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Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

12 Posts tagged with the youth_sports tag

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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>

524 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

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



!http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SV1bdmTOovI/AAAAAAAAAgQ/cPNSNk-wD4s/s320/genetic_swab_test_athlete.jpg|src=http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SV1bdmTOovI/AAAAAAAAAgQ/cPNSNk-wD4s/s320/genetic_swab_test_athlete.jpg|border=0!




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.

 

!http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SV1byaOov2I/AAAAAAAAAgY/-H4pw7JYiGQ/s320/baby_athlete|src=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SV1byaOov2I/AAAAAAAAAgY/-H4pw7JYiGQ/s320/baby_athlete|border=0! What about those aspiring athletes that were not fortunate enough to inherit the R variant and its protein producing qualities?

 

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.

684 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."

865 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/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>

667 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>

638 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.

626 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

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/hockeyscanner.jpg|height=147|width=200|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/hockeyscanner.jpg|border=0!When was the last time you listened to a sporting event on the radio?  If given a choice between watching the game on a big screen plasma in HD or turning on the AM radio, most of us would probably choose the visual sensation of television.  But, for a moment, think about the active attention you need in order to listen to a radio broadcast and interpret the play-by-play announcer's descriptions.  As you hear the words, your "mind's eye" paints the picture of the action so you can imagine the scene and situations.  Your knowledge of the game, either from playing it or watching it for years helps you understand the narrative, the terms and the game's "lingo".


Now, imagine that you are listening to a broadcast about a sport you know nothing about.  Hearing Bob Uecker or Vin Scully say, "With two out in the ninth, the bases are loaded and the Brewers' RBI leader has two strikes.  The infield is in as the pitcher delivers.  Its a hard grounder to third that he takes on the short hop and fires a bullet to first for the final out."  If you have no baseball-specific knowledge, those sentences are meaningless.  However, for those of us that have grown up with baseball, that description makes perfect sense and our mind's eye helped us picture the scene.  That last sentence about the "hard grounder" and the thrown "bullet" may have even triggered some unconscious physical movements by you as your brain interpreted those action phrases.  That sensorimotor reaction is at the base of what is called "[embodied cognition | http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/embodcog.htm]".  Sian Beilock , associate professor of psychology and leader of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Chicago , defined the term this way:  "In contrast to traditional views of the mind as an abstract information processor, recent work suggests that our representations of objects and events are grounded in action. That is, our knowledge is embodied, in the sense that it consists of sensorimotor information about potential interactions that objects or events may allow."  She cites a more complete definition of the concept in Six Views of Embodied Cognition by Margaret Wilson .  Another terrific overview of the concept is provided by science writer Drake Bennet of the Boston Globe in his article earlier this year, "[Don't Just Stand There, Think | http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/01/13/dont_just_stand_there_think/?page=1]".


In a study released yesterday, "Sports Experience Changes the Neural Processing of Action Language", Dr. Beilock's team continued their research into the link between our learned motor skills and our language comprehension about those motor skills.  Since embodied cognition connects the body with our cognition, the sports domain provides a logical domain to study it.


Their initial look at this concept was in a 2006 study titled, "Expertise and its embodiment: Examining the impact of sensorimotor skill expertise on the representation of action-related text", where the team designed an experiment to compare the knowledge representation skill of experienced hockey players and novices.  Each group first read sentences describing both hockey-related action and common, "every-day" action, (i.e. "the referee saw the hockey helmet on the bench" vs. "the child saw the balloon in the air").  They were then shown pictures of the object mentioned in the sentences and were asked if the picture matched the action in the sentence they read.  Both groups, the athletes and the novices, responded equally in terms of accuracy and response time to the everyday sentences and pictures, but the athletes responded significantly faster to the hockey-specific sentences and pictures.  The conclusion is that those with the sensorimotor experience of sport give them an advantage of processing time over those that have not had that same experience.


Now, you may be saying, "Ya' think!?" to this somewhat obvious statement that people who have played hockey will respond faster to sentence/picture relationships about hockey than non-hockey players. Stay with us here for a minute, as the 2006 study set the groundwork for Beilock's team to take the next step with the question, "is there any evidence that the athletes are using different parts of their brain when processing these match or no match decisions?"  The link between our physical skill memory and our language comprehension would be at the base of the embodied cognition theory.  So, in the latest research, the HPL team kept the same basic experimental design, but now wanted to watch the participants' brain activity using fMRI scanning .  This time, there were three groups, hockey players, avid fans of hockey and novices who had no playing or viewing experience with hockey at all.  First, all groups passively listened to sentences about hockey actions and also sentences about everyday actions while being monitored by fMRI.   Second, outside of the fMRI scanner, they again listened to hockey-related and everyday-related action sentences and then were shown pictures of hockey or every day action and asked if there was a match or mis-match between the sentence and the picture.


This comprehension test showed similar results as in 2006, but now the team could try to match the relative skill in comprehension to the neural activity shown in the fMRI scans when listening.  Both the players and the fans showed increased activity in the left dorsal premotor cortex, a region thought to support the selection of well-learned action plans and procedures.  You might be surprised that the fans' brains showed activity in the same regions as the athletes.  We saw this effect in a previous post, "Does Practice Make Perfect", where those that practiced a new dance routine and those that only watched it showed similar brain area activity.  On the other side, the total novices showed activity in the bilateral primary sensory-motor cortex, an area typically known for carrying out step by step instructions for new or novel tasks.  So, the interesting finding here is that those with experience, either playing or watching, are actually calling on additional neural networks in their brains to help their normal language comprehension abilities.  In other words, the memories of learned actions are linked and assist other cognitive tasks.  That sounds pretty much like the definition of embodied cognition and Dr. Beilock's research has helped that theory take another step forward.  In her words, "Experience playing and watching sports has enduring effects on language understanding by changing the neural networks that support comprehension to incorporate areas active in performing sports skills."


So, take pride in your own brain the next time you hear, "Kobe dribbles the ball to the top of the key, crosses over, drives the lane, and finger rolls over Duncan for two." If you can picture that play in your mind, your left dorsal premotor cortex just kicked into gear!


!http://www.researchblogging.org/public/citation_icons/rb2_large_gray.png|style=border: 0pt none;|alt=ResearchBlogging.org|src=http://www.researchblogging.org/public/citation_icons/rb2_large_gray.png!

<span style="font-size: small;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=ProceedingsoftheNationalAcademyofSciences&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1073%2Fpnas.0803424105&amp;rft.atitle=Sportsexperiencechangestheneuralprocessingofactionlanguage&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=&amp;rft.issue=&amp;rft.spage=&amp;rft.epage=&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pnas.org%2Fcgi%2Fdoi%2F10.1073%2Fpnas.0803424105&amp;rft.au=S.L.Beilock&amp;rft.au=I.M.Lyons&amp;rft.au=A.Mattarella-Micke&amp;rft.au=H.C.Nusbaum&amp;rft.au=S.L.Small&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CNeuroscience%2CCognitiveNeuroscience%2CCognitivePsychology%2C+Learning">

 

 

 

S. L. Beilock, I. M. Lyons, A. Mattarella-Micke, H. C. Nusbaum, S. L. Small (2008). Sports experience changes the neural processing of action language Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803424105

<span style="font-size: small;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=PsychonomicBulletin%26Review&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/17201372&amp;rft.atitle=Expertiseanditsembodiment%3AExaminingthe%0D%0Aimpactofsensorimotorskillexpertiseonthe%0D%0Arepresentationofaction-relatedtext&amp;rft.date=2006&amp;rft.volume=13&amp;rft.issue=4&amp;rft.spage=694&amp;rft.epage=701&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fhpl.uchicago.edu%2FPublications%2Fpapers_reprints%2FHolt_Beilock_PBR2006.pdf&amp;rft.au=LaurenE.Holt&amp;rft.au=SianL.Beilock&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CLearning%2CCognitive+Psychology">Lauren E. Holt, Sian L. Beilock (2006). Expertise and its embodiment: Examining the impact of sensorimotor skill expertise on the representation of action-related text Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13 (4), 694-701 PMID: 17201372

562 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sport_skills, youth_sports, sian_beilock, cognitive_science, science_in_sports

!http://bp2.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuI716v-I/AAAAAAAAAYs/G_VFex594Dk/s320-R/hockeyconcussion.jpg|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp2.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuI716v-I/AAAAAAAAAYs/G_VFex594Dk/s320-R/hockeyconcussion.jpg!As the puck was cleared to the other end of the ice, my 9-year old son's hockey teammates raced after it.  Then, I saw him.  He was lying motionless and face down at the blue line.  He had slid headfirst into the boards to make a play. By the time our coach made it over to him, he had started to move.  After a few minutes, they both skated to the bench where I saw the two talking.  Coach looked up at me in the stands with a grim look and motioned for me to come down.  The next four hours were my introduction to sports concussions.




!http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuvHHw3uI/AAAAAAAAAY8/9sLtbEgDty0/s320-R/SportsInjuriesKidsStats.gif|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuvHHw3uI/AAAAAAAAAY8/9sLtbEgDty0/s320-R/SportsInjuriesKidsStats.gif!A concussion, clinically known as a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is one of the most common yet least understood sports injuries.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are as many as 300,000 sports and recreation-related concussions each year in the U.S., yet the diagnosis, immediate treatment and long-term effects are still a mystery to most coaches, parents and even some clinicians.  The injury can be deceiving as there is rarely any obvious signs of trauma.  If the head is not bleeding and the player either does not lose consciouness or regains it after a brief lapse, the potential damage is hidden and the usual "tough guy" mentality is to "shake it off" and get back in the game.




[Leigh Steinberg | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leigh_Steinberg], agent and representative to some of the top professional athletes in the world (including NFL QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Leinart), is tired of this ignorance and attitude.  "My clients, from the day they played Pop Warner football, are taught to believe ignoring pain, playing with pain and being part of the playing unit was the most important value," Steinberg said, "I was terrified at the understanding of how tender and narrow that bond was between cognition and consciousness and dementia and confusion".  Which is why he was the keynote speaker at last week's "New Developments in Sports-Related Concussions" conference hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical College Sport Medicine Department in Pittsburgh.  Leading researchers gathered to discuss the latest research on sports-related concussions, their diagnosis and treatment.  "There's been huge advancement in this area," said Dr. Micky Collins, the assistant director for the UPMC Sports Medicine Program. "We've learned more in the past five years than the previous 50 combined."




 

!http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPvB6f16FI/AAAAAAAAAZE/lNTbf_nb268/s320-R/concussion.jpg|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPvB6f16FI/AAAAAAAAAZE/lNTbf_nb268/s320-R/concussion.jpg!

So, what is a concussion?  The CDC defines a concussion as "a complex pathophysiologic process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces secondary to direct or indirect forces to the head."  Being a "mild" form of traumatic brain injury, it is generally believed that there is no actual structural damage to the brain from a concussion, but more a disruption in the biochemistry and electrical processes between neurons.  The brain is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which is supposed to provide some protection from minor blows to the head.  However, a harder hit can cause rotational forces that affect a wide area of the brain, but most importantly the mid-brain and the reticular activating system which may explain the loss of consciousness in some cases.




In my son's case, he regained consciousness on the ice, but was in a very confused and dazed state for several hours.  He could not tell us his name, his teammates names, or even his brothers' names.  His expression was blank and he kept asking the same questions, "why are we here?" and "what happened"?   The local hospital performed a CT scan to look for any bleeding or skull fracture.  Seeing none, the diagnosis was an MTBI and that he would recover over time.  After four hours, his memory and personality did slowly return.  For some athletes, the concussion symptoms take longer to disappear in what is known as post-concussion syndrome.  It is not known whether this is from some hidden structural damage or more permanent disruption to neuronal activity.  Repeated concussions over time can lead to a condition known as dementia pugilistica , with long-term impairments to speech, memory and mental processing.




After the initial concussion, returning to the field before symptoms clear raises the risk of second impact syndrome, which can cause more serious, long-term effects.  As part of their "Heads Up" concussion awareness campaign, the CDC offers this video story of Brandon Schultz , a high school football player, who was not properly diagnosed after an initial concussion and suffered a second hit the following week, which permanently changed his life.  Without some clinical help, the player, parents and coach can only rely on the lack of obvious symptoms before declaring a concussion "healed".  However, making this "return to play" decision is now getting some help from some new post-concussion tests.  The first is a neurological skills test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion and Cognitive Testing) created by the same researchers at UPMC.  It is an online test given to athletes after a concussion to measure their performance in attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, problem solving and reaction time.  Comparing a "concussed" athlete's performance on the test with a baseline measurement will help the physician decide if the brain has healed sufficiently.




However, Dr. Collins and his team wanted to add physiological data to the psychological testing to see if there was a match between brain activity, skill testing and reported symptoms after a concussion.  In a study released last year in the journal Neurosugery, they performed functional MRI (fMRI) brain imaging studies on 28 concussed high-school athletes while they performed certain working memory tasks to see if there was a significant link between performance on the tests and changes in brain activation.  They were tested about one week after injury and again after the normal clinical recovery period.“In our study, using fMRI, we demonstrate that the functioning of a network of brain regions is significantly associated with both the severity of concussion symptoms and time to recover,” said Jamie Pardini, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist on the clinical and research staff of the UPMC concussion program and co-author of the study.  “We identified networks of brain regions where changes in functional activation were associated with performance on computerized neurocognitive testing and certain post-concussion symptoms,” Dr. Pardini added. "Also, our study confirms previous research suggesting that there are neurophysiological abnormalities that can be measured even after a seemingly mild concussion.” 




Putting better assessment tools in the hands of athletic trainers and coaches will provide evidence-based coaching decisions that are best for the athlete's health.  Better decisions will also ease the minds of parents knowing their child has fully recovered from their "invisible" injury.

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<span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.aulast=Lovell&amp;rft.aufirst=Mark&amp;rft.aumiddle=R&amp;rft.au=Mark+ Lovell&amp;rft.au=JamieEPardini&amp;rft.au=Joel+Welling&amp;rft.au=MichaelWCollins&amp;rft.au=JenniferBakal&amp;rft.au=NicoleLazar&amp;rft.au=RebeccaRoush&amp;rft.au=WilliamFEddy&amp;rft.au=JamesTBecker&amp;rft.title=Neurosurgery&amp;rft.atitle=FUNCTIONALBRAINABNORMALITIESARERELATEDTOCLINICALRECOVERYANDTIMETORETURN-TO-PLAYINATHLETES&amp;rft.date=2007&amp;rft.volume=61&amp;rft.issue=2&amp;rft.spage=352&amp;rft.epage=360&amp;rft.genre=article&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1227%2F01.NEU.0000279985.94168.7F">Lovell, M.R., Pardini, J.E., Welling, J., Collins, M.W., Bakal, J., Lazar, N., Roush, R., Eddy, W.F., Becker, J.T. (2007). FUNCTIONAL BRAIN ABNORMALITIES ARE RELATED TO CLINICAL RECOVERY AND TIME TO RETURN-TO-PLAY IN ATHLETES. Neurosurgery, 61(2), 352-360. DOI: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000279985.94168.7F </font>

737 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: football, soccer, concussion, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, youth_sports, mtbi, head_injury

From:  Sports Are 80 Percent Mental - Teaching Tactics and Techniques In Sports

You have probably seen both types of teams. Team A: players who are

evenly spaced, calling out plays, staying in their positions only to

watch them dribble the ball out of bounds, lose the pass, or shoot

wildly at the goal. Team B: amazing ball control, skillful shooting and

superior quickness, speed and agility but each player is a

"do-it-yourselfer" since no one can remember a formation, strategy or

position responsibility. Team A knows WHAT to do, but can't execute.

Team B knows HOW to do it, but struggles with making good team play

decisions. This is part of the ongoing balancing act of a coach. At the

youth level, teaching technique first has been the tradition, followed

by tactical training later and separately. More recently, there has

been research on the efficiency of learning in sports and whether there

is a third "mixed" option that yields better performance.

 

Earlier, we took an initial look at  as an introduction to this discussion.

In addition, Dr. Markus Raab of  the Institute for Movement Sciences and Sport, University of Flensburg, Germany,

(now of the Institute of Psychology, German Sport University in

Cologne), took a look at four major models of teaching sports skills

that agree that technical and tactical skills need to be combined for

more effective long-term learning.Each of the four models vary in their

treatment of learning along two different dimensions; implicit vs.

explicit learning and domain-specific vs. domain-general environments.

 

Types of Learning

 

Imagine two groups of boys playing baseball. The first group has gathered at

the local ball diamond at the park with their bats, balls and gloves.

No coaches, no parents, no umpires; just a group of friends playing an

informal "pick-up" game of baseball. They may play by strict baseball

rules, or they may improvise and make their own "home" rules, (no

called strikes, no stealing, etc.). In the past, they may have had more

formal coaching, but today is unstructured.

 

The second group is what we see much more often today. A team of players, wearing

their practice uniforms are driven by their parents to team practice at

a specific location and time to be handed off to the team coaches. The

coaches have planned a 90 minute session that includes structured

infield practice, then fly ball practice, then batting practice and

finally some situational scrimmages. Rules are followed and coaching

feedback is high. Both groups learn technical and tactical skills

during their afternoon of baseball. They differ in the type of learning

they experience. The first group uses "implicit" learning while the

second group uses "explicit" learning. Implicit learning is simply the

lack of explicit teaching. It is "accidental" or "incidental" learning

that soaks in during the course of our play. There is no coach teaching

the first group, but they learn by their own trial and error and

internalize the many if-then rules of technical and tactical skills.

Explicit learning, on the other hand, is directed instruction from an

expert who demonstrates proper technique or explains the tactic and the

logic behind it.

 

An interesting test of whether a specific skill or piece of knowledge has been

learned with implicit or explicit methods is to ask the athlete to describe or verbalize the

details of the skill or sub-skill. If they cannot verbalize how they

know what they know, it was most likely learned through implicit

learning. However, if they can explain the team's attacking strategy

for this game, for example, that most likely came from an explicit

learning session with their coach.

 

Types of Domains

 

The other dimension that coaches could use in choosing the best teaching

method is along the domain continuum. Some teaching methods work best

to teach a skill that is specific to that sport's domain and the level

of transferability to another sport is low. These methods are known as

domain-specific. For more general skills that can be useful in several

related sports, a method can be used known as domain-general. Why would

any coach choose a method that is not specific to their sport? There

has been evidence that teaching at a more abstract level, using both

implicit and explicit "play" can enhance future, more specific

coaching. Also, remember our discussion about kids playing multiple sports.

Based on these two dimensions, Dr. Raab looked at and summarized these four teaching models:

 

  • Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU)

  • Decision Training (DT)

  • Ball School (Ball)

  • Situation Model of Anticipated Response consequences of Tactical training (SMART)

 

TGFU

 

The TGFU approach, (best described by Bunker, D.; Thorpe, R. (1982) A model for the

teaching of games in the secondary school, Bulletin of Physical Education, 10, 9–16), is known

for involving the athlete early in the "cognition" part of the game and

combining it with the technical aspect of the game. Rather than learn

"how-to" skills in a vacuum, TGFU argues that an athlete can tie the

technical skill with the appropriate time and place to use it and in

the context of a real game or a portion of the game. This method falls

into the explicit category of learning, as the purpose of the exercise

is explained. However, the exercises themselves stress a more

domain-general approach of more generic skills that can be transferred

between related sports such as "invasion games" (soccer, football,

rugby), "net games" (tennis, volleyball), "striking/fielding games"

(baseball, cricket) and "target games" (golf, target shooting).

 

Decision Training

 

The DT method, (best described by Vickers, J. N., Livingston, L. F.,

Umeris-Bohnert, S. & Holden, D. (1999) Decision training: the

effects of complex instruction, variable practice and reduced delayed

feedback on the acquisition and transfer of a motor skill, Journal of

Sports Sciences, 17, 357–367), uses an explicit learning style but with

a domain-specific approach. Please see my earlier post on Decision Training for

details of the approach.

 

Ball School

 

The Ball School approach, (best described by Kroger, C. & Roth, K.

(1999) Ballschule: ein ABC fur Spielanfanger [Ball school: an ABC for

game beginners] (Schorndorf, Hofmann), starts on the other end of both

spectrums, in that it teaches generic domain-general skills using

implicit learning. It emphasizes that training must be based on

ability, playfullness, and skill-based. Matching the games to the

group's abilities, while maintaining an unstructured "play" atmosphere

will help teach generic skills like "hitting a target" or "avoiding

defenders".

 

SMART

 

Dr. Raab's own SMART model, (best described in Raab, M. (2003) Decision making in

sports: implicit and explicit learning is affected by complexity of

situation, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1,

406–433), blends implicit and explicit learning within a

domain-specific environment. The idea is that different sports'

environmental complexity may demand either an implicit or explicit

learning method. Raab had previously shown that skills learned

implicitly work best in sport enviroments with low complexity. Skills

learned explicitly will work best in highly complex environments.

Complexity is measured by the number of variables in the sport. So, a

soccer field has many moving parts, each with its own variables. So,

the bottom line is to use the learning strategy that fits the sport's

inherent difficulty. So, learning how to choose from many different

skill and tactical options would work best if matched with the right

domain-specific environment.

 

Bottom-Line for Coaches

 

What does all of this mean for the coach? That there are several different

models of instruction and that one size does not fit all situations.

Coaches need an arsenal of tools to use based on the specific goals of

the training session. In reality, most sports demand both implicit and

explicit learning, as well as skills that are specific to one domain,

and some that can transfer across several sport domains. Flexibility in

the approach taken goes back to the evidence based coaching example we gave last time.

Keeping an open mind about coaching methods and options will produce better prepared athletes.

 

(2007). Discussion. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 12(1), 1-22. DOI: 10.1080/17408980601060184

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From:  Sports Are 80 Percent Mental - Winning Gold With Sport Science

Its something that every coach and every athlete of every sport is

searching for... the EDGE. That one training tip, equipment

improvement, mental preparation or tactical insight that will tip the

game towards them. The body of knowledge that exists today in each

sport is assumed, with each competitor expected to at least be aware of

the history, beliefs and traditions of their individual sport. But, if

each team is starting with the same set of information then the team

that takes the next step by applying new research and ideas will

capture the edge.

 

To me, that is what sport science is all about. The goal is to improve sports

performance by imagining, analyzing, experimenting, testing, documenting and

training new methods to coaches and athletes.

 

You might have seen a great article in the 6/23 edition of USA Today.

We meet Peter Vint, a "sport technologist" in the Performance Technology Division

of the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, whose job it is to find ways

to win more gold medals. From the article; "The next revolution, Vint says, is breaking

down the last secrets of elite athletes: response time, how they read

the field and other players — everything that goes into the vision,

perception and split-second decision-making of an athlete. 'We've

always looked at that as mysterious, something that's unmeasurable and

innate,' Vint says. 'But we think it can be taught.'"

 

Interestingly, Vint cites another pioneer in evidence-based sports coaching, Oakland

A's general manager, Billy Beane. "We're becoming progressively more

data-driven," Vint says of the center's training efforts. "We are

trying to pursue what Sabermetrics and Billy Beane did for baseball,

identifying factors that can truly influence performance." The radical

concept that Beane created, as documented in the bestseller, ,

is to stop searching for "the edge" in all the same places that

everyone else is looking. Instead, he started from scratch with new

logic about the objectives of the game of baseball itself and built

metrics that gave new insight into the types of players and skill sets

that he should acquire for his team.

 

If sport science is going to thrive and be accepted, it faces the challenge of inertia.

The ideas and techniques that are the product of sport science can also

be captured in the phrase, "evidence based coaching". Just as evidence

based medicine has slowly found its place in the physician's exam room,

the coaching profession is just beginning to trust the research.

Traditionally, "belief based coaching" has been the philosophy favored

in the clubhouse. Training drills, tactical plans, player selection and

player development has been guided by ideas and concepts that have been

handed down from one generation of coaches to the next. Most of these

beliefs are valid and have been proven on the field through many years

of trial and error. Subjecting these beliefs to scientific research may

not produce conclusions any different than what coaching lore tells us.

But, today's coaches and athletes see the competition creeping closer

to them in all aspects, so they are now willing to at least listen to

the scientists. Beane likens it to financial analysis and the stock

market. The assumption is that all information is known by all. But, if

someone can find a ratio or a statistic or make an industry insight

that no one has considered, then they own the competitive advantage; at

least until this new information is made public.

 

It takes time, though, to amass enough data to convince a head coach to

change years of habits for the unknown. Reputations and championships

are on the line, so the changes sometimes need to be implemented

slowly. Vint describes the gradual process of converting U.S. hurdler

Terrence Trammell and his coach to some of his ideas. "The relationship

between the athletes and sports scientist is critical," Vint says. "But

(for some), biomechanics has not yet provided useful enough

suggestions."

 

There still is debate on evidence based coaching vs. belief based coaching.

Robert Robson, sport psychologist and management consultant, stated,

"Sports coaching should absolutely be evidence-based, but any argument that places the

sole source of evidence in the realm of the scientific method is, I

would argue, naive and lacking in an understanding of the philosophical

underpinnings of science."  Looking forward, I will dig a little deeper into this topic in the next week, so

please check back or subscribe to Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.

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From: Sports Are 80 Percent Mental - Single Sport Kids - When To Specialize

So, your grade school son or daughter is a good athlete, playing

multiple sports and having fun at all of them. Then, you hear the usual

warning, either from coaches or other parents; "If you want your

daughter to go anywhere in this sport, then its time to let the other

sports go and commit her full-time to this one." The logic sounds

reasonable. The more time spent on one sport, the better she will be at

that sport, right? Well, when we look at the three pillars of our

Sports Cognition Framework, motor skill competence, decision making ability,

and positive mental state, the question becomes whether any of these would benefit from

playing multiple sports, at least in the early years of an athlete

(ages 3-12)? It seems obvious that specific technical motor skills,

(i.e. soccer free kicks, baseball bunting, basketball free throws) need

plenty of practice and that learning the skill of shooting free throws

will not directly make you a better bunter. On the other end, learning

how to maintain confidence, increase your focus, and manage your

emotions are skills that should easily transfer from one sport to

another. That leaves the development of tactical decision making

ability as the unknown variable. Will a young athlete learn more about

field tactics, positional play and pattern recognition from playing

only their chosen sport or from playing multiple related sports?

 

 

 

 

Researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia

learned from previous studies that for national team caliber players

there is a correlation between the breadth of sport experiences they

had as a child and the level of expertise they now have in a single

sport. In fact, these studies show that there is an inverse relation

between the amount of multi-sport exposure time and the additional

sport-specific training to reach expert status. In plain English, the

athletes that played several different (but related) sports as a child,

were able to reach national "expert" level status faster than those

that focused only one sport in grade school . Bruce Abernethy,

Joseph Baker and Jean Cote designed an experiment to observe and

measure if there was indeed a transfer of pattern recognition ability

between related sports (i.e. team sports based on putting an object in

a goal; hockey, soccer, basketball, etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

They recruited two group of athletes; nationally recognized experts in each

of three sports (netball, basketball and field hockey) who had broad

sports experiences as children and experienced but not expert level

players in the same sports whose grade school sports exposure was much

more limited (single sport athletes). (For those unfamiliar with

netball, it is basically basketball with no backboards and few

different rules.) The experiment showed each group a video segment of

an actual game in each of the sports. When the segment ended the groups

were asked to map out the positions and directions of each of the

players on the field, first offense and then defense, as best they

could remember from the video clip. The non-expert players were the

control group, while the expert players were the experimental groups.

First, all players were shown a netball clip and asked to respond.

Second, all were shown a basketball clip and finally the hockey clip.

The expectation of the researchers was that the netball players would

score the highest after watching the netball clip (no surprise there),

but also that the expert players of the other two sports would score

higher than the non-expert players. The reasoning behind their theory

was that since the expert players were exposed to many different sports

as a child, there might be a significant transfer effect between sports

in pattern recognition, and that this extra ability would serve them

well in their chosen sport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results were as predicted. For each sport's test, the experts in that sport scored the

highest, followed by the experts in the other sports, with the

non-experts scoring the poorest in each sport. Their conclusion was

that there was some generic learning of pattern recognition in team

sports that was transferable. The takeaway from this study is that

there is benefit to having kids play multiple sports and that this may

shorten the time and training needed to excel in a single sport in the

future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, go ahead and let your kids play as many

sports as they want. Resist the temptation to "overtrain" in one sport

too soon. Playing several sports certainly will not hurt their future

development and will most likely give them time to find their true

talents and their favorite sport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abernethy, B., Baker, J., Côté, J. (2005). Transfer of pattern recall skills may

contribute to the development of sport expertise. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(6), 705-718. DOI: 10.1002/acp.1102 

 

 

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