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Category Archives: Sport

How caddies help elite golfers stay in the zone

The study by sport psychology researchers at the University of Lincoln, Leeds Beckett University, and St Mary’s University in the UK, and University of Canberra in Australia, found that as well as carrying the player’s bag, caddies can help their players perform at their peak — achieving so-called ‘flow states’ — by offering vital psychological support and encouragement throughout the round.

The findings, published in the Elsevier journal ‘Psychology of Sport and Exercise’, could lead to new ways of studying and understanding flow states within golf and sport more generally.

Flow, often referred to as being ‘in the zone’, is the mental state athletes reach when they are fully immersed in their discipline and feel in control of what they are doing, even in the most personally challenging situations. Importantly, athletes in flow often perform at the peak of their abilities, meaning that golfers who win major tournaments are more likely to have been in this ‘zone’.

The study indicated that caddies influenced golfers’ flow states by helping their player select targets, maintain concentration and avoid distractions, and preserve confidence after setbacks such as missed putts. They also provided positive feedback after shots, reinforced the player’s decision making, and were able to help the golfers relax under pressure which is especially important in major championships.

By helping golfers get into this coveted state of flow, and then stay in this ‘zone’ even longer, the caddie’s contribution could help their player perform at their peak when it matters most.

Lead researcher Dr Christian Swann, from the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Lincoln, said: “The key finding was how much of an important role caddies can play when golfers experience flow. Previous research identified factors which are believed to help athletes get into the zone, and this study moved a step beyond that by exploring the specific ways in which golfers’ flow states are influenced by such factors, including the caddie.

“As players often describe these experiences when they win tournaments, understanding how and why flow happens is very important for coaches and sport psychologists. These findings could also be important for optimising the golfer-caddie partnership to be most effective on the course.

“For example, one golfer in the study described a particularly clear example of flow while he was in contention to win The Open. He remembered holing a long putt in the middle of the round which gave him the lead. Afterwards he said to his caddie, ‘Make sure you don’t stop talking to me from now on. Don’t leave me, and don’t talk about golf.’

“Interestingly, the caddie’s role in this case was to keep the player’s mind away from analytical thoughts of winning which are known to disrupt flow. Instead, by focusing on topics other than golf, they were able to take each shot at a time and perform more on autopilot — prolonging the experience of being in the zone under pressure.”

The study was conducted with 10 European Tour golfers including The Open players, and European Tour, Challenge Tour and Senior Tour winners.

New sports technology provides a GPS alternative

Instead SABEL Labs has developed SABEL Sense, an alternative to GPS for tracking running speeds and distances and which is set to be a game changer in the sports performance and wearable technology industries.

SABEL Sense is timely, as sporting organisations in particular consider their options. The AFL recently announced it had switched its GPS provider.

SABEL Labs project manager and research fellow Dr Jono Neville developed a model which presents accelerometers as a viable alternative to GPS in the quest for improved athlete assessment techniques.

His research, titled ‘A model for comparing over-ground running speed and accelerometer derived step rate in elite level athletes’, is detailed in Sensors Journal, which is currently published online and will be in print next month.

Dr Neville said while Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are an important tool for workload management, the devices have limitations when it comes to changes in speed and direction and when they are used indoors, due to their reliance on external satellites.

He said he compared inertial sensor data with GPS data, collected simultaneously from Brisbane Lions AFL players during 2009, to create a model which was highly accurate for running speeds.

“There is a driving need for emerging technology like this in the sports performance industry,” the microelectronic engineer said.

“When it comes to frequent and rapid changes in speed and distance, GPS just doesn’t cut it, although it’s still the most widely used technology.

“We have found a data processing technique which allows us to extract data from an athlete and create an individualised model. “

Dr Neville said his technology will be key in monitoring training and game workloads.

“This will assist in preventing things such as over-training, which is a major concern for elite athletes, to reduce risk of injury.”

Dr Neville said individualised models are created automatically using SABEL Sense technology which can then be used to track speeds and distances.

Mixed martial arts bloodier but less dangerous than boxing

Researchers at the U of A’s Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic reviewed a decade’s worth of data from medical examinations following mixed martial arts and boxing matches and found that MMA fighters face a slightly higher risk of minor injuries. Boxers, however, are more likely to experience serious harm from concussions and other head trauma, loss of consciousness, eye injuries, smashed noses and broken bones.

“Yes, you’re more likely to get injured if you’re participating in mixed martial arts, but the injury severity is less overall than boxing,” explained lead author Shelby Karpman, a sports medicine physician at the Glen Sather clinic. “Most of the blood you see in mixed martial arts is from bloody noses or facial cuts; it doesn’t tend to be as severe but looks a lot worse than it actually is.”

Research from ringside

The research offers a first-of-its-kind glimpse into the dangers of the two combative sports in Canada, and is the direct result of Karpman’s quarter-century of experience as a ringside physician conducting post-fight exams, which are mandatory in both sports.

In this study, Karpman and U of A Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine colleagues Leah Phillips, Ziling Qin and Doug Gross, and Patrick Reid of the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, reviewed post-fight records from 1,181 MMA fighters and 550 boxers who fought matches in Edmonton between 2003 and 2013.

They found that 59.4 per cent of MMA fighters suffered some form of injury in their bouts–significantly higher than the injury rate of 49.8 per cent for boxers. Most of these injuries were bruises and contusions. But boxers were more likely to experience loss of consciousness during the bout (7.1 per cent compared with 4.2 per cent for MMA fighters) or serious eye injuries.

Boxers were also significantly more likely to receive medical suspensions due to injuries suffered during bouts.

Karpman said there is risk in any contact sport but that MMA, more than any other, faces a stigma from the medical community from physicians who see the sport as ultra-bloody and violent. As a result, fighters have become “an undertreated athletic population,” and these research results should help them understand the risks of climbing into the ring, he said.

“These guys do not get the respect they deserve for what they’re doing–or the medical treatment–because the medical community doesn’t want to deal with such a bloody sport with head injuries and concussions,” Karpman said.

Most fighters understand the risks they face before they get into the ring, but the research results do line up with the real-life experience of 14-year MMA veteran Victor Valimaki.

“There are definitely risks. I’ve been pretty messed up,” said Valimaki, who says he’s suffered just about every injury imaginable: broken bones–both feet and arms, an ankle, collar bone–a busted orbital bone, and numerous knee and shoulder joint issues.

“Most injuries happen during training. Injuries during an actual fight are superficial–typically black eyes, cuts and the odd broken hand,” he said.

Banning combative sports not the answer

Karpman says it’s puzzling that in a sport like hockey, catastrophic blows to the head can land former NHL players like Scott Stevens and Chris Pronger in the hall of fame, whereas MMA and boxing are vilified with frequent calls to ban the sport with little understanding of the true risks.

“I always say if you’re going to ban a sport, you need statistics. Just watching mixed martial arts twice on TV does not cut it. And even if you ban a sport, you’re not going to stop it. You’re just going to take it underground where they’re not going to receive medical care.”

Adapting soccer training to age

The Plos One scientific journal, published by the Public Library of Science and which deals mainly with basic research into any subject relating to science and medicine, has recently published the paper ‘Number of Players and Relative Pitch Area per Player: Comparing Their Influence on Heart Rate and Physical Demands in Under-12 and Under-13 soccer Players’. In this work, researchers at the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Education and Sports have analysed how various soccer training exercises affect physical and physiological aspects in the under 12s (U12) and under 13s (U13).

This training method using so-called small-sided games (or long ones, depending on the dimensions and number of players) is very widespread in different sports. Small-sided games or ‘game-based training’ are sports competitions or game-based training generally played by a smaller number of players and on smaller pitches (compared with 11-a-side soccer) in which all the internal logic components of the game are kept in a way that is adaptable and motivating for the players. These activities are applied extensively in the sphere of soccer training and are fundamental in the programmes to develop young players.

This research involved the combining of a different number of players per team (7, 9 or 11 players) who played on pitches with three different relative areas per player (100, 200 and 300 m2). In these situations variables such as total distance covered, demands on the player, maximum speed, heart rate in various ranges of intensity, etc. were analysed; in other words, covering internal or physical variables as well as external or physical ones.

The results that emerged support the theory that a change in the format affects both categories of players in a similar way: “the greater the dimensions and the number of players per team, the greater the physical and physiological demands are, the latter being particularly high in the U13s with respect to the U12s,” explained the researchers. So it seems that the U13s can develop their physical potential to a maximum.

Yet these demands, rated from the relative point of view, in other words, with respect to individual maximum speeds, show that the U12s endure a greater work load, bearing in mind that their maximum levels are lower with respect to the U13s. Nevertheless, it seems that in the U12 age group it would not be advisable to include large formats (>300 m2) or formats with many players per team (11).

The conclusions of the study could help trainers or people involved in this soccer training phase to progressively plan the competition models in which the demands of the exercise are adapted to the physiological and physical development of the participants.

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.

Are football players too obese?

Jeffrey Potteiger, professor of exercise science, and Maggie McGowan-Stinski, senior athletic training major, set out to determine how body size has changed in college and professional football players over the past 70 years.

“We started to take a look at providing the information that sports medicine personnel need to be aware of in order to effectively protect the health of the players under their care,” Potteiger said. “In football, the most at-risk athletes are the offensive and defensive linemen.”

The research duo determined that players have gained an average of between a quarter of a pound to one-and-a-quarter pound per year since 1942. This equates to an average 60-pound increase in body mass for offensive and defensive linemen.

Potteiger said the most common diseases resulting from excess body mass and body fat, especially around the abdominal area, include high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. He added that hitting the gym and eating more aren’t the only ways athletes are attempting to gain body mass.

“The use of growth promoting agents, such as anabolic steroids, growth hormones and insulin carry side effects that range from mild to severe,” Potteiger said. “The severity of the side effects is dependent on the dosage level of the growth promoting agents and the length of time the agents are consumed.”

To help athletes increase their body size in a healthier manner, Potteiger recommends the following:

  • Strive for lean body mass increases of less than one pound per week;
  • Maintain good nutritional intake by eating one to one-and-a-half grams of protein for every two pounds of body mass;
  • Eat adequate carbohydrates while avoiding excessive calories;
  • Perform a resistance training program three-to-five days per week; and
  • Leave plenty of room for rest and recovery.

The full study, “Protecting the Metabolic Health of Football Players With High Fat Mass,” can be found in Strength and Conditioning Journal.

A future for skiing in a warmer world

Chances are if you know anything about Norway, you know it’s a place where skiing was born.

Norse mythology describes gods and goddesses hunting on skis, and 4000-year-old petroglyphs from northern Norway include some of the earliest known drawings of people on skis. One of the most recognizable Norwegian paintings worldwide depicts two skiers in 1206 fleeing to safety with the country’s two-year-old prince, Håkon Håkonsson.

Over the centuries, skiing in Norway has evolved from a practical mode of winter transport to a sport that is deeply ingrained in Norwegian culture. Norwegians themselves like to say they enter the world uniquely prepared for their northern home — because they are “born with skis on their feet.”

But warmer weather due to climate change has made for less-than-stellar ski conditions in Norway and across Europe. Advances in snowmaking, where water is “seeded” with a protein from a bacterium that allows snow to be made at temperatures right around freezing, simply aren’t enough to keep up with the changing climate.

In response, a team of Norwegian researchers has been awarded a NOK 2.3 million grant from the Norwegian Ministry of Culture to develop a new approach to snowmaking — one that would allow snow to be made in an energy-efficient way, even at warmer temperatures. The project has been named, appropriately enough, “Snow for the Future.”

Putting heat pumps to work

Traditional snowmaking makes up for a lack of snow by spraying water into cold air, and letting physics do the rest. But if temperatures are above freezing, this simply won’t work, for obvious reasons.

Researchers at SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest independent research institute, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have worked extensively with a type of technology called a heat pump. They think that heat pumps could be key to producing snow in an environmentally friendly way, even at higher temperatures. Your refrigerator and freezer are examples of appliances that use heat pumps to regulate temperatures.

“One of the main aims of the project will be to find out how we can produce snow regardless of the outdoor temperature, and to develop energy-efficient ways of doing it,” says Petter Nekså, an energy research scientist at SINTEF.

Nekså thinks that one feasible approach is to develop heat pumps where the cold side can be used to produce snow, while the warm side is used for heating.

“If the air outside is cold, traditional snow cannons work very well. But these are temperature dependent,” says Nekså. “At higher temperatures, you need a refrigeration plant to make snow. The advantage is that the process is independent of air temperatures.”

What can make the process energy efficient is heating a building with the heat generated by the heat pump as it cools water to be made into snow, Nekså says.

“In this way, we can heat indoor facilities while also making artificial snow for ski slopes outside — virtually cost free,” he says.

Using heat and cold from heat pump technology

The approach involves adapting current heat pump technology, says Jacob Stang, one of Nekså’s colleagues at SINTEF.

“A traditional snow production facility that makes snow at zero degrees outdoors has no ‘hot side’,” Stang says. “That means we need a heat pump that has the properties of a refrigeration plant. We have to adapt components, such as an evaporator and condenser, to get them to work together.”

Storage and use

The project will be conducted in collaboration with the city of Trondheim, where SINTEF and NTNU are based, and the Norwegian Ski Federation (NSF).

The researchers are also hoping to develop better ways of storing snow, which is an approach many ski areas use as a hedge against warmer temperatures. Currently, many ski area use sawdust to store artificial snow that can be spread on slopes and trails when the weather doesn’t deliver the white stuff on its own. While this is a proven approach, over time the sawdust loses its insulating properties and has to be replaced.

The project will also identify new ways of making sure that ski areas get as much benefit as they can out of manufactured snow. The researchers will look at everything from the design and drainage of ski runs, to protection from sun and rain, salting and snow preparation.

Technology transfer from the fisheries industry

Researchers will conduct lab experiments, use computer models and simulations, create prototypes and undertake field tests.

“Norway has a long tradition and expertise in this field,” says Trygve M. Eikevik, a professor in NTNU’s Department of Energy and Process Engineering. “The fishery sector produces around 300 thousand tonnes of ice each year for fish export. This is enough to cover an 8-metre-wide, 150-kilometre-long ski trail with a layer of ice that is 0.5 metres thick. It is more than possible to manufacture snow for skiing.”

The NSF hopes the project will increase the chances that Norway will be able to host World Championships in skiing in the future, but officials are most concerned about maintaining skiing as a pastime in Norway. Communities across the country promote skiing by maintaining easily accessible, lighted and groomed ski trails and encouraging ski clubs. This strong system recruits young people to skiing, which has led to Norway’s prominence in both alpine and cross-country ski competitions. It also helps keep people healthy, by encouraging them to get outside to exercise in the winter.

“The challenges posed by climate change represent perhaps the greatest threat to ski sports. This is why we’re very pleased that this project is taking off,” says Marit Gjerland, who is a ski run consultant for the NSF. “Good results from the project will mean a lot for the future of ski sports.”

She says the technology could also expand the popularity of skiing, by making snow available in places where it previously wasn’t.

“Just like we have artificial football pitches, we could also create future snow parks,” she says.

Research centre for snow technology

One of the aims of the project is to establish a snow technology research centre based in Trondheim, where both Norwegian and international projects could be carried out.

“We envisage the development of more efficient refrigeration plants and snow production concepts, facilities designed for combined snow and heat production, and a total concept that integrates data models with meteorological data,” says Eikevik.

“We hope this will help promote innovation and business development related to future snow production facilities,” he says.