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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Research proposes new test on prosthetic legs

New research carried out at Bournemouth University, UK, investigates the use of lower-limb running prostheses (LLRPs) used in competitions by below-knee amputees. Due to significant controversy surrounding running prosthetic limbs in both the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games, this new research published in Cogent Engineering proposes new guidelines for prosthetic leg technology in international sporting events to prevent competitive advantage. The guidelines include the use of a dynamic drop jump technique to assess the quality of prosthetic legs as a new assessment strategy.

Dr Bryce Dyer, author of the research and Head of Research & Professional Practice, Department of Design & Engineering, Bournemouth University is the designer of performance prostheses used by elite cyclists in both the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games.

‘Prosthetic legs are a fascinating area of development for engineers and sports policy makers,’ said Dr Dyer. ‘They are only recently regulated, and more work needs to be done to understand the impact of different engineering solutions on sport itself. Previous research has been theoretical, or based on the impact of engineering on one particular athlete. This approach is more pragmatic, and more useful for policy makers.’

Detailed analysis of running amputee sprinting performance in the research will help sports officials to ascertain if any objective data can be found that would support claims of potential unfairness or significant technological impact on results in international races. This analysis can then be used to frame legislative guidance and regulation.

Negative stereotypes affect female soccer performance

There continues to be a stereotype that women are inferior as soccer players. This view continues regardless of women’s success on the field. For example, the German woman’s team has won the World Cup twice, and the team is currently ranked 2nd in the FIFA world rankings (the men’s team is ranked 4th). Furthermore, there is less coverage of female soccer games and their salaries are far below their male counterparts.

Scientists from the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, researched one stereotype in particular, namely: “females cannot play soccer.” This idea is still prevalent in Germany despite the success of the nation’s women’s national team. Germany is the only country whose men’s and women’s national teams have both won at World Cups.

Thirty-six teenage female soccer players who play at a competitive level from three soccer clubs in Frankfurt participated in the study. The participants were asked to read a fictitious article either about female inferiority in soccer or about the worldwide growing popularity of soccer. Then, they had to answer on a seven-point scale whether they agree with the statement “I think boys and girls play soccer equally well.”

The researchers then compared the time the women needed to complete the dribble exercise before and after reading the article was to see if negative stereotypes did in fact affect the girls’ performances. The results showed that women who had read an article with negative stereotypes needed significantly more time to complete the exercise than those in the control condition.

Two motivational factors were also investigated: flow and worry. Flow is a term used in sports studies to describe a pleasant psychological state that makes it easier to be focused on the activity at hand. As a result, action and awareness are merged. Contrary to expectations, the results showed that there was no significant relationship between reading negative stereotypes and either flow or worry. Interestingly, girls who felt more worried, spent less time on the dribbling task.

Negative stereotypes can limit women from achieving their potential and effect participation in sport. This study confirms the results of previous research by demonstrating that female players are influenced by stereotype threat as early as their teen years, pointing to the importance of early intervention. Therefore, encouragement and positive messages are important for increasing female participation. As Johanna Hermann, co-author of the study, recommends: “Don’t stop when you’re stereotyped, stop when you’re done, girls!”

European soccer increasingly popular in the USA

The sports economists from Tübingen analyzed the interest of US citizens in European soccer competitions and Major League Soccer (MLS), the highest level soccer league in the USA and Canada, for the very first time. They focused on factors, which affect the demand for soccer tele-casts. Based on their estimations, the researchers were able, amongst others, to derive a preference ranking of the most popular international soccer competitions for the American TV audience.

Ever since the USA was nominated as the host country for FIFA’s Soccer World Cup in 1994, the interest in soccer has grown in the country. “This is well-known,” say the experts, “and is partly reflected in the numbers of people tuning in to soccer games on TV. Reported audience figures of English Premier League games, for example, have now exceeded those of regular season games of the National Hockey League (NHL), the top North American ice hockey league. However, they continue to lag far behind the leading sports in North America, i.e. American football, basketball and baseball.

The Tübingen study now surveys figures on different aspects of the American soccer market in detail for the first time. A US-wide representative sample of more than 6,500 people was used to gather the extensive data. A screen-out question at the beginning of the surveys enabled the experts to focus on individuals, who indicated at least a basic interest in soccer. “These were almost 50 percent in both survey rounds — a share far higher than had been expected for the US market, which is dominated by the three major sports,” the researchers stated.

The survey participants were asked, amongst others, about their favorite soccer competitions. Among the seven competitions, the greatest interest was indicated for the English Premier League, followed by the UEFA Champions League, the American MLS and the Spanish La Liga. According to this ranking, the German Bundesliga is in position five ahead of the Italian Serie A and the French Ligue 1. The highest share of people interested in European soccer clubs were found in the states of California and New York. Roughly 3.5 percent of the soccer interested individuals mentioned Bayern Munich as their favorite club. This means that Bayern Munich is one of the top 10 most popular European and North American soccer teams in the USA; the list is headed by England’s Manchester United, followed by Spain’s FC Barcelona.

The focus of the study was put on exploring factors, which affect the demand for international soc-cer telecasts. It emerged that soccer fans from an MLS city as well as the younger generation had on average a greater interest in international soccer games. Moreover, it was found that the Spanish-speaking population occupies a disproportionately important position among soccer fans. “This might explain why games played by Bayer Leverkusen with the Mexican star Javier Herández Balcázar (aka Chicharito) were very popular in the 2015/2016 season,” say the sports economists. The study also confirms for the first time empirically that “competitive balance” in soccer competitions plays a significant role in the USA. Leagues offering close championship races are perceived as being exciting and attract more spectators than competitions dominated by just few clubs.

The study benefited from a João Havelange Research Scholarship with which FIFA supports inde-pendent research projects on soccer. The study’s findings have been published as a book.

Sports practice accounts for just one percent of the performance

“While practice is necessary for elite athletes to reach a high level of competition, after a certain point, the amount of practice essentially stops differentiating who makes it far and who makes it to the very top,” said Brooke Macnamara, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study.

“Human performance is incredibly complex,” she said. “Multiple factors need to be considered, only one of which is practice.”

The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, with researchers analyzing 52 data sets on the relationship between practice and performance.

Athletes, parents, recruiters and coaches can use the findings to weigh the importance of practice time and investment, researchers suggest.

Overall, practice explains about 18 percent of why some athletes perform better or worse than others — with 82 percent of this difference attributed to factors other than practice.

The findings counter the notion that anyone can become an expert or elite athlete with 10,000 hours of practice, a theory inspired by research from Florida State University professor Anders Ericsson in the early 1990s and popularized in the mainstream since.

“The concept of 10,000 hours taps into the American ideal of hard work and dedication leading naturally to excellence,” said Macnamara. “But it does not account for the inherent differences across people and across sports.”

Starting age holds little to no advantage

While some research has suggested a younger starting age provides an athlete more time to build skills critical to attaining high performance levels, Macnamara’s findings offer contradictory evidence.

Higher-skill athletes start at about the same age as less-skilled athletes — or even began a little later — according to Macnamara’s research. In fact, athletes may benefit from waiting to specialize in one sport: A more physically mature athlete can accomplish the fundamentals of an activity more easily, with a lower risk of injury from overuse.

“People and parents who buy into the 10,000-hour rule can push early specialization in a sport, leading to physical or mental burnout before it’s clear that a child even has a penchant for that sport,” Macnamara said.

Factors other than practice believed to influence athletic performance include genetic attributes, such as fast-twitch muscles and maximum blood oxygenation level; cognitive and psychological traits and behaviors — including confidence, performance anxiety, intelligence and working memory capacity — play roles as well, though researchers don’t yet know the significance of each.