Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Soccer Fights Depression

Despite being a significant risk group, young men are amongst those least likely to seek professional help when mentally distressed or suicidal. The 'Back of the Net' programme, a pilot initiative using football (called soccer in the U.S.) and cognitive behavioural based techniques was effective in decreasing symptoms of depression in young men. Such programmes may offer a highly accessible and cost-effective alternative route to mental health promotion in this challenging target group.

These findings were reported by Siobhain McArdle from Dublin City University to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology, on December 11, held at the Congress Centre in London, England.

Dr McArdle and her colleagues studied 104 sedentary males aged between 18 and 40. The men were assigned to three groups: some undertook individual exercise, some took part in a group that played football and followed a cognitive behavioural based therapy (CBT) programme, and a control group that did no exercise. The football plus CBT group incorporated the "Back of the Net" intervention, which makes use of football metaphors. This involved both participation in conditioned football sessions and interactions within each session to facilitate the transfer of lessons from the sport context into everyday life (i.e., problem solving, communication, goal setting).

The participants in the three groups were evaluated before, during and after the intervention and again eight weeks later. They found that the participants who had taken part in the exercise programmes showed significantly lower symptoms of depression (a key factor associated with suicide risk in young men). Dr McArdle says: "The two physical activity based interventions were both effective in reducing symptoms of depression in young men.

However, the "Back of the Net" intervention was specifically designed to use a low-barrier vehicle for mental health promotion. This was achieved using a popular sport to take mental health promotion onto their turf. Future research should continue to explore community-based interventions with young men that combines exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy interventions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Goalkeeper's Movements and Penalty Kicks

Knowing Goalkeeper’s Movements in a Penalty Increases Success Rate and Reduces Kicker’s Decision Time

A study shows that knowing the anticipatory movements of a goalkeeper before kicking the penalty reduces the decision time and increases the success rate when choosing the direction of the shot in football (soccer). The results, extracted from the second paper by researcher F. Javier Núñez Sánchez from the University Pablo Olavide (UPO), which he wrote for his thesis, have recently been published in the scientific journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.

This research, developed by the group for Analysis of Human Movement, lead by Professor Antonio Oña of the University of Granada, has analysed the elements that interact during a penalty shootouts, including the movements and the response and reaction of the goalkeeper and the speed of the decision of the kicker when deciding the direction of the shot. According to their results, by studying the position of the goalkeeper in the instant immediately before the shot may significantly increase the probabilities of selecting a successful direction for the shot and reduces, in turn, the time of this decision process.

In the first phase, the researcher studied the movements of the goalkeeper during a penalty shootout. Among the findings, published in the International Journal of Sport Psychology in 2005, he stresses that all the goalkeepers begin their final movement instants before the player kicks that ball because, otherwise, they would not manage to reach it. These signals were named "movement pre-indexes," and help us know, in the exact moment when the player takes his last step before shooting, if the goalkeeper will jump towards his right or left before hitting the ball.

Once the aspects regarding the goalkeeper have been detected, a second phase of the study analysed the ability of the football player to decide if to hit the ball towards the right or left, in this short space of time. They also observed if it was effective or not to show the movement pre-indexes to increase success. They used a sample of 20 individuals for this study. These were later divided into four sub-groups (two control groups and two experimental groups), depending on whether the players were experts or inexperienced, i.e. those who occasionally play football and for leisure. The participants underwent two tests using a life-size projection of the goalkeepers and where the players had to simulate their penalty shot.

The professionals and the inexperienced

In the results obtained in the first test they did not find significant results between the experienced players and the inexperienced ones. However, different results were obtained after the test. After the initial test, the experimental groups watched a video that clearly explained the goalkeeper's movement pre-indexes. "During the informative film we explained where to focus, noting that when the kicker takes the last step before the penalty, he should direct the shot towards the area where the goalkeeper has the most extended knee, since he will shift towards the opposite side," states Javier Núñez.

In this sense, the decision time of the expert players in the experimental group passed from 275 to 189 milliseconds. By contrast, this decrease was barely significant in the control groups that did not receive the information on the movement pre-indexes.

As regards to the glances, the researchers registered in both tests, by means of an eye tracking system, the point in which the participants eyes were fixed before deciding the direction of the shot. In order to do this, they divided the goalkeeper's body in four sections (head-shoulders, torso, waist-knee and knee-foot). By means of this data they observed that during the first test their glances were, more or less, equally distributed. After viewing the explanations over 95% of the glances of the experimental groups were concentrated on area 3. Specifically, it is in this area, that the researchers, best observe where the goalkeeper extends his knee.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Why England's soccer team keeps losing on penalties

A new study may explain why the England soccer team keeps losing in penalty shootouts – and could help the team address the problem in time for the World Cup 2010. Research by the University of Exeter shows for the first time the effect of anxiety on a footballer's eye movements while taking a penalty.

IMAGE: Dr. Mark Wilson (L) with member of University of Exeter football team testing eye movement in penalty shoot outs.

The study shows that when penalty takers are anxious they are more likely to look at and focus on the centrally positioned goalkeeper. Due to the tight coordination between gaze control and motor control, shots also tend to centralise, making them easier to save. The research is now published in the December 2009 edition of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

The researchers attribute this change in eye movements and focus to anxiety. Author Greg Wood of the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences said: "During a highly stressful situation, we are more likely to be distracted by any threatening stimuli and focus on them, rather than the task in hand. Therefore, in a stressful penalty shootout, a footballer's attention is likely to be directed towards the goalkeeper as opposed to the optimal scoring zones (just inside the post). This disrupts the aiming of the shot and increases the likelihood of subsequently hitting the shot towards the goalkeeper, making it easier to save."

For their study, the researchers focused on 14 members of the University of Exeter football (soccer) team. They asked the players to perform two series of penalty shots. First, they were simply asked to do their best to score. The researchers made the second series more stressful and more akin to a penalty shoot-out. The players were told that the results would be recorded and shared with the other players and there would be a £50 prize for the best penalty taker.

The players wore special glasses which enabled the researchers to record precise eye movements and analyse the focus of each footballer's gaze and the amount of time spent looking at different locations in the goal.

The results showed that when anxious, the footballers looked at the goalkeeper significantly earlier and for longer. This change in eye behaviour made players more likely to shoot towards the centre of the goal, making it easier for the keeper to save. The researchers believe that by being made aware of the impact of anxiety on eye movements, and the affect this has on the accuracy of a player's shot, coaches could address this through training.

Greg Wood continues: "Research shows that the optimum strategy for penalty takers to use is to pick a spot and shoot to it, ignoring the goalkeeper in the process. Training this strategy is likely to build on the tight coordination between eye movements and subsequent actions, making for more accurate shooting. The idea that you cannot recreate the anxiety a penalty taker feels during a shootout is no excuse for not practicing. Do you think other elite performers don't practice basic aiming shots in darts, snooker or golf for the same reasons? These skills need to be ingrained so they are robust under pressure".

Anxiety, Attentional Control, and Performance Impairment in Penalty Kicks

Monday, October 12, 2009

Red Card For Faking Footballers (Soccer Players)

The game is up for football’s (soccer's) divers: A new study by Dr Paul Morris from the University of Portsmouth could help referees know when a top player has genuinely been fouled or taken a dive.

Dr Morris, an expert on the embodiment of emotions and intentions in the Department of Psychology, says refs could be helped to spot the tell tale signs of cheating, sometimes even in the split seconds in which they occur.

“Referees have a very difficult job and given the demands of the task they do it remarkably well. We think even experienced professionals could enhance their decision-making by studying the categories of deceptive behaviour we have identified,” said Dr Morris.

Published in the Springer Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, and conducted in three separate studies, the research could also help by improving decisions based on video evidence.

Dr Morris’s research shows that there are distinct actions which footballers use – either individually or in any combination - when faking a fall. These include:

* clutching their body where they haven’t been hit
* taking an extra roll when they hit the ground
* after being tackled taking fully controlled strides before falling
* holding up both arms in the air, with open palms, chest thrust out, legs bent at the knee in an “archer’s bow” position

“In most dishonest tackles the behaviour itself does not indicate dishonesty – the deception is revealed in the timing and co-ordination of the behaviours,” said Dr Morris.

“But one action is unique to a faked fall – the archer’s bow. This occurs in many dives but biomechanically it does not occur in a natural fall. Instead instinctively the arms either go down in an attempt to cushion the fall or out to the side for balance.

“Although this behaviour is absurd, the fraudulent footballer does it to try to deceive the referee into believing that the tackle was illegal, and the histrionics are necessary to get the referee’s attention in the first place.

“This behaviour has no national boundaries; everyone does it, it even occurred unprompted during our research trials.”

Dr Morris said that a player who positions his body into this peculiar shape to show that he has been fouled as a result of a tackle looks quite bizarre.

“Moving the body like this is completely controlled behaviour so it clearly doesn’t show a genuine fall.

“The moment both arms go above the shoulder is a clear indication of deception,” he said.

Previous research has focused on whether incidental factors such as the colour of clothing, crowd expectation, or a team’s or player’s reputation subconsciously affects a referee’s decision about cheating players.

This is the first research, co-authored with David Lewis, also from the University of Portsmouth, to examine individuals’ behaviour to determine their intentions in football. The researchers found that a footballer’s deceptive intentions are easy to identify.

During his research Dr Morris showed four-second clips of tackles from televised live games to over 300 people. The participants were only allowed to see the clip twice in real-time before they were asked to spot the fakers. The results showed that there was a high level of agreement by participants in their classification of the players who intended to deceive and those who did not. However, there was also strong agreement about tackles where the intentions were ambiguous.

“The result shows how, that regardless of all factors such as team allegiance and players’ reputations, behaviour during a fall is a clear indication of the intention to deceive,” said Dr Morris.

Although participants were in agreement about which falls were faked, Dr Morris then needed to test that their judgements were correct.

He employed over 30 experienced amateur footballers to stage a scenario taken from a Football Association coaching manual.

Attackers were instructed to dribble the ball past approaching defenders and then deceptively exaggerate the effects of a tackle to varying degrees. Nearly 50 observers were asked to judge if the attackers were faking and the level of exaggeration, if any.

The relationship between the intentions of the tackled player and the observer’s judgement of the player’s intentions was consistent.

The third study involved a frame by frame analysis of dishonest and legitimate tackles in order to produce a comprehensive list of deceptive behaviours.

The research is part of on-going work in the University’s departments of Psychology and Sport and Exercise Science on the perceptions of intentions in sport. Studies currently being conducted seek to produce a precise mathematical description of the difference between intentional and unintentional behaviour.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sports Failure Makes Success Seem More Difficult

"People trying to kick field goals will see a much smaller goal after unsuccessful attempts," said Jessica K. Witt, an assistant professor of psychological sciences who studies perception in athletes. "But those who kicked better judged the goal posts to be farther apart and the crossbar lower to the ground."

Golfers, baseball players and other athletes often report their targets look bigger on days they play well and smaller on bad days. This study affirms that performance influences perception.

Interestingly, perception relates to specific areas of success and failure. Study participants who missed because they kicked the ball too wide judged the goal to be narrower, and those who missed because they kicked the ball too short judged the goal to be taller, Witt said.

The study is available online in the journal Perception at http://www.perceptionweb.com/abstract.cgi?id=p6325 . The findings are based on the kicking performance of 23 non-football athletes who kicked from the center of the field at the 10-yard line.

"When you watch football, kicking that extra point after a touchdown looks so easy, and that kick is almost never missed," Witt said. "And when it is missed, then fans are in an uproar. But it's actually really hard to hit that target. Because of this disconnect, we thought this sport would give us the biggest effect to show how performance influences perception."

In a previous study, Witt asked golfers after a round of golf to report their scores and estimate the size of a golf hole. She found that those who played better saw the hole as bigger. In this football study, she asked the kickers to estimate the size of the goal posts before and after kicking. There was no correlation between performance and how the goals posts were viewed before kicking. However, perceived size of the goal posts after kicking was positively correlated with kicking performance.

This is an example of how action, in this case kicking a football, can bias perception, she said. However, some perception researchers are still resistant to such a claim.

"Most people think of perception as just being about information received by the eye," Witt said. "If that were the case, then perceived size should not have changed because the optical information specifying the size of the goals posts is constant. This research shows that perception is about more than just the optical system."

Witt next wants to examine if watching others perform can affect perception. If seeing others perform poorly makes the kicker see the goal as smaller, this also may affect the kicker's subsequent performance. In that case, during timeouts called to try to ice the kicker, home teams might benefit from showing replays of failed kicks.

"There are still a number of questions to answer about this work, including what role perception plays for professional athletes who practice the sport more than the average person," she said. "We would also like to know if there are ways, such as visualizing the target to be bigger, that can benefit athletes in their sport."

The study was co-authored by doctoral student Travis Dorsch, a kicker on the Purdue football team from 1998-2001. He was named an All- American kicker in 2001 and set Big Ten Conference career records for points scored and field goals. He also was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2002 draft.

"Anecdotally, the study's participants were surprised at how difficult it was to make an extra point," said Dorsch, who is working on his doctoral degree in the Department of Health and Kinesiology. "Kickers, perhaps more than players of any other position, are self-evaluating and constantly thinking about what they themselves are doing and what's going on around them. Therefore, kickers, and kicking coaches, will be interested in learning about the cognitive aspects that can play into success on the field."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Women's soccer -- get fit while having fun

The study

Over a period of two years, 30 scientist lead by Associate Professor Peter Krustrup, University of Copenhagen, have investigated physiological, sociological and psychological aspects of women's soccer in comparison to running. 100 untrained adult premenopausal women have participated in the study.

The women (65 participated in the physiological study) were randomly divided into three groups: One soccer group, one running group and one control group. The soccer players and runners trained twice a week for one hour. After four and sixteen weeks, all the subjects went through extensive physiological tests. The same 65 subjects + another 35 women playing in soccer clubs were continually observed and interviewed to study the sociological and psychological effects of their training.

Soccer players stick to their game

Many women find it difficult to fit in sport and exercise in their busy daily lives, and many state family and especially small children as the main reason for not finding the time.

The study reveals that contrary to common assumption, the flexibility of running as exercise form actually makes running harder to stick to for most women than soccer, which requires a fixed time and place.

"What is really interesting is that the soccer players differed from the runners in their motivation. The runners were motivated by the idea of getting in shape and improving health. But the soccer players focused on the game itself and were motivated by the social interaction and by having fun with others. As it turns out, the soccer players got in better shape than the runners, and that combined with the social benefits makes soccer a great alternative to running", says Associate Professor Laila Ottesen and continues:

"The women who played soccer have continued their soccer training as a group whereas few of the women in the running group continued running after the study. Actually, some of the women from the running group joined teams with the soccer group after the project finished."

Why soccer players are more fit

When choosing a sport, women tend to favour cardiovascular training to strength training although the build-up of muscles and bone strength are vital to preserve health into old age.

"While playing soccer, the women have high heart rates and perform many sprints, turns, kicks and tackles, making soccer an effective integration of both cardio and strength training", says project leader Peter Krustrup.

"Our study shows that the 16 weeks of recreational women's soccer causes marked improvement in maximal oxygen uptake, muscle mass and physical performance, including the endurance, intermittent exercise and sprinting ability, explains Peter Krustrup, and continues

"This makes soccer a very favourable choice of exercise training for women.

In the recent decade, we have seen a significant rise in women and girls playing soccer. It seems as though women are really beginning to take in soccer and make it a popular sport for women on their own terms. This is a very positive step forward, not only because of the improved physical fitness and health profile but also for the enjoyment of sports", Krustrup concludes.

Publication plans

The present results will be submitted online in the high-level international journal "Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports" next week (Bangsbo, Nielsen, Mohr, Randers, Krustrup, Brito, Nybo and Krustrup. Performance enhancements and muscular adaptations of a 16-week recreational football intervention for untrained women. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2009).

In January 2010, the same journal will publish a supplementum describing multiple health effects of recreational football for various subject groups, including men, women, young and elderly. The supplementum includes one review and 13 original scientific papers.

The data will also be presented at the Scandinavian Congress of Medicine and Science in Sports 2010, Copenhagen, Denmark, 4-6 February 2010, and at the 3rd International Football Medicine Conference in Sun City, South Africa, 19-21 February 2010.

The project group currently includes collaborators from Switzerland, Norway and Italy, and major applications are currently being processed to include collaborators from England, Portugal, Belgium, Australia and Kenya.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Preseason shoulder strength key to pitching injury

Study suggests preseason shoulder strength may determine injury severity for baseball pitchers

KEYSTONE, CO (July 10, 2009) – Athletic injuries can derail any player's ability to compete, but for a baseball pitcher his shoulder strength and control is critical. A new study to be presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's (AOSSM) Annual Meeting in Keystone, Colorado, suggests that testing a pitcher's shoulder strength through a series of exercises during the preseason may help create a focused strength training program to prevent serious injury during the season.

"The ability to identify pitchers at risk for injury could be extremely valuable to a professional baseball organization. Our study examined the predictive value of preseason strength measurements as they relate to in-season throwing injuries," said Ian Byram MD, lead author and fourth year orthopaedic surgery resident at Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, TN

The study measured the preseason shoulder strength for all pitchers in a professional baseball organization over a five-year period (2001-2005). Over the course of the five-year period, 144 major and minor league baseball pitchers were analyzed using a specific protocol by a single athletic trainer. Prone internal rotation (IR), prone external rotation (PER), seated external rotation (SER) and supraspinatus (SS) strength were tested during spring training prior to each season. The players were then followed throughout the season for incidence of throwing related injury.

The study illustrated a significant association between PER, SER and SS strength with throwing related injuries requiring surgery. There was also some evidence for an association between the ratio of PER/IR strength and the incidence of injury.

"The shoulder and elbow are subjected to significant stresses during the pitching motion, placing them at risk for injury. By demonstrating an association between shoulder weakness and throwing related injuries, we hope that future injuries might be prevented by focusing strength training programs on those areas that are weakest," said Byram.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What makes a great footballer?

While most fans are in awe of what their football heroes can do with a football, the source of their remarkable skill remains strangely mysterious. Although being in excellent physical condition undoubtedly helps, few people actually believe that intense physical training alone can turn an average bloke into a Ronaldo. Now, scientists from the University of Queensland have decided to study what this "something else" might be. Dr. Robbie Wilson will talk about the details of this study and the results that have been obtained so far in his talk at the Society of Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Glasgow on Sunday 28th June 2009.

Dr. Wilson believes that this type of research may have applied outcomes for football clubs: "Our analyses suggest that unambiguous metrics of a player's skill components should be used to help in the selection and identification of new talent. Our studies could help to streamline selection criteria and efficiency by providing a rank ordering of individuals based upon competitive one-on-one tasks. In addition, the relative importance of each type of skill component could be tailored to each player's position and the club's immediate and future requirements."

Members of the semi-professional University of Queensland Football Club (UQFC) were recruited as experimental subjects, and they were made to compete against each other in one-on-one "football tennis" games, which require very similar athletic and skill sets to that required for regular football games. In parallel, the same players were evaluated for overall athleticism and skill in sixteen different tasks. "There was no evidence of any correlations between maximal athletic performance and skill", explains Dr. Wilson. "Our studies suggest that skill is just as important, if not more important, than athletic ability in determining performance of complex traits, such as performance on the football field".

Interestingly, the researchers are hoping that focusing on footballing ability in humans will also provide them with insight into the role that individual skills play in other species, for example during aggression, prey capture or escape from a predator. Dr. Wilson argues that the importance of skill for the evolution of vertebrate physical performance is currently unknown and largely treated by researchers as a difficult 'black box' to understand. "To develop an understanding of the evolution and function of complex performance traits, we need to investigate the role of individual skill".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The first goal is the deepest

Can mathematics predict the match outcome?

Jack Brimberg and Bill Hurley of The Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario, point out that sports commentators will often argue the importance of scoring the first goal and often suggest that a team improves its chances of winning considerably by scoring it. This kind of punditry more commonly arises during playoff games which tend to be played more defensively.

However, although the total number of goals scored in a soccer or hockey match is usually small, Brimberg and Hurley wanted to find out whether that first goal is all important or not. They have done this by calculating the probability of the first-goal team winning at discrete points in the match after the first goal is scored based on the number of minutes remaining in the game. They also take overtime into account to adjust the weighting on their formula appropriately.

Team X is playing team Y. Team X scores first and there are T minutes left in regulation time. They then assume that goal scoring follows the law of statistics known as a Poisson distribution, which for hockey and soccer it does. Scoring in other sports, such as tennis and baseball follow a different set of statistical rules as there are different scoring factors and more "goals" scored in a match.

Therefore, the number of goals scored, N, follows the Poisson pattern and has a probability of a certain number being scored in total by both sides of "lambda". If both teams are playing hard, to win, then there is an equal chance of them scoring after that first goal. However, there are factors such as league position and seasonal performance to take into account, so each of those has a parameter in the final formula.

The formula breaks down as follows: From the first whistle, team X has a 50:50 chance of winning. However, if the team scores at just 5 minutes of play, with 55 minutes left to play in the first period of a hockey match, then the team's chances rise to 7 to 3 (70%). However, if they score the first goal much later in the game, with say, 25 minutes remaining in the second period, then their chances of winning the match rises to 4 to 1 (80%).

Of course, probability and statistics are notoriously difficult to pin down in real life, so it is best to take any such mathematical punditry with a pinch of salt when watching the fortunes or misfortunes of your team. That applies whether you're catching the Toronto Maple Leafs in hockey or your flight of fancy is The Newcastle Magpies in soccer.

The researchers' ultimate aim is not to see sports pundits out of a job, but to provide an interesting example of how statistics problems might be taught in the classroom. The current example requires explanation and understanding of several important topics in statistics, they explain, including the exponential, Poisson, and binomial distributions, probability trees, and the use of conditioning to calculate complex probabilities.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Recovery aid for soccer players

New study finds lowfat chocolate milk is effective post-exercise recovery aid for soccer players

Chocolate milk's 'natural' muscle recovery benefits match or may even surpass a specially designed carbohydrate sports drink

JUNE 1, 2009, SEATTLE – Soccer players and exercise enthusiasts now have another reason to reach for lowfat chocolate milk after a hard workout, suggests a new study from James Madison University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting. Post-exercise consumption of lowfat chocolate milk was found to provide equal or possibly superior muscle recovery compared to a high-carbohydrate recovery beverage with the same amount of calories.

In this study, 13 male college soccer players participated in "normal" training for one week, then were given lowfat chocolate milk or a high-carbohydrate recovery beverage daily after intense training for four days. After a two week break, the athletes went through a second round of "normal" training, followed by four-day intensified training to compare their recovery experiences following each beverage (with the same amount of calories). Prior to the intense training, at day two and at the completion of this double-blind study, the researchers conducted specific tests to evaluate "markers" of muscle recovery.

All of the athletes increased their daily training times during the intensified training, regardless of post-exercise beverage yet after two and four days of intensified training, chocolate milk drinkers had significantly lower levels of creatine kinase – an indicator of muscle damage – compared to when they drank the carbohydrate beverage. There were no differences between the two beverages in effects on, soccer-specific performance tests, subjective ratings of muscle soreness, mental and physical fatigue and other measures of muscle strength. The results indicate that lowfat chocolate milk is effective in the recovery and repair of muscles after intense training for these competitive soccer players.

This new study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting milk may be just as effective as some commercial sports drinks in helping athletes recover and rehydrate. Chocolate milk has the advantage of additional nutrients not found in most traditional sports drinks. Studies suggest that when consumed after exercise, milk's mix of high-quality protein and carbohydrates can help refuel exhausted muscles. The protein in milk helps build lean muscle and recent research suggests it may reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Milk also provides fluids for rehydration and minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium that recreational exercisers and elite athletes alike need to replace after strenuous activity.

Nearly 18 million Americans play soccer, according to American Sports Data, and millions more engage in recreational sports. Many experts agree that the two-hour window after exercise is an important, yet often neglected, part of a fitness routine. After strenuous exercise, this post-workout recovery period is critical for active people at all fitness levels – to help make the most of a workout and stay in top shape for the next exercise bout. Sweating not only results in fluid losses, but also important minerals including calcium, potassium and magnesium. The best recovery routine should replace fluids and nutrients lost in sweat, and help muscles recover.

Increasingly, fitness experts consider chocolate milk an effective (and affordable and enjoyable) option as a post-exercise recovery drink. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans drink three glasses of lowfat or fat free milk every day. Drinking lowfat chocolate milk after a workout is a good place to start.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pitching injuries

Baseball season is underway. With the pros, college and high school teams taking to the baseball diamonds and Little Leaguers soon to follow, orthopedic specialists at Rush University Medical Center are cautioning players to be aware of and take precautions against throwing injuries. An analysis of pitching injuries by researchers at Rush is published in the March/April issue of Sports Health.

“Throwing a baseball is one of the fastest and most violent maneuvers that any joint in the body is subjected to. The violent and rapid motion places numerous structures in the shoulder at risk for injury,” said Dr. Shane Seroyer, lead author of the report and sports medicine fellow at Rush.

Prevention of injury is the key to a long career. Pitchers, especially youth pitchers, should limit the number and types of pitches thrown to minimize the risk of injury.

“For pitchers under 14 years old, we encourage fast ball and change-up pitches and discourage the use of a curveball to prevent injury,” said Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph, sports medicine specialist at Rush and co-author of the report.

Bush-Joseph breaks down the number and type of pitches appropriate for various age groups.
• 9-10 years old: no more than 50 pitches/game and 75 pitches/week
• 11-12 years old: no more than 75 pitches/game and 100 pitches/week
• 13-14 years old: 75 pitches/game and 125 pitches/week
• 14 years old: begin throwing curveball pitch
• 17 years old: begin throwing slider pitch

According to Seroyer, if injury does occur, the early discovery of symptoms, followed by conservative management with rest and rehabilitation can help to decrease the need for surgery in the future.

Shoulder pain may occur during any of the six phases of throwing, which are wind-up, early cocking/stride, late cocking, acceleration, deceleration and follow-through. According to the sports medicine specialists at Rush, diagnosing pain from overhead throwing is one of their more difficult challenges, but shoulder pain most often emanates from one of the following five sources: damaged cartilage, rotator cuff injury, abnormal scapula movement, impingement, and neurovascular disorders.

Injury to cartilage (the labrum), which surrounds the shoulder joint, occurs with trauma to the shoulder joint. Labral tears are among the most common injuries for overhead throwers and generally result from the cocking and acceleration phases of overhead throwing. Cartilage also wears down with age and use.

Damage to the rotator cuff, a term given to the group of muscles and their tendons that act to stabilize the shoulder, can lead to tendonitis and muscle tears. Although one specific movement could cause injury to the rotator cuff, this type of injury is often the result of the “wear and tear” from the overhead throwing motion.

The thrower will often complain of diffuse shoulder pain aggravated by overhead activity and will notice weakness and decreased velocity. Night pain down the arm to the elbow is also common. Conditioning and proper throwing techniques is critical in preventing rotator cuff injury as the results of rotator cuff repair surgery have been disappointing in elite throwers.

Scapular (shoulder blade) pain is the result of abnormal scapular movement, malposition and snapping of bursal tissue around the scapula. The scapula provides a stable base for muscles in the shoulder, thus abnormal positioning and movement can force the arm into strenuous positions and lead to decreased motion and rotation or “dead arm” syndrome. Muscle strengthening and conditioning are necessary to keep the scapula in place for an effective overhead throw. Initial treatment for scapular pain is rest, analgesia (pain relievers), and nonsterodial anti-inflammatory drugs.

Impingement results from pressure on the rotator cuff from part of the shoulder blade as the arm is lifted. Pain during the late cocking and early acceleration phases of throwing is most common. Impingement can cause local swelling and tenderness in the front of the shoulder, and pain and stiffness may be felt when the arm is lifted or lowered from an elevated position.

Conservative treatment for impingement includes oral, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, stretching to improve range of motion, injections of local anesthetic and a cortisone preparation to the affected area and rest. Rotator cuff and shoulder blade strengthening and conditioning will help shorten recovery time. Difficult cases may require surgery to remove the impingement in order to create more space for the rotator cuff, allowing for freer movement to lift the arm without pain.

Neurovascular disorders occur when nerves or blood vessels are being compressed, blocked or pinched causing fatigue, loss of velocity, vague shoulder pain, a sense of heaviness, achiness or cramping in the arm. Numbness, tingling, weakness of grip and loss of manual dexterity may also be symptoms experienced after the onset of throwing. Although rare, neurovascular disorders cause significant damage and recovery may be difficult. Successful non-operative treatment methods include rest and thrombolytic and anticoagulation injections used to diffuse blood clots. However, thirty percent of throwers will not respond to conservative measures and will require surgical intervention.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mathematician: Yankees Win!

NJIT mathematician foresees tight races in Major League Baseball's Eastern divisions

Larger differentials in Central and West in 2009

The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels should make the playoffs in the American League (AL) in 2009 with most other teams lagging well behind. The National League (NL) should see another very tight race in the Eastern Division as has occurred in recent years.

However, this year it looks like there may be a three-way tie among the defending World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves, and the New York Mets,. Two of these teams should make the playoffs (one as Eastern Division champion and the other as NL wild card team) while the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers should handily win their divisions, said Bruce Bukiet.

Bukiet, an associate professor of mathematical sciences and associate dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at NJIT, once again provides the number of games each Major League Baseball team should win in 2009 based on the mathematical model he developed in 2000.

The contest for primacy in the AL East should go down to the wire with the Yankees winning 99 games to the Red Sox 97. With the two best records expected in the Major Leagues this season, both teams should make it to the post-season, one as AL East winner and the other as the AL wild card team. The defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays should take third place with 91 wins. In the AL Central Division, the Indians should win 88 games to the Minnesota Twins 83, while the Angels should win AL West by a whopping 21 games with 92 wins while the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics win 71 each.

In the National League East, Bukiet is concerned that for the third year in a row his favorite team, the Mets, will miss the playoffs on the last day of the season. "The model has been quite accurate with the Mets over past few years with the Mets slightly underperforming and the Phillies slightly over performing. If that repeats itself, it would spell another season of final game heartbreak to Mets fans."

In the NL Central Division, Bukiet's model calls for the Chicago Cubs to win 97 games, 12 more than the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. The Pittsburgh Pirates should win just 60 games, the least in the Major Leagues.

"In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers should win 91 games, while the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks tie for second place, 8 games back," said Bukiet.

His expected wins for the AL are the following.

AL East: Yankees – 99; Red Sox – 97; Rays – 91; Blue Jays – 83; Orioles – 68.
AL Central: Indians – 88; Twins – 83; White Sox – 79; Tigers – 78; Royals - 71.
AL West: Angels – 92; Rangers – 71; Athletics – 71; Mariners – 65.
For the NL, he projects the following.

NL East: Braves – 88; Phillies – 88; Mets – 88; Marlins – 73; Nationals – 67;
NL Central: Cubs – 97; Cards – 85; Brewers – 82; Astros – 80; Reds – 75; Pirates – 60;
NL West: Dodgers – 91; Diamondbacks – 83; Rockies – 83; Giants – 78; Padres – 76.
"These results are merely a guide as to how teams ought to perform. There are many unknowns, especially trades, injuries and how rookies will perform," said Bukiet. "Over the years, the predictions have been about as good as those of the so-called experts. It demonstrates how useful math can be in understanding so many aspects of the world around us."

Operations Research published Bukiet's mathematical model on which his predictions are based. His model computes the probability of a team winning a game against another team with given hitters, bench, starting pitcher, relievers and home field advantage. Bukiet has appeared on CNN Headline News, the Jerusalem Post and Fox Radio's Roger Hedgecock Show, KOGO, San Diego and others. Interview Bukiet in person at 501 Cullimore Hall, by telephone (973-596-8392) or email bukiet@m.njit.edu.

Bukiet, an avid Mets fan, has used this mathematical model to determine whether it is worthwhile to wager on games during the baseball season. His picks are posted (for academic purposes only) on his website (www.egrandslam.com). These picks have produced positive results for six of the eight years he has posted them.

Bukiet's main areas of research have involved mathematical modeling of physical phenomena, including detonation waves, healing of wounds, and dynamics of human balance. He has also applied mathematical modeling to sports and gambling, in particular for understanding baseball and cricket. He is currently working on National Science Foundation projects to train math and science teachers for high-need schools and to bring computational research projects into Newark High Schools. Bukiet won the 2008 Mathematical Association of American-NJ Section Distinguished Teaching Award and received the NJIT Excellence in Teaching Award in 2006 for Outstanding Work. Bukiet received his PhD in mathematics from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Windmill pitching shows risk of injury to biceps

Contrary to common belief, softball pitching subjects the biceps to high forces and torques when the player's arm swings around to release the ball, according to an analysis of muscle firing patterns conducted at Rush University Medical Center.

Published in the current issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the study of the "windmill" pitching motion appears to explain the high incidence of anterior shoulder pain seen in female softball players.

"The conventional belief has been that the underhand throwing motion of softball places little stress on the arm," said Dr. Nikhil Verma, lead author and a specialist in sports medicine at Rush. "But that is not the case."

In the study, seven women – three collegiate and four professional pitchers – underwent motion analysis and surface electromyography to evaluate the muscle firing pattern of their biceps in the course of a windmill pitch. Electromyography detects electrical potential generated by muscle cells when they contract.

The researchers found that even though the upper arm movement in both baseball and fast-pitch softball gives the ball about the same velocity, muscle force during the windmill pitch was much higher.

Moreover, the maximum force, or maximum contraction, occurred not when the arm was cocked, as in baseball's overhand pitching, but when the arm circled around from the 9 o'clock position, almost fully extended back, to the 6 o'clock position, perpendicular with the ground, completing its windmill motion to release the ball. Consequently, the biceps took the majority of the stress, not the elbow.

"The greatest impact is on the biceps, as the muscle first accelerates the arm and then puts on the brakes, after transferring force to the ball," Verma said.

Fast-pitch softball is one of the most popular female athlete team sports in America. In 2008, roughly 2.5 million adolescents competed in the game, and about 1.3 million players were registered with the Amateur Softball Association.

Despite the game's immense popularity at the high school and collegiate levels, Verma said, there is a dearth of sports medicine research on the game's most notable activity: the windmill pitch. Many have assumed that injury is rare with the underhand throw.

Verma launched his study in Rush's human motion laboratory when he found that female softball players from the local professional team were coming into his practice complaining of pain in the front of their shoulders. He was able to localize the pain to the biceps tendon. In one case, a pitcher had ruptured her tendon during play, which implicated the long head of the biceps tendon as the source of stress.

The study findings correlated with these clinical observations.

According to Verma, female softball pitchers are prone to overuse injury not only because of windmill pitching dynamics, but also because they pitch so many games.

"Competitive female pitchers often pitch in every game during a weekend tournament – the equivalent of 1,200 to 1,500 pitches in as little as three days." Verma said. "This is the opposite of the baseball world, where pitchers receive three to four days of rest before returning to the mound."

"Previous studies have shown that shoulder problems cause a significant amount of lost game time among windmill pitchers, with anterior shoulder pain being the common culprit," Verma added. "This study helps explain the etiology of that shoulder pain, and may help doctors devise better treatment and prevention strategies."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Elbow Ligament Reconstruction

Elbow Ligament Reconstruction Appears Not to Effect Future Professional Advancement in Baseball

New research to be presented at the 2009 American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine Specialty Day in Las Vegas suggests that elbow ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction prior to selection in the Major League Baseball (MLB) draft does not increase the risk of future injury or affect the rate of professional advancement.

“Our study showed no statistical difference between athletes who had undergone UCL reconstruction prior to the draft and a matched control group in terms of advancement in professional baseball” said Gregory F. Carolan, MD, lead author and Director of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, PA. Dr. Carolan is a former fellow at the San Diego Arthroscopy & Sports Medicine Program and The Scripps Clinic, San Diego, CA where the research was conducted in conjunction with the San Diego Padres Baseball Club.Other doctors involved in the project included Jan Fronek, MD, Christopher Geary, MD, James Koziol, MD, Daniel Keefe, MD and Heinz Hoenecke, MD.

The researchers reviewed the medical records of all players selected during the five MLB drafts held from 1999 through 2003 and identified 30 players (all but 3 were pitchers) who had undergone UCL reconstruction (RUCL) prior to entering the draft. The data analyzed included the highest level of professional advancement, the number of times players were placed on the disabled list (DL), the type of injury responsible for placement on the DL and game statistics for those players that advanced to the Major Leagues. There was no statistically significant difference in any of these areas between the RUCL group and the control group.

“Our data shows that UCL reconstruction prior to selection in the MLB draft does not appear to increase the chances of a future injury to the throwing arm or impact a player’s professional prospects when compared to a matched control group. Our analysis is sufficiently powered to detect large differences between the two groups; however our ongoing research will continue to add confidence that we are not missing more subtle differences. As more athletes undergo the procedure and enter the MLB draft, we hope to be able to accomplish this goal. With the increase in UCL reconstructions being performed, it is heartening to see that the procedure can be successful in allowing future professional athletes to the reach the highest level of competition on par with their peers,” said Carolan.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Soccer Hasn't Changed

Researchers from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) have found that football has changed so little during recent World Cups that, if shown action from matches, we would be incapable today of differentiating between a France ’98 game and another from Germany ’06.

The stars, the ball and the champions have all changed – but the game itself has hardly varied over the past three football World Cups, according to the results of a study by researchers from the University of the Basque Country and published in the magazine Psycothema. “Our study provides a look forward at how football will be played in the South Africa 2010 World Cup,” Julen Castellano, one of the report’s authors, tells SINC.

The study analyses how football has evolved over the World Cups and looks at up to 48 settings from five parts of the pitch, as well as seven potential scores throughout a match. The sports scientists have confirmed that football is based on a linear model, which can be extrapolated to society at large and, above all, that it has remained essentially unchanged over the past three World Cups – France 1998, Japan-Korea 2002 and Germany 2006.

Castellano says this is the result of ten years of research focused on just one area – “to describe, explain and, over time, predict how a game of football will develop”. The researcher, whose thesis dealt with the ’98 World Cup, worked with Abigail Perea and Antonio Hernández to create a retrospective view based on observing, codifying and recording the action in a game. “By using an observational lens we aimed to reflect all the relevant information about the interactions between the two teams competing against each other.”

Football as a dynamic system

The study encompasses so-called “contexts of interaction”, in other words the position of the ball in relation to the players in the two teams. This makes it possible to evaluate levels of balance and imbalance between the players in the teams, which make up ‘dynamic systems of interaction’.

Castellano tells SINC: “We carried out different analyses, both in the most descriptive area – game patterns – and in the area of inferences – analysis of variation and generalised factors – although only the latter was explicitly recorded.”

In this study, each game of football was broken down and organised according to seven momentary results categories: (1) when the team is leading, the other team scores a goal and equalises, (2) it is leading and actually wins, (3) it is losing, scores and equalises, (4) it is losing and ends up losing the game, (5) the teams are drawing, and the team scores a goal and wins, (6) they are drawing, a goal is scored against the team and it loses, and (7) they are level pegging and the game ends in a draw.

The main conclusion is that the way in which the teams play has not varied over the three World Cups studied. “Today we would not be able to distinguish between a game played by teams in the France ’98 World Cup and one played in Germany ’06,” the researchers point out.

Moreover it does not seem as though there will be any significant changes in the way of playing the game in future international fixtures. According to Castellano, “if we carried out the same studies on future World Cups these would be the same, unless there are any significant changes to the regulations that change how the players and teams act throughout the match”.