for some of the Canadian teams in the NHL, in particular. The Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames tend to travel more miles than any other teams in North American professional sports.

Even teams in California are subjected to more travel than teams in the Northeastern corner of North America, where the population density is much greater. That’s something to pay attention to, especially deeper into the regular season.

Some teams, such as the Canucks, previously invested in having sleep doctors and sleep consultants to help work around the challenges of extra travel. Understanding how different teams deal with fatigue can pay off when deciding who to bet on.

The Fatigue Factor by Sport

Understanding fatigue can be useful for lots of bets but it’s most frequently applied to game outcomes like moneylines, point spreads or over/unders, as well as individual player prop bets, like how many points a certain person will score.

When assessing how big a role fatigue will play, you can start by looking at the three main factors we mentioned above: schedule, amount of travel, and how much a player is being used. These three factors have the largest effect on the outcome of games, and should therefore have the largest effect on the bets you are placing.

We’ve briefly talked about why the NBA and NHL are the most grueling sports that induce fatigue on their athletes, but here’s a closer look at how all four of the major leagues in North America are affected by fatigue and the specific ways it can help your betting.

Fatigue and Betting on NBA

As mentioned before, fatigue affects NBA players mainly based on the heavy travel schedule, the amount of playing time for star players, and the amount of lower-body injuries suffered from the demanding nature of the game.

Largest NBA Factor: Injuries Affecting Star Players

Other than baseball, basketball teams rely most heavily on superstars for overall game performances. We’ve seen how players like LeBron James and Steph Curry can completely take over games.

What we’re also seeing is coaches starting to rest their star players more on back-to-back games. Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors is an example of one star who often doesn’t play in back-to-back games.

If you can predict when an influential player will be sitting out due to fatigue it can make a big difference to the game’s outcome.

Fatigue and Betting on NHL

For our money the NHL is the most grueling sport in North America in terms of fatigue. The physical nature of the game combined with a heavy travel schedule can be brutal for athletes.

Largest Factor: Playing Through Injuries

This is a common refrain in football but it might actually be more common in hockey. Many of these athletes grow up thinking that playing hurt makes them a warrior. That’s extremely true in hockey, especially during the playoffs.

Former NHLer Kevin Bieksa said in an interview that during the Stanley Cup playoffs, he would often play through injuries without telling management or the media.

Many NHLers have echoed those same sentiments. If you’re noticing a player in the NHL that isn’t playing up to snuff, that could often be because he’s playing hurt without telling anyone.

Fatigue and Betting in MLB

The MLB can be a bit deceiving when trying to determine how much fatigue factors into games. Although teams play more games than any other league in North America, it’s by far the least physically demanding physically.

But not everyone on the team is standing still for the majority of the game. Pitchers are throwing nonstop and it can add up over the course of one or more games.

Largest Factor: Innings Pitched for Starting Pitchers

The magic number for top starting pitcher seems to be 200 innings pitched per season. Usually, that number is reached over about 30-35 games.

When a starter starts to surpass that 200 inning per season mark, it is a sign of two things: Either that pitcher is extremely good or he’s being overplayed. There have been examples of managers who start to reduce playing time for their starters when they start reaching that threshold, in some cases the pitchers are completely shut down for the season.

Fatigue and Betting in NFL

Although the NFL has the shortest schedule of all major leagues in North America, the sport itself is arguably the most demanding. You could make the argument for NHL hockey being as demanding on a game-to-game basis, but it’s definitely the NFL where most injuries occur.

That’s more of a sport factor than a fatigue factor, but there’s no doubt that a sport as physically demanding as football is exhausting for athletes.

Largest Factor: Injuries to Crucial, Non-star Players

Often, it’s injuries to non-star players that are the big difference-makers in the NFL. Sure, injuries to star quarterbacks, running backs and receivers makes a difference, but it’s injuries to the offensive lineman that tend to affect the outcome of games on a regular basis.

There are numerous examples of talented teams who have squandered opportunities because their offensive line couldn’t keep them in games. Bottom line? Make sure you check the injury report before making your bets on the NFL.

How Some Teams & Players Work to Combat Fatigue

We mentioned before the example of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL. Former general manager Mike Gillis was one of the first managers in the league to publicly discuss his use of sleep doctors and other research.

Since the Canucks face more travel than most North American teams, they’re already at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting fatigue.

We’re seeing other professional sports teams find new ways to conquer fatigue too. The NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the MLB’s Boston Red Sox are working to conquer fatigue by working with the bedding company, BedGear, to get their players top of the line custom-made pillows and bed gear.

Implications of Fatigue on Betting Odds

Some players are better at managing their fatigue than others and knowing who’s particularly good or bad at it can give you an edge. The challenge is that it’s tough to figure out who bounces back and who doesn’t.

Stories to trickle into the mainstream from time to time. One came from the Washington Post in 2017, when they told a story about how Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie uses an Accelerated Recovery Program (ARP) device. The machine is attached to the body via small patches, and then electrical currents are sent through the body.

According to the article, at least 75 NHL players currently use the device. Oshie, in particular, was signed to a contract in 2017 that many deemed an overpayment, but the winger was instrumental in helping the Washington Capitals win their first Stanley Cup in 2018.

The logic is simple with sports betting and fatigue: the more you immerse yourself into knowledge about athletes in a sport, the better your bets are likely to be. Playing fantasy sports is also a valuable tool for gaining insights into specific players.

The Bottom Line? Fatigue Can Play A Factor in Your Bets

Understand fatigue can help you make better bets but there’s no secret formula that’s guaranteed to win every time.

Here are some of the main points that you should keep in mind when factoring in fatigue with your bets.

  • The physical nature of certain sports, heavier travel schedules, or a coach overplaying an athlete are the main factors of fatigue in sports.
  • The NBA and NHL are the most grueling sports for fatigue since there is a decent mix of physicality and travel in both leagues.
  • Although there are many different factors for fatigue, there are more pressing specifics of fatigue that sports bettors should know about, depending on the league they bet on.
  • Watch for teams playing back-to-back games, three games in four nights, etc.
  • Certain players and teams do a better job of handling fatigue than others, so pay attention for clues.
  • There are some exceptions where fatigue might not be a huge factor, such as against teams that are overly rested and possibly rusty.

Now that you have a better grasp on how fatigue might affect your bets, it is time to put your knowledge into action. Check out our state by state guides to see if sports betting is legal where you live.

If sports betting isn’t yet legalized in your state, sit tight and keep studying. Chances are good that it’s coming soon.