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Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

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The Physiology Of Speed

Posted by Dan Peterson Aug 29, 2009

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Usain Bolt, the triple Olympic gold medal sprinter from Jamaica, predicted last week that he could break his own world record of 9.69 seconds in the 100 meter sprint with a time as low as 9.54 seconds.  (8/15 update: he came very close running a 9.58 at the World Championships in Berlin.)

 

He claimed his coach told him its possible, so he believes him. His coach, Glen Mills, may have just finished reading some new research coming out of Duke University that showed sprinters and swimmers who are taller, heavier but more slender are the ones breaking world records.

 

At first glance, it may not make sense that bigger athletes would be faster. However, Jordan Charles, a recent engineering grad at Duke, plotted all of the world record holders in the 100 meter sprint and the 100 meter swim since 1900 against their height, weight and a measurement he called "slenderness."

 

World record sprinters have gained an average of 6.4 inches in height since 1900, while champion swimmers have shot up 4.5 inches, compared to the mere mortal average height gain of 1.9 inches.

During the same time, about 7/10 of a second have been shaved off of the 100-meter sprint while over 14 seconds have come off the 100-meter swim record.

 

What's going on

Charles applied the "[constructal theory | http://www.constructal.org/]" he learned from his mentor Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineering professor at Duke, that describes how objects move through their environment.

 

"Anything that moves, or anything that flows, must evolve so that it flows more and more easily," Bejan said. "Nature wants to find a smoother path, to flow more easily, to find a path with less resistance," he said. "The animal design never gets there, but it tries to be the least imperfect that it can be."

 

Their research is reported in the current online edition of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

 

For locomotion, a human needs to overcome two forces, gravity and friction. First, an athlete would need to lift his foot off the ground or keep his body at the water line without sinking. Second, air resistance for the sprinter and water resistance for the swimmer will limit speed.

 

So, the first step is actually weight lifting, which a bigger, stronger athlete will excel at. The second step is to move through the space with the least friction, which emphasizes the new slenderness factor.

 

By comparing height with a calculated "width" of the athlete, slenderness is a measurement of mass spread out over a long frame. The athlete that can build on more muscle mass over a aerodynamic frame will have the advantage.

 

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The numbers

In swimming, legendary Hawaiian champion Duke Kahanamoku set the world record in 1912 with a time of 61.6 seconds with a calculated slenderness of 7.88. Some 96 years later, Eamon Sullivan lowered the world mark to 47.05 seconds at a slenderness factor of 8.29.

 

As the athletes’ slenderness factor has risen over the years, the winning times have dropped.  In 1929, Eddie Tolan's world-record 100 meter sprint of 10.4 seconds was achieved with a slenderness factor of 7.61. When Usain Bolt ran 9.69 seconds in the 2008 Olympics, his slenderness was also 8.29 while also being the tallest champion in history at 6-feet 5-inches.

 

“The trends revealed by our analysis suggest that speed records will continue to be dominated by heavier and taller athletes,” said Charles. “We believe that this is due to the constructal rules of animal locomotion and not the contemporary increase in the average size of humans.”

 

So, how fast did the original Olympians run? Charles used an anthropology finding for Greek and Roman body mass and plugged it into his formula.

 

“In antiquity, body weights were roughly 70 percent of what they are today,” Charles said. “Using our theory, a 100-meter dash that is won in 13 seconds would have taken about 14 seconds back then.”

Bolt puts his prediction to the test next month at the track and field world championships in Berlin. One of his main competitors is Asafa Powell, the previous world record holder, who is shorter and has a slenderness factor of 7.85. My money is on the Lightning Bolt.

 

Please read more sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.

459 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: olympics, sports_science, track_and_field, usain_bolt

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For any guy who has endured more than thirty minutes on a road bicycle seat, there is usually some concern over the strange numbness that occurs in places that should not go numb. Well, a new study has some good and bad news.

 

Spanish researchers have found that active male cyclists have lower quality sperm to the point of infertility risk. Among other things, they blame the painful "function over form" design of the wedge bicycle seat.

 

The good news is that unless you're training to be in the next Tour de France with Lance Armstrong, your time on the saddle shouldn't do any long-term damage.

 

A team led by professor Diana Vaamonde, from the University of Cordoba Medical School, tracked the workout regimen of 15 Spanish triathletes, with an average age of 33 who had been training for at least eight years, while also monitoring their sperm morphology.




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For those in the test group that covered more than 180 miles per week on their bikes, the percentage of normal looking sperm dropped from a group average of 10 percent to 4 percent, a rate where infertility problems begin. Increased swimming or running did not affect sperm quality.

 

"We found a statistically adverse correlation between sperm morphology and the volume of cycling training undertaken per week," Vaamonde said. "We believe that all the factors inherent in this sports activity, especially with regards to the cycling part, may affect sperm quality," she added. "Moreover, we think that normal physiological homeostasis – the body’s ability to regulate its own environment – may become irreversibly altered, therefore resulting in complex anomalies."

 

Vaamonde cited three possible reasons for the results: the increased heat during exercise, the friction and pressure against the seat causing microtrauma on the testes, and the overall rigor of intense exercise.

 

The study was released last week in Amsterdam at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

 

The Spanish researchers were following up on research from 2002 that showed similar results for mountain bikers. In that study, Austrian researcher Ferdinand Frauscher tested 40 active (two hours per day) mountain bikers with 30 non-bikers. He found that the bikers had about half the sperm count of the non-bikers. Frauscher explained (as only a medical doctor can) the possible reasons: "The exact causes for the decreased sperm motility are unclear. We believe that repeated mechanical trauma to the testicles results in some degree of vascular damage, and may thereby cause a reduction in sperm motility." Ouch.

 

For casual bike riders, the risk is still quite low. Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, told BBC News, "It is important to stress that even if the association between cycling and poor sperm morphology is correct, men training for triathlons are spending much more time in the saddle than the average social cycler or someone who might cycle to and from work."

 

For those that are still not okay with the "saddle sores," there are always the anatomically correct seats and the padded biker shorts, not to mention recumbent bikes. Beyond that, maybe a nice jog would be better.

 

Please read more sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental!

608 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: cycling, triathlon, tour_de_france, lance_armstrong, sports_science

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After an hour of sweating on the treadmill or pumping iron, most of us look forward to the extra post-exercise "afterburn" of fat cells that has been promised to us by fitness pundits. This 24-hour period of altered metabolism is supposed to help with our overall weight loss. 

Unfortunately, a recent study found this to be a myth for moderate exercisers.

 

The new research clarifies a misunderstanding that exercisers can ignore their diet after a workout because their metabolism is in this super active state.

 

"It's not that exercise doesn't burn fat," said Edward Melanson, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, "It's just that we replace the calories. People think they have a license to eat whatever they want, and our research shows that is definitely not the case. You can easily undo what you set out to do.”

 

The findings were detailed in the April edition of Exercise and Sport Sciences Review.

 

What does happen


Melanson and his team set out to measure whether people were able to burn more calories for the 24 hours after a workout compared to a day with no exercise. Their test groups, totaling 65 volunteers, included a mix of lean vs. obese and active vs. sedentary people.

On exercise days, they rode stationary bikes until they had burned 400 calories. Their pre and post exercise diet was controlled.

Throughout the groups, there was no difference in the amount of fat burned in the 24-hour period either with or without exercise.  Of course, during the exercise plenty of calories were being burned and that's the formula that Melanson would like us to remember.  "If you are using exercise to lose body weight or body fat, you have to consider how many calories you are expending and how many you are taking in," Melanson recently told WebMd. The daily energy balance or "calories in vs. calories out" is the most reliable equation for long-term weight loss.

While the current research focused on the moderate activity levels of most people, the researchers admitted they still need to examine the effect of higher intensity workouts and multiple consecutive days of exercise.

They are clear on their current message. "We suggest that it is time to put the myth that low intensity exercise promotes a greater fat burn to rest," Melanson writes. "Clearly, exercise intensity does not have an effect on daily fat balance, if intake is unchanged."

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Type of workout

So, how about a weight resistance training program mixed in with cardio work?  Another fitness industry claim is that more muscle mass on your frame will raise your metabolism rate, even while sitting on the couch.

 

The same study, using the same test groups, found the post-exercise rate of calorie burn did not change on days of lifting versus no lifting. It is true that a pound of muscle burns seven to ten calories per day versus only two calories per day for a pound of fat. However, the average adult just doesn't put on enough lean muscle mass to make this difference significant.

 

While this research dispels one myth about exercise, there is still overwhelming evidence of the benefits of movement when combined with your eating habits. So, before eating that double cheeseburger and fries, you might want to do some math to figure out how many stairs you'll have to climb to break even.

 

 

Please visit my other sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental </b>

388 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: training, running, fitness, evidence_based_coaching, sports_science

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At a recent baseball game, the 12-year-old second baseman on my son's team had a ground ball take a nasty hop, hitting him just next to his right eye. He was down on the field for several minutes and was later diagnosed at the hospital with a concussion.

 

Thankfully, acute baseball injuries like this are on the decline, according to a new report. However, several leading physicians say overuse injuries of young players caused by too much baseball show no signs of slowing down.

 

Our unlucky infielder's hospital injury report may become part of a national database called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), part of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. It monitors 98 hospitals across the country for reports on all types of injuries.

 

Bradley Lawson, Dawn Comstock and Gary Smith of Ohio State University filtered this data to find just baseball-related injuries to kids under 18 from 1994-2006.

 

During that period, they found that more than 1.5 million young players were treated in hospital emergency rooms, with the most common injury being, you guessed it, being hit by the ball, and typically in the face.

 

The good news is that the annual number of baseball injuries has decreased by 24.9 percent over those 13 years. The researchers credit the decline to the increased use of protective equipment.

 

"Safety equipment such as age-appropriate breakaway bases, helmets with properly-fitted face shields, mouth guards and reduced-impact safety baseballs have all been shown to reduce injuries," Smith said. "As more youth leagues, coaches and parents ensure the use of these types of safety equipment in both practices and games, the number of baseball-related injuries should continue to decrease. Mouth guards, in particular, should be more widely used in youth baseball."

 

Their research is detailed in the latest edition of the journal Pediatrics.

 

The bad news is ...


 


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While accident-related injuries are down, preventable injuries from overuse still seem to be a problem, according to author Mark Hyman. In his recent book, "Until It Hurts," Hyman admits his own mistakes in pressuring his 14-year-old son to continue pitching with a sore arm, causing further injury.

 

Surprised by his own unwillingness to listen to reason, Hyman, a long-time journalist, researched the growing trend of high-pressure parents pushing their young athletes too far, too fast.

 

"Many of the physicians I spoke with told me of a spike in overuse injuries they had witnessed," Hyman told Livescience. "As youth sports become increasingly competitive — climbing a ladder to elite teams, college scholarships, parental prestige and so on — children are engaging in a range of risky behaviors."

 

One expert he consulted was Dr. Lyle Micheli, founder of one of the country's first pediatric sports medicine clinics at Children's Hospital in Boston. Micheli estimates that 75 percent of the young patients he sees are suffering from some sort of overuse injury, versus 20 percent back in the 1990s.

 

"As a medical society, we've been pretty ineffective dealing with this," Micheli said. "Nothing seems to be working."

 

Young surgeries

 

In severe overuse cases for baseball pitchers, the end result may be ulnar collateral ligament surgery, better known as "Tommy John" surgery. Dr. James Andrews, known for performing this surgery on many professional players, has noticed an alarming trend in his practice. Andrews told The Oregonian last month that more than one-quarter of his 853 patients in the past six years were at the high school level or younger, including one 7-year-old.

 

Last spring, Andrews and his colleagues conducted a study comparing 95 high-school pitchers who required surgical repair of either their elbow or shoulder with 45 pitchers that did not suffer injury.

 

They found that those who pitched for more than eight months per year were 500 percent more likely to be injured, while those who pitched more than 80 pitches per game increased their injury risk by 400 percent.  Pitchers who continued pitching despite having arm fatigue were an incredible 3,600 percent more likely to do serious damage to their arm.

 

Hyman encourages parents to keep youth sports in perspective. "I think that, generally, parents view sports as a healthy and wholesome activity. That's a positive. But, we live in hyper-competitive culture, and parents like to see their kids competing," he said. "It's not only sports. It's ballet and violin and SAT scores and a host of other things.  It's in our DNA."

 

 

Please visit my other sports science articles at Sports are 80 Percent Mental.</b>

521 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, baseball, evidence_based_coaching, sports_science, sport_skills, youth_sports

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As usual, your Mom was right. When she told you to get outside and play, she instinctively knew that would be good for you.

 

Researchers at the University of Exeter have found that kids' natural short bursts of play energy contribute just as much to a healthy lifestyle as longer bouts of organized exercise, such as gym class.

As of 2008, 32 percent of U.S. children were overweight or obese, as measured by their body mass index. While many organized programs have studied this epidemic, the prescription remains the same: less food, more exercise.

 

In fact, a previous study of 133 children found that the physical activity of the obese children over a three-week period was 35 prcent less during school days and 65 percent less on weekends compared to the children who were within accepted healthy weight norms.

 

In the new study, Michelle Stone and Roger Eston of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences measured the activity level of 47 boys aged between 8 and 10 over seven days using an accelerometer strapped to each boy's hip (similar to the one inside your iPhone or Wii controller that senses motion).

The key was to find a model that would record the shortest bursts of energy, sometimes less than 2 seconds. As any boy's parents know, those spurts can happen all afternoon, whether it be chasing the dog, throwing rocks in the lake or climbing a tree.

 

The researchers also measured waist circumference, aerobic fitness and blood pressure of each boy. They found that even though their activity levels came in many short chunks, their health indicators were all in the normal range.

 

Stone explains their conclusion, "Our study suggests that physical activity is associated with health, irrespective of whether it is accumulated in short bursts or long bouts. Previous research has shown that children are more naturally inclined to engage in short bursts of running, jumping and playing with a ball, and do not tend to sustain bouts of exercise lasting five or more minutes. This is especially true for activities that are more vigorous in nature.

 

Their findings are in the April edition of the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity.

 

The researchers admit that more research is needed to measure long-term effects on health.  Establishing activity guidelines for parents and schools will help the kids plan time to move each day.

 

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The National Football League has even started a program called NFL Play 60 that encourages kids to move for at least 60 minutes each day.  "Our players know the importance of staying healthy and it’s important that young fans also understand the value of exercise," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "Play 60 is an important tool in ensuring children get their necessary daily physical activity as recommended by health and fitness experts."

 

So, more recess and less physical education in our schools? Maybe, according to Stone, "If future research backs up our findings, we would do better to encourage young children to do what they do naturally, rather than trying to enforce long exercise sessions on them. This could be a useful way of improving enjoyment and sustainability of healthy physical activity levels in childhood."

 

Please visit my other sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

433 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: fitness, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_science, youth_sports

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Many people exercise to improve the health of their hearts. Now, researchers have found a link between your heart rate just before and during exercise and your chances of a future heart attack.
Just the thought of exercise raises your heart rate. The new study shows that how much it goes up is related to the odds of you eventually dying of a heart attack.

More than 300,000 people die each year from sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S., often with no known risk factors. Being able to find early warning signs has been the goal of researchers like Professor Xavier Jouven, of the Hopital Européen Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Jouven's team has been examining data from a study of 7,746 French men employed by the Paris Civil Service and given health examinations between 1967-1972, including exercise tests, electrocardiograms and heart rate measurements. Over an average 23-year follow-up, 83 eventually died of heart attacks, also known as sudden cardiac death (SCD).

In 2005, Jouven's team first showed that how a heart behaves before, during and after exercise could predict future problems. The risk of a future heart attack was about four times higher than normal in men whose resting hearts beat faster than 75 beats per minute (bpm) or did not speed up by more than 89 beats during exercise. Likewise, heart attacks were twice as likely in men whose heart rates didn't slow down more than 25 beats in the first minute after exercise stopped.

Just a thought

In the latest study, published last week in the European Heart Journal, the French researchers found another interesting clue in the same data set. Not only was the resting heart rate of each person taken, but also another reading right before they were to start a strenuous exercise bike test. This rate is affected by what they called "mild mental stress." It measures the body's physiological anticipation of exercise .

 

Think of this type of stress as the brain's warning to the body that some difficult, sweaty work is about to begin. It is normal for this rate to be slightly higher than the resting rate, but for some it is significantly higher.

 

The men who had the highest increase in heart rate during this period (increasing by more than 12 beats a minute) had twice the risk of eventual future sudden cardiac death compared to men who had the lowest increase in heart rate (an increase of less than four beats a minute).

 

So, the high-risk heart overreacts to the anticipation of exercise, and then does not respond to the full extent needed during exercise. Afterwards, it does not regulate itself down fast enough.

 

What's going on

Jouven hypothesized that the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the body's internal control governor, must be out of whack.

 

!http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/Six0njRi5kI/AAAAAAAAArk/ETSL44_ynGQ/s400/autonomic_nervous_system.jpg|src=http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/Six0njRi5kI/AAAAAAAAArk/ETSL44_ynGQ/s400/autonomic_nervous_system.jpg|border=0! The ANS has two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Joeven suggests we think of the sympathetic system as the accelerator that turns up our response to exercise by increasing our heart rate. Putting the brakes on this acceleration are the vagus nerves, part of the parasympathetic system, preventing our heart from running out of control.

 

"There is a balance between the accelerator (sympathetic activation) and the brake (vagus nerve activation)," Jouven explains. "During an ischemic episode, when blood flow to the heart is reduced, sympathetic activation occurs to counteract it. However, if there is no protection by the vagal tone (the brake), the activation can become uncontrolled and then it becomes dangerous."

 

Finding this connection between heart rate and future heart problems is encouraging for future research, according to Jouven.

 

"These findings may carry significant clinical implications," he said. "Few measurements in medicine are as inexpensive and as easy to obtain in large general populations as to measure the heart rate difference between resting and being ready to perform an exercise test. The results will contribute towards a better understanding of the mechanisms of cardiac death."

 

Please visit my other sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental .</b>

351 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: running, fitness, sport_science, sports_science, sports_medicine



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As first seen on Livescience.com.</b>

 

Of all of the decisions parents face regarding their children's future, choosing between shoulder pads or running shoes for their Christmas present seems trivial. Well, according to Kevin Reilly, president of Atlas Sports Genetics , this is a decision you should not take lightly. 

"If you wait until high school or college to find out if you have a good athlete on your hands, by then it will be too late," he said in a recent New York Times interview . "We need to identify these kids from 1 and up, so we can give the parents some guidelines on where to go from there."

 

Earlier this month, Reilly's company began marketing a $149 saliva swab test for kids, aged 1 to 8, to determine which variant of the gene ACTN3 is in their DNA. According to a 2003 Australian study , ACTN3 was shown to be a marker for two different types of athletic prowess, explosive power or long endurance. While everyone carries the gene, the combination of variants inherited, one from each parent, differs.

 

Science of success

The R variant of ACTN3 signals the body to produce a protein, alpha-actinin-3, which is found exclusively in fast-twitch muscles. The X variant prohibits this production. So, athletes inheriting two R variants may have a genetic advantage in sports requiring quick, powerful muscle contractions from their fast-twitch muscle fibers.

 

In the ACTN3 study, Dr. Kathryn North and her lab at the Institute for Neuromuscular Research of the University of Sydney looked at 429 internationally ranked Australian athletes and found significant correlation between power sport athletes and the presence of the R variant. All of the female sprint athletes had at least one R variant, as did the male power-sport athletes. In fact, 50 percent of the 107 sprinters had two copies of the R variant.

 

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North's team also noted that the elite endurance athletes seemed to be linked to the XX variation, although only significantly in the female sample. In 2007, her team pursued this link by developing a strain of mice that was completely deficient in the alpha-actinin-3 protein similar to an athlete with an XX allele. They found the muscle metabolism of the mice without the protein was more efficient. Amazingly, the mice were able to run 33 percent farther than mice with the normal ACTN3 gene.

 

 

Cloudy future

Additional research is showing mixed results, however. 

 

In 2007, South African researchers found no significant correlation between 457 Ironman triathletes, known for their endurance, and the XX combination. This year, Russian researchers at the St. Petersburg Research Institute of Physical Culture also failed to establish the XX-endurance performance link among 456 elite rowers but did find the RR connection among a sample of Russian power sports athletes.

 

So, can we at least find the next Usain Bolt among our kids?

 

"Everybody wants to predict future athletic success based on present achievement or physical makeup. But predicting success is much more difficult than most people think," Robert Singer, professor and chair of the department of exercise and sport sciences at the University of Florida warns in the book "Sports Talent" (Human Kinetics Publishers, 2001) by Jim Brown.

 

"There are too many variables, even if certain athletes have a combination of genes that favors long-range talent," Singer said. "A person's genetic makeup can be expressed in many different ways, depending on environmental and situational opportunities. Variables such as motivation, coachability, and opportunity can't be predicted."

 

Destiny?

Just as we assume that kids that are at the 99 percent percentile in height are destiny-bound for basketball or volleyball, having this peek into their genome may tempt parents to limit the sports choices for their son or daughter.

 

Even Mr. Reilly expressed his concern in the Times article: "I'm nervous about people who get back results that don't match their expectations," he said. "What will they do if their son would not be good at football? How will they mentally and emotionally deal with that?"

 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Finger_Length.jpg|height=200|width=80|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Finger_Length.jpg|border=0! For those parents that are just not ready to discover the sports destiny of their child, or just want to save the $150, there is a much simpler alternative. Hold your son or daughter's hand, palm up. Measure the lengths of their index finger and their ring finger. Divide the former by the latter. According to John Manning, professor of psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, if the ratio is closer to .90 than 1.0, you may have a budding superstar.

 

Manning explains in his aptly named new book, "The Finger Book" (Faber and Faber, 2008),that the amount of a fetus' exposure to testosterone in the womb determines the length of the ring finger, while estrogen levels are expressed in the length of the index finger. According to Manning's theory, more testosterone means more physical and motor skill ability.

 

The digit ratio theory, as it is known, has been the subject of more than 120 studies to find its effect on athletic, musical and even lovemaking aptitude.

 

Don't worry if the ratio is closer to 1.0, which is by far the norm. Plus, you will be able to relax, enjoy your kids' sports events and only worry about their genetic disposition to being happy.

682 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: sports_science, sport_skills, youth_sports, sports_parents, actn3, athletic_gene, digit_ratio_theory


!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/PlaxicoBurress.jpg|height=285|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/PlaxicoBurress.jpg|border=0!


As first seen on LiveScience.com
and Sports Are 80 Percent Mental



From the "athletes behaving badly" department (in the past month, anyway):
•    NHL bad boy (Sean Avery) was suspended for six games for a crude remark.
•    Six NFL players were suspended for allegedly violating the league's drug policy.
•    Another NFL player (Adam "Pacman" Jones) returned to his team's roster after being suspended, again, for an off-field altercation.
•    Oh, and NFL receiver (Plaxico Burress) accidentally shot himself in a nightclub with a gun he was not licensed to carry. 

Despite the 24/7 media coverage of each of these incidents, sports fans have become accustomed to and somewhat complacent with hearing about athletes and their deviant acts.
In fact, new statistics reveal that bad behavior is clearly evident among high school athletes, particularly in high-contact sports.

It starts young
Besides the highly publicized stories, there are thousands more across the nation involving amateur athletes taking risks both on and off the field. From performance-enhancing supplements to referee/official abuse to fights, guns and recorded crimes, the image of sports as a positive influence on athletes may need a second look.

Granted, in a population of any size there will be a few bad apples. However, these actions have become so prevalent that academic researchers have created a branch of study called "deviance in sports" attached to the sports sociology tree. 

They are asking questions and challenging some assumptions about cause and effect. Is there a connection between sports participation and deviance? Does the intense competition and battle on the field shape a player's off-the-field lifestyle? Since success in sports brings attention and prestige to athletes, does the risk of losing that status cause a need to take risks to maintain their "top dog" positions?

In their new book, "Deviance and Social Control in Sport," researchers Michael Atkinson and Kevin Young emphasize the confusing environment surrounding athletes. They describe two types of deviance: wanted and unwanted.

Owners, players and fans may know that certain behaviors are literally against the rules but are at the same time appreciated as a sign of doing whatever it takes to win.  Performance-enhancing drugs are not allowed in most sports, but athletes assume they will improve their performance, which helps their team win and keeps fans happy. Fights in hockey will be, according to the rule book, penalized, but this deviance is assumed to be wanted by fans and teammates as a sign of loyalty.

However, related bad behavior can quickly turn on a player to being socially unwanted. 

 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/seanavery.jpg|height=156|width=200|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/seanavery.jpg|border=0!Abuse of drugs that don't contribute to a win, (marijuana, cocaine, alcohol), will transform that same player into a villain with shock and outrage being reported in the media. In the Sean Avery example, a hockey player fighting to defend his teammates on the ice can then be suspended from the team and criticized by those same teammates for an off-color remark.

Real statistics
Most athletes who make it to the professional level have been involved in sports since youth. Sports sociologists and psychologists often look at the early development years of athletes to get a glimpse of patterns, social norms and influences that contribute to later behaviors.

In a recent American Sociological Review article, Derek Kreager, assistant professor of sociology at Penn State University, challenged the long-held belief that youth sports participation is exclusively beneficial to their moral character development. 

With the focus on teaching teamwork, fair play, and self esteem, sports are often cited as the antidote to delinquency. But Kreager notes that other studies have looked at the culture that surrounds high school and college athletes and identified patterns of clichés, privileges and attitudes of superiority. For some athletes, these patterns are used to justify deviant behavior.

In fact, his most recent research attempted to find a cause-and-effect link between deviant behavior and specific sports. Specifically, he asked if high-contact, physical sports like football and wrestling created athletes who were more prone to violent behavior off the field.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, more than 6,000 male students from across 120 schools were included. The data set included a wide collection of socioeconomic information, including school activities, risk behaviors and at-home influences. Kreager's study analyzed the effects of three team sports (football, basketball, and baseball) and two individual sports (wrestling and tennis) on the likelihood of violent off-field behavior, specifically, fighting.

To isolate the effect of each sport, the study included control groups of non-athletes and those that had a history of physical violence prior to playing sports. 

For team sports, football players were 40 percent more likely to be in a confrontation than non-athletes. In individual sports, wrestlers were in fights 45 percent more often, while tennis players were 35 percent less likely to be in an altercation. Basketball and baseball players showed no significant bias either way.

"Sports such as football, basketball, and baseball provide players with a certain status in society," Kreager said. "But football and wrestling are associated with violent behavior because both sports involve some physical domination of the opponent, which is rewarded by the fans, coaches and other players. Players are encouraged to be violent outside the sport because they are rewarded for being violent inside it."

860 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: football, sports_science, sport_psychology, youth_sports, pacman_jones, physics_of_hockey, plaxico_burress, sean_avery, sports_parents, sports_violence

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballflight.jpg|height=312|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballflight.jpg|border=0!





As first seen on LiveScience.com
and Sports Are 80 Percent Mental


 




When it comes to improving your golf game, you can spend thousands of dollars buying the latest titanium-induced, Tiger-promoted golf clubs; taking private lessons from the local "I used to be on the Tour" pro; or trying every slice-correcting, swing-speed-estimating, GPS-distance-guessing gadget. But, in the end, it’s about getting that little white sphere to go where you intended it to go. Don't worry, there are many very smart people trying to help you by designing the ultimate golf ball. Of course, they are also after a slice of this billion dollar industry, as any technological advancement that can grab a few more market share points is worth the investment.




In fact, the golf ball wars can get nasty. Earlier this month, Callaway Golf won a court order permanently halting sales of the industry's leading ball, Titleist's Pro V1, arguing patent infringements involving its solid core technology which Callaway acquired when it bought Spaulding/Top Flite in 2003. Titleist disagrees with the decision and will appeal, but in the meantime has altered its manufacturing process so that the patents in question are not used.






The challenge for golf ball manufacturers is to design a better performing ball within the constraints set by United States Golf Association. The USGA enforces limits on the size, weight and initial performance characteristics in an attempt to keep the playing field somewhat level. Every "sanctioned" golf ball must weigh less than 1.62 ounces with a diameter smaller than 1.68 inches. It also must have a similar initial velocity when hit with a metal striker, and rebound at the same angle and speed when hit against a metal block. So, what is left to tinker with? Manufacturers have focused on the internal materials in the ball and its cover design.






Today's balls have 2, 3 or 4 layers of different internal polymer materials to be able to respond differently when hit with a driver versus, say, a wedge. When hit with a driver at much higher swing speed, the energy transfer goes all the way to the core by compressing ball, reducing backspin. During a slower swing with a club that has more angle loft, the energy stays closer to the surface of the ball and allows the grooves of the club to grab onto the ball's cover producing more spin. When driving the ball off of the tee, the preference is more distance and less loft, so a lower backspin is required. For closer shots, more backspin and control are needed.






The Science of Dimples



!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballairflow.jpg|height=200|width=169|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballairflow.jpg|border=0!Which brings us to the cover of the ball and all of the design possibilities. Two forces affect the flight and distance of flying spheres, gravity and aerodynamics. Eventually, gravity wins once the momentum of the ball is slowed by the aerodynamic drag. Since all golf clubs have some angular loft to their clubface, the struck ball will have backspin. As explained by the Magnus Force effect, the air pressure will be lower on the top of the ball since that side is moving slower relative to the air around it. This creates lift as the ball will go in the direction of the lower air pressure. Counteracting this lift is the friction or drag the ball experiences while flying through the air.

Think about a boat moving through water. At the front of the boat, the water moves smoothly around the sides of the boat, but eventually separates from the boat on the back side. This leaves behind a turbulent wake where the water is agitated and creates a lower pressure area. The larger the wake, the more drag is created. A ball in flight has the same properties.


The secret then is how to reduce this wake behind the ball. Enter the infamous golf ball dimples. Dimples on a golf ball create a thin turbulent boundary layer of air molecules that sticks to the ball's contour longer than on a smooth ball. This allows the flowing air to follow the ball's surface farther around the back of the ball, which decreases the size of the wake. In fact, research has shown that a dimpled ball travels about twice as far as a smooth ball.










So, the design competition comes down to perfecting the dimple, since not all dimples are created equal! The number, size and shape can have a dramatic impact on performance. Typically, today's balls have 300-500 spherically shaped dimples, each with a depth of about .010 inch. However, varying just the depth by .001 inch can have dramatic effects on the ball's flight.




Regarding shape, these traditional round dimple patterns cover up to 86 percent of the surface of the golf ball. To create better coverage, Callaway Golf's HX ball uses hexagon shaped dimples that can create a denser lattice of dimples leaving fewer flat spots. Creating just the right design has traditionally been a trial-and-error process of creating a prototype then testing in a wind tunnel. This time-consuming process does not allow for the extreme fine-tuning of the variables.






Simulation Solution




At the 61st Meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics this week in San Antonio, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Maryland is reporting new findings that may soon give golf ball manufacturers a more efficient method of testing their designs. Their research takes a different approach, using mathematical equations that model the physics of a golf ball in flight. ASU's Clinton Smith, a Ph.D. student and his advisor Kyle Squires collaborated with Nikolaos Beratlis and Elias Balaras at the University of Maryland and Masaya Tsunoda of Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd. The team has been developing highly efficient algorithms and software to solve these equations on parallel supercomputers, which can reduce the simulation time from years to hours.




Now that the model and process is in place, the next step is to begin the quest for the ultimate dimple. In the meantime, when someone asks you, "What's your handicap?" you can confidently tell them, "Well, my golf ball's design does not optimize its drag coefficient which results in a lower loft and spin rate from its poor aerodynamics."

Related Articles on Sports Are 80 Percent Mental:

Putt With Your Brain - Part 2 

Putt With Your Brain - Part 1 

Does Practice Make Perfect? 

Play Better Golf By Playing Bigger Holes</div>

987 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: golf, tiger_woods, sport_science, callaway, golf_ball_dimples, livescience.com, magnus_force, titleist


!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/BrandonSutterhit|height=256|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/BrandonSutterhit|border=0!


http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601As first seen on LiveScience.com and Sports Are 80 Percent Mental 

One painful lesson every National Hockey League rookie learns is to keep your head up when skating through the neutral zone. If you don't, you will not see the 4700 joules of kinetic energy skating at you with bad intentions.


During an October 25th game, Brandon Sutter, rookie center for the Carolina Hurricanes, never saw Doug Weight, veteran center of the New York Islanders, sizing him up for a hit that resulted in a concussion and an overnight stay in the hospital.  Hockey purists will say that it was a "clean hit" and Weight was not penalized.










Six days before that incident, the Phoenix Coyotes' Kurt Sauer smashed Andrei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens into the sideboards. Kostitsyn had to be stretchered off of the ice and missed two weeks of games with his concussion. Sauer skated away unhurt and unpenalized. [See video here | http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc_Mk9fSI8c].

Big hits have always been part of hockey, but the price paid in injuries is on the rise. According to data released last month at the National Academy of Neuropsychology's Sports Concussion Symposium in New York, 759 NHL players have been diagnosed with a concussion since 1997. For the ten seasons studied, that works out to about 76 players per season and 31 concussions per 1,000 hockey games. During the 2006-07 season, that resulted in 760 games missed by those injured players, an increase of 41% from 2005-06. Researchers have found two reasons for the jump in severity, the physics of motion and the ever-expanding hockey player.



http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601In his book, The Physics of Hockey, Alain Haché, professor of physics at Canada's University of Moncton, aligns the concepts of energy, momentum and the force of impact to explain the power of mid-ice and board collisions.


As a player skates from a stop to full speed, his mass accelerates at an increasing velocity. The work his muscles contribute is transferred into kinetic energy which can and will be transferred or dissipated when the player stops, either through heat from the friction of his skates on the ice, or through a transfer of energy to whatever he collides with, either the boards or another player.



The formula for kinetic energy, K = (1/2)mass x velocity, represents the greater impact that a skater's speed (velocity) has on the energy produced. It is this speed that makes hockey a more dangerous sport than other contact sports, like football, where average player sizes are larger but they are moving at slower speeds (an average of 23 mph for hockey players in full stride compared to about 16 mph for an average running back in the open field).



http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601So, when two players collide, where does all of that kinetic energy go? First, let's look at two billiard balls, with the exact same mass, shape and rigid structure. When two balls collide on the table, we can ignore the mass variable and just look at velocity. If the ball in motion hits another ball that is stationary, then the ball at rest will receive more kinetic energy from the moving ball so that the total energy is conserved. This will send the stationary ball rolling across the table while the first ball almost comes to a stop as it has transferred almost all of its stored energy.


Unfortunately, when human bodies collide, they don't just bounce off of each other. This "inelastic" collision results in the transfer of kinetic energy being absorbed by bones, tissues and organs. The player with the least stored energy will suffer the most damage from the hit, especially if that player has less "body cushion" to absorb the impact.



To calculate your own real world energy loss scenario, visit the Exploratorium's ["Science of Hockey" calculator | http://www.exploratorium.edu/hockey/checking2.html]. For both Sutter and Kostitsyn, they received checks from players who outweighed them by 20 pounds and were skating faster.



http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601The average mass and acceleration variables are also growing as today's NHL players are getting bigger and faster. In a [study | http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/nrc/apnm/2008/00000033/00000004/art00014] released in September, Art Quinney and colleagues at the University of Alberta tracked the physiological changes of a single NHL team over 26 years, representing 703 players. Not surprisingly, they found that defensemen are now taller and heavier with higher aerobic capacity while forwards were younger and faster. Goaltenders were actually smaller with less body mass but had better flexibility. However, the increase in physical size and fitness did not correspond with team success on the ice. But the checks sure hurt a lot more now.

634 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: hockey, concussion, sport_science, sports_cognition, sports_science, sport_skills, hockey_physics

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TheCatch.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TheCatch.jpg|border=0!From: Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

With the crack of the bat, the ball sails deep into the outfield. The center-fielder starts his run back and to the right, trying to keep his eyes on the ball through its flight path. His pace quickens initially, then slows down as the ball approaches. He arrives just in time to make the catch.  What just happened? How did he know where to run and at what speed so that he and the ball intersected at the same exact spot on the field. Why didn't he sprint to the landing spot and then wait for the ball to drop, instead of his controlled speed to arrive just when the ball did? What visual cues did he use to track the ball's flight?  Did Willie Mays make the most famous catch in baseball history because he is one of the greatest players of all-time with years of practice? Maybe, but now take a look at this "Web Gems" highlight video of 12 and 13 year-olds from last year's Little League World Series :

Just like we learned in pitching and hitting, fielding requires extensive mental abilities involving eyes, brain, and body movements to accomplish the task. Some physical skills, such as speed, do play a part in catching, but its the calculations and estimating that our brain has to compute that we often take for granted. The fact that fielders are not perfect in this skill, (there are dropped fly balls, or bad judgments of ball flight), begs the question of how to improve? As we saw with pitching and hitting (and most sports skills), practice does improve performance. But, if we understand what our brains are trying to accomplish, we can hopefully design more productive training routines to use in practice.

Once more, we turn to Mike Stadler , associate professor of psychology at University of Missouri, who provides a great overview of current fielding research in his book, "The Psychology of Baseball".

One organization that does not take this skill for granted is NASA. The interception of a ballistic object in mid-flight can describe a left fielder's job or an anti-missile defense system or how a pilot maneuvers a spacecraft through a three dimensional space. In fact, Michael McBeath , a former post doctoral fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center , (now an associate professor at Arizona State University), has been studying fly ball catching since 1995, beginning with his research study, "[How baseball outfielders determine where to run to catch fly ball | http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/268/5210/569]". 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/McBeathLOT.jpg|height=200|width=147|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/McBeathLOT.jpg|border=0! His team developed a rocket-science like theory named Linear Optical Trajectory to describe the process that a fielder uses to follow the path of a batted ball. LOT says the fielder will adjust his movement towards the ball so that its trajectory follows a straight line through his field of vision. Rather than compute the landing point of the ball, racing to that spot and waiting, the fielder uses the information provided by the path of the ball to constantly adjust his path so that they intersect at the right time and place.

The LOT theory is an evolution from an earlier theory called Optical Acceleration Cancellation (OAC) that had the same idea but only explained the fielder's tracking behavior in the vertical dimension. In other words, as the ball leaves the bat the fielder watches the ball rise in his field of vision. If he were to stand still and the ball was hit hard enough to land behind him, his eyes would track the ball up and over his head, or at a 90 degree angle. If the ball landed in front of him, he would see the ball rise and fall but his viewing angle may not rise above 45 degrees. LOT and OAC argue that the fielder repositions himself throughout the flight of the ball to keep this viewing angle between 0 and 90 degrees. If its rising too fast, he needs to turn and run backwards. If the viewing angle is low, then the fielder needs to move forward so that the ball doesn't land in front of him. He can't always make to the landing spot in time, but keeping the ball at about a 45 degree angle by moving will help ensure that he gets there in time. While OAC explained balls hit directly at a fielder, LOT helps add the side-to-side dimension, as in our example of above of a ball hit to the right of the fielder.  More recently, McBeath has successfully defended his LOT theory here and here .

The OAC and LOT theories do agree on a fundamental cognitive science debate. There are two theories of how we perceive the world and then react to it. First, the Information Processing (IP) theory likens our brain to a computer in that we have inputs, our senses that gather information about the world, a memory system that stores all of our past experiences and lessons learned, and a "CPU" or main processor that combines our input with our memory and computes the best answer for the given problem. So, IP would say that the fielder sees the fly ball and offers it to the brain as input, the brain then pulls from memory all of the hundreds or thousands of fly ball flight paths that have been experienced, and then computes the best path to the ball's landing point based on what it has "learned" through practice. McBeath's research and observations of fielders has shown that the processing time to accomplish this task would be too great for the player to react.

OAC and LOT subscribe to the alternate theory of human perception, Ecological Psychology (EP) . EP eliminates the call to memory from the processing and argues that the fielder observes the flight path of the ball and can react using the angle monitoring system. This is still up for debate as the IPers would argue "learned facts" like what pitch was thrown, how a certain batter hits those pitches, how the prevailing wind will affect the ball, etc. And, with EP, how can the skill differences between a young ballplayer and an experienced major leaguer be accounted for? What is the point of practice, if the trials and errors are not stored/accessed in memory?

Of course, we haven't mentioned ground balls and their behavior, due to the lack of research out there. The reaction time for a third baseman to snare a hot one-hopper down the line is much shorter. This would also argue in favor of EP, but what other systems are involved?

Arguing about which theory explains a fielder's actions is only productive if we can apply the research to create better drills and practices for our players. The LOT theory seems to be  getting there as an explanation, but there is still debate over EP vs. IP . So many sport skills rely on some of these foundations, that this type of research will continue to be relevant.  As with pitching and hitting, fielding seems to improve with practice.

And then there's the ultimate catch of all-time, that baseball fans have long been buzzing about.  Your reward for getting to the end of this article is this little piece of history...








You were looking for Willie Mays and "The Catch", weren't you?  This ball girl would own the best all-time fielding achievement... if it were real .  But no, just another digital editing marvel.  This was going to be a commercial for Gatorade, then it was put on the shelf.  After it was leaked onto YouTube, the video hoax became a viral hit.  So much so, that Gatorade left it on YouTube and did make a commercial out of it for the 2008 All-Star game.  But, you don't need to tell your Little Leaguers.  Let them dream...</span>

658 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, baseball, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sports_science, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology, youth_sports

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TedWilliams.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TedWilliams.jpg|border=0![Ted Williams | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Williams], arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all-time, once said, "I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball". Williams was the last major league player to hit .400 for an entire season and that was back in 1941, 67 years ago!  In the 2008 Major League Baseball season that just ended, the league batting average for all players was .264, while the strikeout percentage was just under 20%. So, in ten average at-bats, a professional ballplayer, paid millions of dollars per year, gets a hit less than 3 times but fails to even put the ball in play 2 times. So, why is hitting a baseball so difficult? What visual, cognitive and motor skills do we need to make contact with an object moving at 70-100 mph?

In the second of three posts in the Baseball Brains series, we'll take a quick look at some of the theory behind this complicated skill. Once again, we turn to [Professor Mike Stadler | http://honors.missouri.edu/staff/#stadler] and his book "The Psychology of Baseball" for the answers.  First, here's the "Splendid Splinter" in action:







A key concept of pitching and hitting in baseball was summed up long ago by Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, when he said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” To sync up the swing of the bat with the exact time and location of the ball's arrival is the challenge that each hitter faces.  If the intersection is off by even tenths of a second, the ball will be missed. Just as  pitchers need to manage their targeting, the hitter must master the same two dimensions, horizontal and vertical. The aim of the pitch will affect the horizontal dimension while the speed of the pitch will affect the vertical dimension. The hitter's job is to time the arrival of the pitch based on the estimated speed of the ball while determining where, horizontally, it will cross the plate. The shape of the bat helps the batter in the horizontal space as its length compensates for more error, right to left. However, the narrow 3-4" barrel does not cover alot of vertical ground, forcing the hitter to be more accurate judging the vertical height of a pitch than the horizontal location. So, if a pitcher can vary the speed of his pitches, the hitter will have a harder time judging the vertical distance that the ball will drop as it arrives, and swing either over the top or under the ball.A common coach's tip to hitters is to "keep your eye on the ball" or "watch the ball hit the bat". As Stadler points out, doing both of these things is nearly impossible due to the concept known as "[angular velocity | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_velocity]". Imagine you are standing on the side of freeway with cars coming towards you. Off in the distance, you are able to watch the cars approaching your position with relative ease, as they seem to be moving at a slower speed. As the cars come closer and pass about a 45 degree angle and then zoom past your position, they seem to "speed up" and you have to turn your eyes/head quickly to watch them. While the car is going at a constant speed, its angular velocity increases making it difficult to track.



!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/AdairSwing.jpg|height=232|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/AdairSwing.jpg|border=0!
This same concept applies to the hitter. As the graphic above shows (click to enlarge), the first few feet that a baseball travels when it leaves a pitcher's hand is the most important to the hitter, as the ball can be tracked by the hitter's eyes. As the ball approaches past a 45 degree angle, it is more difficult to "keep your eye on the ball" as your eyes need to shift through many more degrees of movement. Research reported by Stadler shows that hitters cannot watch the entire flight of the ball, so they employ two tactics.

First, they might follow the path of the ball for 70-80% of its flight, but then their eyes can't keep up and they estimate or extrapolate the remaining path and make a guess as to where they need to swing to have the bat meet the ball. In this case, they don't actually "see" the bat hit the ball. Second, they might follow the initial flight of the ball, estimate its path, then shift their eyes to the anticipated point where the ball crosses the plate to, hopefully, see their bat hit the ball. This inability to see the entire flight of the ball to contact point is what gives the pitcher the opportunity to fool the batter with the speed of the pitch. If a hitter is thinking "fast ball", their brain will be biased towards completing the estimated path across the plate at a higher elevation and they will aim their swing there. If the pitcher actually throws a curve or change-up, the speed will be slower and the path of the ball will result in a lower elevation when it crosses the plate, thus fooling the hitter.As in pitching, the eyes and brain determine much of the success for hitters. The same concepts apply to hitting any moving object in sports; tennis, hockey, soccer, etc.  Over time, repeated practice may be the only way to achieve the type of reaction speed that is necessary, but even for athletes who have spent their whole lives swinging a bat, there seems to be human limitation to success.  Tracking a moving object through space also applies to catching a ball, which we'll look at next time.</span>

635 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, baseball, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_science, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology, youth_sports

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With the MLB League Championship Series' beginning this week,  Twenty-six teams are wondering what it takes to reach the "final four" of baseball which leads to the World Series.  The Red Sox, Rays, Phillies and Dodgers understand its not just money and luck.  Over 162 games, it usually comes down to the fundamentals of baseball: pitching, hitting and catching.  That sounds simple enough.  So, why can't everyone execute those skills consistently?  Why do pitchers struggle with their control?  Why do batters strike out?  Why do fielders commit errors?  It turns out Yogi Berra was right when he said, "Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical."  In this three part series, each skill will be broken down into its cognitive sub-tasks and you may be surprised at the complexity that such a simple game requires of our brains.

First up, pitching or even throwing a baseball seems effortless until the pressure is on and the aim goes awry.  Pitching a 3" diameter baseball 60 feet, 6 inches over a target that is 8 inches wide requires an accuracy of 1/2 to 1 degree. Throwing it fast, with the pressure of a game situation makes this task one of the hardest in sports. In addition, a fielder throwing to another fielder from 40, 60 or 150 feet away, sometimes off balance or on the run, tests the brain-body connection for accuracy. So, how do we do it? And how can we learn to do it more consistently?  In his book, The Psychology of Baseball , Mike Stadler , professor of psychology at the University of Missouri,addresses each of these questions.

There are two dimensions to think about when throwing an object at a target: vertical and horizontal. The vertical dimension is a function of the distance of the throw and the effect of gravity on the object. So the thrower's estimate of distance between himself and the target will determine the accuracy of the throw vertically. Basically, if the distance is underestimated, the required strength of the throw will be underestimated and will lose the battle with gravity, resulting in a throw that will be either too low or will bounce before reaching the target. An example of this is a fast ball which is thrown with more velocity, so will reach its target before gravity has a path-changing effect on it. On the other hand, a curve ball or change-up may seem to curve downward, partly because of the spin put on the ball affecting its aerodynamics, but also because these pitches are thrown with less force, allowing gravity to pull the ball down. In the horizontal dimension, the "right-left" accuracy is related to more to the "aim" of the throw and the ability of the thrower to adjust hand-eye coordination along with finger, arm, shoulder angles and the release of the ball to send the ball in the intended direction.So, how do we improve accuracy in both dimensions? Prof. Stadler points out that research shows that skill in the vertical/distance estimating dimension is more genetically determined, while skill horizontally can be better improved with practice. Remember those spatial organization tests that we took that show a set of connected blocks in a certain shape and then show you four more sets of conected blocks? The question is which of the four sets could result from rotating the first set of blocks. Research has shown that athletes that are good at these spatial relations tests are also accurate throwers in the vertical dimension. Why? The thought is that those athletes are better able to judge the movement of objects through space and can better estimate distance in 3D space. Pitchers are able to improve this to an extent as the distance to the target is fixed. A fielder, however, starts his throw from many different positions on the field and has more targets (bases and cut-off men) to choose from, making his learning curve a bit longer.If a throw or pitch is off-target, then what went wrong?  Research has shown that despite all of the combinations of fingers, hand, arm, shoulder and body movements, it seems to all boil down to the timing of the finger release of the ball. In other words, when the pitcher's hand comes forward and the fingers start opening to allow the ball to leave. The timing of this release can vary by hundredths of a second but has significant impact on the accuracy of the throw. But, its also been shown that the throwing action happens so fast, that the brain could not consciously adjust or control that release in real-time. This points to the throwing action being controlled by what psychologists call an automated "motor program" that is created through many repeated practice throws. But, if a "release point" is incorrect, how does a pitcher correct that if they can't do so in real-time? It seems they need to change the embedded program by more practice.Another component of "off-target" pitching or throwing is the psychological side of a player's mental state/attitude. Stadler identifies research that these motor programs can be called up by the brain by current thoughts. There seems to be "good" programs and "bad" programs, meaning the brain has learned how to throw a strike and learned many programs that will not throw a strike. By "seeding" the recall with positive or negative thoughts, the "strike" program may be run, but so to can the "ball" program. So, if a pitcher thinks to himself, "don't walk this guy", he may be subconsciously calling up the "ball" program and it will result in a pitch called as a ball. So, this is why sports pscyhologists stress the need to "think positively", not just for warm and fuzzy feelings, but the brain may be listening and will instruct your body what to do.


So, assuming Josh Beckett of the Red Sox is getting the ball across the plate, will the Rays hit it? That is the topic for next time when we look at hitting an object that is moving at 97 MPH and reaches you in less than half a second.

623 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, baseball, pitching, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology, youth_sports, science_in_sports, pitching_tips




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A player can feel it during a game when they hit a game-changing home run or when they go 0 for 4 at the plate.  A team can feel it when they come back from a deficit late in the game or when their lead in the division vanishes.  A fan can feel it as their team "catches fire" or goes "as cold as ice".  And, play-by-play announcers love to talk about it.  We know it as the "Big Mo", the "Hot Hand", and being "In The Zone" while the psychologists call it Psychological Momentum.  But, does it really exist?  Is it just a temporary shift in confidence and mood or does it actually change the outcome of a game or a season?  As expected, there are lots of opinions available.

 

The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science defines psychological momentum as, "the positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that affects either the perceptions of the competitors or, perhaps, the quality of performance and the outcome of the competition. Positive momentum is associated with periods of competition, such as a winning streak, in which everything seems to ‘go right’ for the competitors. In contrast, negative momentum is associated with periods, such as a losing streak, when everything seems to ‘go wrong’."  The interesting phrase in this definition is that Psychological Momentum (PM) "affects either the perceptions of the competitors or, perhaps</b>, the quality of performance and the outcome of the competition."  Most of the analyses on PM focus on the quantitative side to try to prove or disprove PM's affect on individual stats or team wins and losses.

 

Regarding PM in baseball, a Wall St. Journal article looked at last year's MLB playoffs, only to conclude there was no affect on postseason play coming from team momentum at the end of the regular season.  More recently, Another Cubs Blog also looked at momentum into this year's playoffs including opinion from baseball stats guru, Bill James, another PM buster.  For basketball, Thomas Gilovich's 1985 research into streaky, "hot hand" NBA shooting is the foundation for most of today's arguments against the existence of PM, or at least its affect on outcomes.

 

This view that if we can't see it in the numbers, more than would be expected, then PM does not exist may not capture the whole picture.  Lee Crust and Mark Nesti have recommended that researchers look at psychological momentum more from the qualitative side .  Maybe there are more subjective measures of athlete or team confidence that contribute to success that don't show up in individual stats or account for teams wins and losses.  As Jeff Greenwaldput it in his article, Riding the Wave of Momentum , "The reason momentum is so powerful is because of                the heightened sense of confidence it gives us -- the most important                aspect of peak performance. There is a term in sport psychology                known as self-efficacy, which is simply a player's belief in his/her                ability to perform a specific task or shot. Typically, a player’s                success depends on this efficacy. During a momentum shift, self-efficacy                is very high and players have immediate proof their ability matches                the challenge. As stated earlier, they then experience subsequent                increases in energy and motivation, and gain a feeling of control.                In addition, during a positive momentum shift, a player’s self-image                also changes. He/she feels invincible and this takes the "performer                self" to a higher level."

 

There would seem to be three distinct areas of focus for PM; an individual's performance within a game, a team's performance within a game and a team's performance across a series of games.  So, what are the relationships between these three scenarios?  Does one player's scoring streak or key play lift the team's PM, or does a close, hard-fought team win rally the players' morale and confidence for the next game?  Seeing the need for a conceptual framework to cover all of these bases, Jim Taylor and Andrew Demick created their Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sports , which is still the most widely cited model for PM.  Their definition of PM, "a positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that will result in a commensurate shift in performance and competitive outcome", leads to the six key elements to what they call the "momentum chain".

 

First, momentum shifts begin with a "precipitating event", like an interception or fumble recovery in football or a dramatic 3-point shot in basketball.  The effect that this event has on each athlete varies depending on their own perception of the game situation, their self-confidence and level of self-efficacy to control the situation.

 

Second, this event leads to "changes in cognition, physiology, and affect."  Again, depending on the athlete, his or her base confidence will determine how strongly they react to the events, to the point of having physiological changes like tightness and panic in negative situations or a feeling of renewed energy after positive events.

 

Third, a "change in behavior" would come from all of these internal perceptions.  Coaches and fans would be able to see real changes in the style of play from the players as they react to the positive or negative momentum chain.

 

Fourth, the next logical step after behavior changes is to notice a "change in performance."  Taylor and Demick note that momentum is the exception not the norm during a game.  Without the precipitating event, there should not be noticeable momentum shifts.

 

Fifth, for sports with head to head competition, momentum is a two-way street and needs a "contiguous and opposing change for the opponent."  So, if after a goal, the attacking team celebrates some increased PM, but the defending team does not experience an equal negative PM, then the immediate flow of the game should remain the same.  Its only when the balance of momentum shifts from one team to the other.  Levels of experience in athletes has been shown to mitigate the effects of momentum, as veteran players can handle the ups and downs of a game better than novices.

 

Finally, at the end of the chain, if momentum makes it that far, there should be an immediate outcome change.  When the pressure of a precipitating event occurs against a team, the players may begin to get out of their normal, confident flow and start to overanalyze their own performance and skills.  We saw this in Dr. Sian Beilock's research in our article, Putt With Your Brain - Part 2.  As an athlete's skills improve they don't need to consciously focus on them during a game.  But pressure brought on by a negative event can take them out of this "automatic" mode as they start to focus on their mechanics to fix or reverse the problem.  As Patrick Cohn , a sport psychologist, pointed out in a recent USA Today article on momentum,  "You stop playing the game you played to be in that position. And the moment you switch to trying not to screw up, you go from a very offensive mind-set to a very defensive mind-set. If you're focusing too much on the outcome, it's difficult to play freely.  And now they're worried more about the consequences and what's going to happen than what they need to do right now."

 



There is no doubt that we will continue to hear references to momentum swings during games. When you do, you can conduct your own mini experiment and watch the reactions of the players and the teams over the next section of the game to see if that "precipitating event" actually leads to a game-changing moment.



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<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedSportPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F10413209408406465&amp;rft.atitle=Amultidimensionalmodelofmomentuminsports&amp;rft.date=1994&amp;rft.volume=6&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=51&amp;rft.epage=70&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F10413209408406465%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=JimTaylor&amp;rft.au=AndrewDemick&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CCognitivePsychology%2CKinesiology">Jim Taylor, Andrew Demick (1994). A multidimensional model of momentum in sports Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 6 (1), 51-70 DOI: 10.1080/10413209408406465 </span>

799 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: basketball, coaching, baseball, motivation, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sport_psychology, science_in_sports, momentum, in_the_zone, hot_hand


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Maybe its the fear of turning 40.  Maybe its the feeling of unfinished business.  Maybe its the fire in the belly that has not quite extinguished.  For retired elite athletes, the itch is always there to make a return after experiencing "life after sport".  For some, it becomes too strong to ignore.  This year has seen the return of at least three champions, Dara Torres, Lance Armstrong and Brett Favre.  As they explain their individual reasons for coming back, some similarities emerge that have more to do with psychological needs than practical needs.  In a recent Miami Herald article , Torres explained her comeback to competitive swimming at age 41, "For me, it's not like I sat around and watched swimming on TV and thought, `Oh, I wish I was still competing'.  It was more gradual. But all of a sudden, something goes off inside you and you start seriously thinking about a comeback.  You'd think the competitive fire would die down with maturity, but I've actually gotten worse.  I wasn't satisfied with silver medals. I hate to lose now more than I did in my 20s. I'm still trying to figure out why.''

 

Drawing inspiration from Torres, Lance Armstrong has decided to make a comeback at age 37 with a declared goal to win his eighth Tour de France.  In a recent Vanity Fair article , he described his rationale, “Look at the Olympics. You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50-meter event http://community.active.com/blogs/sportsare80percentmental/2008/09/26/retirement-rebound-the-return-of-torres-favre-and-armstrong/freestyle, the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it. The woman who won the marathon http://community.active.com/blogs/sportsare80percentmental/2008/09/26/retirement-rebound-the-return-of-torres-favre-and-armstrong/Constantina Tomescu-Dita, of Romania was 38. Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale. Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32."

 

Is it the 40 factor?  Brett Favre, who turns 39 in October, made his well-publicized return to the NFL last month wanting to return so badly that he accepted a trade to the New York Jets so that he could play.  His public and emotional decision to retire in March, only to begin hinting at a comeback in early summer showed the internal struggle he had with stepping away from sports.  You could hear the indecision in his retirement press conference, "I've given everything I possibly can give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give, and that's it.", Favre said. "I know I can play, but I don't think I want to. And that's really what it comes down to. Fishing for different answers and what ifs and will he come back and things like that, what matters is it's been a great career for me, and it's over. As hard as that is for me to say, it's over. There's only one way for me to play the game, and that's 100 percent. Mike and I had that conversation the other night, and I will wonder if I made the wrong decision. I'm sure on Sundays, I will say I could be doing that, I should be doing that. I'm not going to sit here like other players maybe have said in the past that I won't miss it, because I will. But I just don't think I can give anything else, aside from the three hours on Sundays, and in football you can't do that. It's a total commitment, and up to this point I have been totally committed."  Some observers point to the end of the Packers' 2007-2008 season with a heart-wrenching Favre interception in overtime that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl instead of Green Bay.  Being that close to the pinnacle of his sport must have been confidence that his skills had not diminished and once the fatigue of the past season had passed (by about June), that he was not ready to just ride the tractor in Mississippi for the next 40 years.

 

So, what do the sport psychologists make of these second thoughts?  These three athletes are world famous, but what about the hundreds of professional athletes that have had to make the same decision without all of the front page stories and fanfare?  Why does Chris Chelios, all-star and future Hall of Famer in the NHL, continue to avoid the retirement decision at age 45?  Coaches aren't immune either.  Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Joe Paterno of Penn State have refused to retire to the point of becoming an awkward story for their schools and fans. ''After all the adulation and excitement wear off and elite athletes come face to face with retirement and a more mundane life, they suffer a sense of loss, almost like a death,'' said sport psychologist John F. Murray .  "If you're Lance Armstrong, you realize that what you are is a cyclist, that is your identity, and if you feel you have one or two more titles in you, why let it go? Why not tackle unresolved challenges? Competing at that level provides a high that is hard to match. How can you not be addicted to that?''

 

Beyond the professional ranks, thousands of college and Olympic athletes are left with the realization that they face similar decisions of when to "give up the dream" and move into the more practical world of finishing their education and finding a job.  Their emotional attachment to their sport has developed over years of building an identity linked to their success on the field.  Despite the statistics showing the "funnel effect" of the diminishing number of athletes getting to the "next level", younger athletes continue to believe they are the ones that will make it to the top.  There is also the more emotional issue of unwillingly leaving a sport because of injury or simply not making the team due to diminished skills.  Dr. Murray adds, "When your whole life has been geared toward athletic excellence, the prospects of retirement can be dreadful! This is commonplace at collegiate level where 99 per cent of the athletes do not go on to play their sport professionally. Counseling is a way to prepare athletes for the inevitable loss that occurs after the glory is over and only memories remain. As with any loss, people need effective ways to cope. Going at it all on your own might work for some, but I’ll submit that the vast majority of athletes benefit from early discussion and planning for retirement. There is definitely life after sport."

 

Some colleges and universities, as well as some professional teams, have started to offer formal "retirement planning" for athletes as their formal sport careers wind down.  Life After Sports , a counseling firm started by Adrian McBride, a former college and NFL player, provides services to retiring college athletes to help them emotionally and practically adjust to a post-sports life.  The University of North Carolina has set-up the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes to offer a home for academic research into these issues.

 

Additional academic research is also coming out on athlete retirement including two articles this year (see citations below) from the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.  First, Katie Warriner and David Lavallee of the University of Wales interviewed former elite gymnasts regarding their retirement at a relatively young age from competitive sport.  They found the loss of identity to be the biggest adjustment.   Second, Patricia Lally and Gretchen Kerr looked at how parents cope with their children's "retirement" from sport, as they also go through withdrawl symptoms when the "end of the dream" finally comes and the lifelong ambition for their child's athletic success is over.

 

Who's next up for a retirement rebound?  Just as Lance got inspiration from Torres and maybe Favre, the trend may continue.  The Bulls could use Jordan or Pippen and Roger Clemens is never far away from a phone.  Stay tuned!

 

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<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedSportPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F10413200801998564&amp;rft.atitle=TheRetirementExperiencesofEliteFemaleGymnasts%3ASelfIdentityandthePhysicalSelf&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=20&amp;rft.issue=3&amp;rft.spage=301&amp;rft.epage=317&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F10413200801998564%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=KatieWarriner&amp;rft.au=DavidLavallee&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology">Katie Warriner, David Lavallee (2008). The Retirement Experiences of Elite Female Gymnasts: Self Identity and the Physical Self Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (3), 301-317 DOI: 10.1080/10413200801998564

<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedSportPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F10413200701788172&amp;rft.atitle=TheEffectsofAthleteRetirementonParents&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=20&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=42&amp;rft.epage=56&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F10413200701788172%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=PatriciaLally&amp;rft.au=GretchenKerr&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology">Patricia Lally, Gretchen Kerr (2008). The Effects of Athlete Retirement on Parents Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (1), 42-56 DOI: 10.1080/10413200701788172 </span>

720 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: olympics, football, cycling, swimming, tour-de-france, retirement, lance_armstrong, dara_torres, sport_psychology, brett_favre
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Dan Peterson

Dan Peterson

Member since: Oct 1, 2007

A Look Inside the Mind of the Athlete - You can find a mix of sport science, cognitive science, coaching and performance stories here as I focus on the "thinking" side of sports. My "home" is at http://blog.80percentmental.com. Thanks for stopping by!

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