Friday, November 11, 2011

Soccer: the effects of articular cartilage injury and degeneration in soccer players.


More than 300 million play soccer across the globe and while the game is one of fast footwork, two organizations are trying to make sure these athletes stay on their feet. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and International Cartilage Repair Society (ICRS) have teamed up on a special supplement of Cartilage (published by SAGE) that examines the effects of articular cartilage injury and degeneration in soccer players.

"This issue provides a compact reference for players, coaches, medical staff, and researchers working with football players," wrote editors Kai Mithoefer, Lars Peterson, Daniel Saris, Bert Mandelbaum, and Jiri Dvorák. "Furthermore, it intends to act as a catalyst for the advancement of science and education of cartilage injury in soccer."

This supplement builds upon FIFA's successful 11+ program that is an easy-to-follow, standardized warm-up routine that helps all levels of soccer athletes reduce injury. In keeping with the theme, Cartilage features 11 articles that provide a comprehensive overview of current knowledge around cartilage injury, prevention strategies and treatment options.

The introduction written by the co-editors is available free for a limited time at:

The special supplement of Cartilage features the following contributions:
• Editorial: "Special Issue on Articular Cartilage Injury in the Football (Soccer) Player" by Kai Mithoefer, Lars Peterson, Daniel Saris, Bert Mandelbaum, and Jiri Dvorák
• Executive Summary: "'Cartilage Issues in Football (Soccer): An Executive Summary of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)/International Cartilage Repair Society (ICRS) Initiative" by Bert Mandelbaum
• "Scientific Evidence Base for Cartilage Injury and Repair in the Athlete" by Matthias Steinwachs, Lars Engebretsen, and Robert H. Brophy
• "Clinical and Basic Science of Cartilage Injury and Arthritis in the Soccer Athlete" by Hannah Hoeun Lee and Constance R. Chu
• "Microfracture in Football (Soccer) Players: A Case Series of Professional Athletes and Systematic Review" by Kai Mithoefer and Richard J. Steadman
• "Osteochondral Autograft and Mosaicplasty in the Football Athlete" by Gergely Pánics, Eszter Baló, Gábor Vásárhelyi, Tamás Gál, and László Hangody
• "Osteochondral and Meniscal Allograft Transplantation in the Football (Soccer) Player" by Simon Görtz, Riley J. Williams, Wayne Gersoff, and William D. Bugbee
• "Evolution and Current Role of Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation for Treatment of Articular Cartilage Defects in the Football (Soccer) Player" by Kai Mithoefer, Lars Peterson, Daniel B.F. Saris, and Bert R. Mandelbaum
• "Management of the Retired Athlete with Osteoarthritis of the Knee" by Donald T. Kirkendall and William E. Garrett, Jr.
• "Rehabilitation after Articular Cartilage Repair of the Knee in the Football Player" by Karen Hambly, Holly Jacinda Silvers and Matthias Steinwachs
• "Return to Sports after Articular Cartilage Repair in the Football Player" by Kai Mithoefer and Stefano Della Villa
• "New Frontiers for Cartilage Repair and Protection" by Kenneth Zaslav, Tim McAdams, Jason M. Scopp, Jason Theodosakis, Vivek Mahajan and Alberto Gobbi
• "Cartilage Repair in Football (Soccer) Athletes: What Evidence Leads to Which Treatment? A Critical Review of the Literature" by Joris EJ Bekkers, Tommy S. de Windt, Mats Brittberg and Daniel BF Saris

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

White favoritism by Major League umps lowers minority pitcher performance, pay


When it comes to Major League Baseball's pitchers, the more strikes, the better. But what if white umpires call strikes more often for white pitchers than for minority pitchers?

New research findings provide an answer. Analysis of 3.5 million pitches from 2004 to 2008 found that minority pitchers scale back their performance to overcome racial/ethnic favoritism toward whites by MLB home plate umpires, said economist Johan Sulaeman, a financial economist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a study author.

The study found that minority pitchers reacted to umpire bias by playing it safe with the pitches they throw in a way that actually harmed their performance and statistics, said Sulaeman, a labor and discrimination expert.

Specifically, minority pitchers limited the umpires' discretion to call their pitch a "ball" by throwing squarely across the plate in the strike zone more often. Unfortunately for the pitcher, such throws are also easier for batters to hit.

The finding builds on an earlier study that discovered Major League Baseball's home plate umpires called strikes more often for pitchers in their same ethnic group — except when the plate was electronically monitored by cameras, Sulaeman said.

While the earlier finding surprised the researchers, they said, the latest results are even more surprising.

Since most MLB umpires are white, the overall effect is that umpire bias pushes performance measures of minorities downward, said Sulaeman, an expert in labor economics and discrimination.

The findings have important implications for measuring the extent of discrimination not only in baseball, but also in labor markets generally, say the authors.

"In MLB, as in so many other fields of endeavor, power belongs disproportionately to members of the majority — white — group," the authors write.

Findings draw on analysis of pitching in QuesTec-monitored parks
Sulaeman and his co-authors analyzed 3.5 million pitches by Major League Baseball pitchers from 2004 to 2008. All parks are now monitored, but during those four years about one-third of major league ballparks were monitored with computers and cameras to check the accuracy of the umpires' ball and strike calls.

Four cameras tracked and recorded the location of each pitch, with umpires and pitchers aware that QuesTec was the primary mechanism for gauging umpire performance. MLB considers an ump's performance sub-standard if more than 10 percent of his calls differ from QuesTec.

Of the 3.5 million pitches, umpire and pitcher were the same race — usually white — for about two-thirds of the 1.89 million pitches that were called strikes or balls. About 89 percent of umpires and 70 percent of pitchers were white.

The researchers looked not only at the race of umpires, pitchers and batters, but also: effects for each pitcher, umpire and batter; presence or absence of QuesTec; importance of the at-bat; when the pitch would terminate the at-bat; whether the pitch came early or later in the game; importance of the game; racial demographics of the neighborhood around the park; umpire age and experience; pitch characteristics, including horizontal pitch distance and pitch height; and whether the throw was a fastball, curveball, slider or cutter.

The study controlled for inning, pitch count, pitcher score advantage and whether the pitcher was playing at home or visiting.

The study, "Strike Three: Discrimination, Incentives, and Evaluation," is published in the current issue of the scholarly journal The American Economic Review.

In addition to Sulaeman, co-authors were Christopher A. Parsons, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Michael C. Yates, Auburn University; and Daniel S. Hamermesh, University of Texas at Austin.

Findings: Minimal direct impact, but significant indirect influence
The researchers found:

In non-monitored parks, the percentage of called pitches that are strikes is higher when the race of both umpire and pitcher match than when it does not. This is true not only of whites, but also Hispanics and blacks.
In QuesTec parks, if the race of the pitcher and umpire match, the likelihood that a called pitch is ruled a strike is reduced by more than one percentage point relative to the same setup in non-QuesTec parks. This implies umpires implicitly allow their apparent favoritism to be expressed when not being monitored, the study authors say.
Implicit monitoring — for example, an important pitch viewed by a big crowd — also dramatically alters umpire behavior. On the other hand, white and minority umpires at poorly attended games appear to favor pitchers of the same race by calling more strikes.
Umpires favor pitchers of the same race only when the pitch won't terminate the batter's plate appearance.
Little evidence was found to indicate the umpire is influenced by the race of either the batter or the catcher.
A higher strike percentage showed umpires exhibited same-race favoritism in non-QuesTec parks. A lower strike percentage indicated negative bias toward pitchers of different races in QuesTec parks.
There is some weak evidence that bias is more likely among younger and less experienced umpires.
Favoritism was a significant factor for pitches thrown to the edge of the strike zone — where umpires have the most discretion — but not for pitches inside or outside the strike zone. In QuesTec parks, the umpire and pitcher having the same race has virtually no effect on pitch location. In non-QuesTec parks, pitches to the edges significantly increase when umpire and pitcher share the same race. The finding suggests pitchers gamble on the fact that this region can reasonably be called as either balls or strikes and therefore offers them an advantage.
In QuesTec parks, matched race is associated with a slight preference for hard-to-hit and hard-to-call curveball pitches. In non-QuesTec parks, that preference quadruples.
The researchers concluded:

The direct effects on pitch outcomes are small. The indirect effect on players' strategies may have larger impacts on the outcomes of plate appearances and games.
From the starting pitcher's perspective, a racial match with the umpire helped his statistics by yielding fewer earned runs, fewer hits and fewer home runs.
Because the majority of umpires are white, teams with minority pitchers have a distinct disadvantage in non-monitored parks.
There is no evidence that visiting managers adjusted their pitching lineups to minimize exposure of their minority pitchers to the subjective bias of a white umpire.
In parks without QuesTec, pitchers of the same race threw pitches that allowed umpires the most discretion, apparently to maximize their advantage stemming from the umpires' favoritism.
A batter who swings is less likely to get a hit when the umpire and pitcher match.
Applying the effects of favoritism, and given that the average salary of starting pitchers in MLB was $4.8 million in 2006, the findings suggest minority pitchers were underpaid relative to white pitchers by between $50,000 and $400,000 a year.
"If a pitcher expects favoritism, he will incorporate this advantage into his strategy, perhaps throwing pitches that allow the umpire more discretion," the authors write. "If the batter expects such pitches to be called strikes, he is forced to swing at worse pitches, which reduces the likelihood of getting a hit."

Not just Major League Baseball; a factor in all work environments
How many minority pitchers have had their pitching records diminished by this phenomenon is impossible to say, Sulaeman said, adding that one can only guess at the impact over decades of professional baseball. But discovery of the indirect effect of racial bias in MLB pointedly demonstrates how discrimination alters the behavior of a discriminated group, say the authors.

In any workplace where pay is based on measured productivity, the findings of small direct and larger indirect effects of favoritism and negative bias have important implications for measuring the extent of wage discrimination not only in baseball, but also in labor markets generally, say the authors.

Supervisory racial bias must be accounted for when generating measures of wage discrimination, the authors conclude.

The researchers' earlier analysis of the data found that ethnic bias is virtually eliminated when an umpire knows his calls are being monitored with video cameras to check for accuracy.

"The good news is that all ballparks are now equipped with this technology, likely eliminating this subconscious bias," said Sulaeman, assistant professor of finance in SMU's Cox School.

Monitoring suppresses bias when evaluators are observed for bias
That isn't the case, however, in other workplaces, where monitoring is not the norm, he said. As a result, supervisors have ample opportunity to subconsciously evaluate those of a different race more negatively, he said. Supervisors may be less prone to this subconscious bias if they know they are being monitored.

"When their decisions matter more, and when evaluators are themselves more likely to be evaluated by others, our results suggest that these preferences no longer manifest themselves," the authors say. — Margaret Allen

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nearly Half of Runners May Be Drinking Too Much During Races


Nearly half of recreational runners may be drinking too much fluid during races, according to a survey of runners by Loyola University Health System researchers.

Expert guidelines recommend runners drink only when thirsty. But the Loyola survey found that 36.5 percent of runners drink according to a preset schedule or to maintain a certain body weight and 8.9 percent drink as much as possible.

Nearly a third of runners (29.6 percent) incorrectly believe they need to ingest extra salt while running. And more than half (57.6 percent) say they drink sports drinks because the drinks have electrolytes that prevent low blood sodium. In fact, the main cause of low sodium in runners is drinking too much water or sports drinks. "Many athletes hold unscientific views regarding the benefits of different hydration practices," researchers concluded. The study was published in the June, 2011, issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Drinking too much fluid while running can cause a potentially fatal condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia. It occurs when runners drink even when they are not thirsty. Drinking too much during exercise can dilute the sodium content of blood to abnormally low levels.

Drinking only when thirsty will prevent overconsumption of fluids. "It's the safest known way to hydrate during endurance exercise," said Loyola sports medicine physician Dr. James Winger, first author of the study. Symptoms of hyponatremia can include nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, loss of energy, muscle weakness, spasms or cramps. In extreme cases, the condition can lead to seizures, unconsciousness and coma.

In recent years, there have been 12 documented and 8 suspected runners' deaths from hyponatremia, said Loyola exercise physiologist Lara Dugas, PhD, a co-author of the study.

The International Marathon Medical Directors Association recommends that runners drink only when thirsty. The Loyola researchers surveyed 197 runners who competed in the 2009 Westchester, Il. Veterans Day 10K and 5K runs and two other runs on Chicago's lakefront.

The 91 male runners, on average, had been running for 13 years and had run an average of 1.9 10K races and 0.9 marathons. The 106 women, on average, had been running 8.3 years and had run an average of 1.3 10K races and 0.7 marathons.

In the survey, the runners generally said advertising by sports drink manufacturers had little or no influence on their beliefs. But the behaviors of many of the runners indicate otherwise.

During the 1980s and 1990s, sports drinks ads warned about the supposed dangers of dehydration, and recommend that runners drink as much as 1.2 liters (five cups) per hour. Sports drink manufacturers generally have stopped promoting overdrinking. But the unscientific beliefs persist that runners should drink as much as they can or according to a preset schedule.

"We have been trained to believe that dehydration is a complication of endurance exercise," Dugas said. "But in fact, the normal physiological response to exercise is to lose a small amount of fluid. Runners should expect to lose several pounds during runs, and not be alarmed."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Goalies Tend to Dive Right in World Cup Penalty Shoot-Outs

When Their Team is Behind…Why?

In the quarterfinal of the 2006 Soccer World Cup, England and Portugal played for 90 tense minutes and 30 minutes extra time without a single goal being scored. This led them to a penalty shoot-out; as one by one, players went against the opposing team’s goalie. After four shots by each team, Portugal was ahead 2-1. Portugal’s star Cristiano Ronaldo shot to English goalkeeper Paul Robinson’s left, but Robinson dove right. Portugal scored, won the game, and went on to the semifinal.

When Robinson dove to his right, he was making a common choice for our right-oriented brains, according to a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The researchers found that, in World Cup penalty shoot-outs, goalies tend to dive right when their team is behind and they have a chance to save the game for their country.
Many studies have found that people and animals that want something tend to go to the right. When dogs see their owners, they wag their tails more to the right; toads strike to the right when they’re going for prey; and humans are more likely to turn their heads to the right to smooch their sweeties.

Marieke Roskes, who cowrote the study with Daniel Sligte, Shaul Shalvi, and Carsten K.W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam, thought of looking at this phenomenon in another arena: the soccer field. “I was sitting with my coauthors in the bar and we were talking about soccer and about research, which we often do on Friday afternoons,” she says. They thought of looking at how goalkeepers move in penalty shootouts, when they’re going after a big win.

In a penalty shootout, there are very different assumptions for the shooter and the goalkeeper. it’s extremely difficult for the keeper to defend the whole goal against one man, so nobody really blames him if the ball goes in. But he can win glory if he saves a ball. “The goalkeeper is the only person who can regain the chance to win the game,” Roskes says. “So he has the chance to become the big hero.”

The researchers examined every penalty shoot-out in every World Cup from 1982 to 2010 and found that most of the time, goalies are equally like to dive right and left. But when the goalkeeper’s team was behind, he was more likely to dive right than left. In an experiment, the team found that people who are told to divide a line in half tend to aim a bit to the right when they are both thinking about a positive goal and under time pressure—just like the goalies.

“It’s quite impressive. Even in this really important situation, people are still influenced by biological factors,” Roskes says. She says this suggests that in many situations where people are focused on a positive outcome and have to react quickly, they may go right. And, of course, there’s another goal for her and her collaborators: “We’re very hopeful this will help the Dutch national team to win the next World Cup.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Study on soccer: Women get up faster


Interruptions are frequent in football: Football players (m/f) spend on average 38 percent of the total game time not chasing the ball. This was established by sports scientists from the Chair of Training Science and Sports Informatics at TUM in a study of 56 football games. In some games, the interruptions took up as much as 53% of the time, thus exceeding the duration of the actual sports activity.

In sum, interruptions in men's and women's football are about the same. The individual interruptions, though, are significantly longer in men's football. Cheering a goal, for instance, takes almost a full minute with men, while women only cheer half as long. At 45 seconds, substitutions in men's football take almost 10 seconds longer than in women's football. Particularly striking are the differences in the duration of injury interruptions – the stronger sex remains on the ground 30 seconds longer. Overall, when women play, interruptions are more frequent, but the game generally resumes much faster than with men.

TUM sports scientist Prof. Martin Lames explains: "In general the differences can be interpreted as follows: For men the thought of staging themselves is much more pronounced than for women, where the game itself is obviously paramount." Pulling off a show, play-acting and protesting are more typical of men. Lames: "The reason for this could be that men's football generally pulls in more spectators and receives greater media coverage."

Malte Siegle, doctoral candidate at the Chair, adds: "We can even provide evidence that men use interruptions tactically. As many fans have conjectured, when they are in the lead, players take their time with injuries. Much more so than if the score is even, or when the other side is leading. This behavior cannot be observed in women's football."

Prof. Martin Lames's team of researchers at the Chair of Training Science and Sports Informatics is using the method of "Case-by-Case Analysis of Game Interruptions", which they developed, to cast light on how football games are structured. The results will help the scientists determine how football players (m/f) might best prepare for a game. The comparison between women's and men's football was actually the byproduct of a research project.

The Women's World Cup, which just started in Germany, will show whether or not these differences will persist in light of the fact that women's football is enjoying increasing numbers of spectators and growing media attention.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shorter warm-ups of lower intensity are better


Coaches, physiologists and athletes alike will attest to the importance of warming up before athletic competition. Warming up increases muscle temperature, accelerates oxygen uptake kinetics and increases anaerobic metabolism, all of which enhance performance. However, the question of how long and strenuous a warm-up should be is more contentious, with some in the sports community advocating longer warm-ups and others espousing shorter ones. Now researchers at the University of Calgary Human Performance Laboratory in Calgary, Alberta, Canada have found evidence indicating that less is more.

In a study comparing the effects of a traditional, intense warm-up with those of a shorter, less strenuous warm-up on the performance of 10 highly trained track cyclists, the researchers found that the shorter warm-up produced less muscle fatigue yet more peak power output. The findings are captured in the study entitled, “Less is More: Standard Warm-up Causes Fatigue and Less Warm-up Permits Greater Cycling Output,” published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The study was conducted by Elias K. Tomaras and Brian R. MacIntosh.

The Long and Short of It

The intensity of traditional, longer warm-ups has been thought to offer competitive athletes an edge by promoting a process called post-activation potentiation (PAP). In PAP, brief bouts of strenuous physical activity produce a biochemical change in muscle cells that can enhance muscle contractile response. The phenomenon usually lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. However, as the researchers note, fatigue can decrease muscle contractile response. Therefore, the team focused analysis on muscle contractile response as well as on another key component of a cyclist's success, peak power output.

In the study, cyclists participated in two warm-ups. A longer, traditional warm-up began with 20 minutes of cycling that gradually increased in intensity until the cyclists reached 95 percent of their maximal heart rates. This general warm-up was followed by four sprints at 8-minute intervals. The entire warm-up lasted approximately 50 minutes total. The shorter, experimental warm-up included a shorter initial ride that increased in intensity until the cyclists reached only 70 percent of their maximal heart rates. This warm-up ended with only one sprint and lasted approximately 15 minutes.

The researchers used specific tests to measure the cyclists’ muscle contractile response and peak power output before, during and after the warm-ups. Although they theorized that both warm-ups would elicit PAP, they also theorized that the traditional warm-up would generate enough fatigue to counteract PAP, whereas the experimental warm-up might not. They found that although muscle contractile response decreased more after the traditional warm-up, indicating greater fatigue, there was a decrease in contractile response after both warm-ups. This, according to Tomaras, a co-author, “indicates that an even shorter warm-up might be better for athletes who want to tap into PAP.”

The shorter warm-up permitted better performance, as well. Peak power output was 6.2 percent higher and total work was 5 percent higher after the experimental warm-up than after the traditional warm-up, results the researchers say are significant, and could make a substantial difference in competitive events.


The fitness community has embraced PAP as a competitive strategy in recent years. As word spreads about PAP’s benefits, trainers and coaches have attempted to time PAP to coincide with competition. But the Calgary team’s findings suggest too much focus on promoting PAP could be self-defeating, as starting the process requires intense, but tiring, bursts of activity. In their conclusion, the researchers write, “A warm-up that is performed at too high of an intensity for longer than necessary can result in fatigue and impair subsequent athletic performance.”

Instead, according to co-researcher MacIntosh, “the findings suggest that competitive athletes may reap greater rewards from PAP by engaging in less strenuous warm-up than conventional wisdom dictates. A better approach would be to aim for just enough activity to promote PAP without creating fatigue”.

This may be especially true for sprint athletes (cyclists, relay runners, track sprinters, swimmers), whose competition involves several events close together. The researchers conclude, “If warm-up results in fatigue of an athlete and impairs performance in a single subsequent bout of exercise, what impact would it have on multiple performances required on the same day?”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stronger hips improved running mechanics, lessened knee pain


Hip strengthening exercises performed by female runners not only significantly reduced patellofemoral pain -- a common knee pain experienced by runners -- but they also improved the runners' gaits, according to Indiana University motion analysis expert Tracy Dierks.

"The results indicate that the strengthening intervention was successful in reducing pain, which corresponded to improved mechanics," said Dierks, associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "The leg was going through more motion, suggesting that the (pain) guarding mechanism was reduced, and coordination or control of many of these peak or maximum angles in the leg were improved in that they were getting closer to occurring at the same time."

Only in recent years have researchers begun studying the hips as a possible contributor to patellofemoral pain (PFP). This study is the first to focus on hip strength and gait changes during prolonged running. Dierks, director of the Motion Analysis Research Laboratory at IUPUI, discussed his findings on Wednesday at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Denver.

The runners in Dierks' study received no training or coaching on proper running form, which makes the improvements more notable. The improvements in mechanics resembled those of uninjured runners, when muscles, joints and limbs move economically and in synch with each other.

About the study

The study involved four runners and a control group comprised of another four runners. Hip strength measurements and kinematic data -- minute measurements of how the women's hips, knees and shin bones moved and rotated while they ran -- were taken before and after the runners in the control group maintained their normal running schedule for six weeks. The measurements were repeated for all of the runners before and after the next six-week period in which they all performed the hip-strengthening exercises.

The exercises, performed twice a week for around 30 to 45 minutes, involved single-leg squats and exercises with a resistance band, all exercises that can be performed at home. This study is part of an ongoing study involving hip exercises and PFP pain, with 10 runners successfully using the intervention.

After the six-week program, the movement of the hips and knees in relation to each other improved for both groups of runners, demonstrating increases in joint angles between the foot, shin and thigh.

The study used a pain scale of zero to 10, with 3 representing the onset of pain and 7 representing very strong pain -- the point at which the runners normally stop running because the pain is too great. The injured runners began the six-week trial registering pain of 7 when they ran on a treadmill and finished the study period registering pain levels of 2 or lower; i.e. no onset of pain.

PFP, one of the most common running injuries, is caused when the thigh bone rubs against the back of the knee cap. Runners with PFP typically do not feel pain when they begin running, but once the pain begins, it gets increasingly worse. Once they stop running, the pain goes away almost immediately. Dierks said studies indicate PFP essentially wears away cartilage and can have the same effect as osteoarthritis. His study participants showed many of the classic signs of PFP, the most prominent being their knees collapsing inward when running or doing a squat exercise move.

Athletes competing against an opponent wearing red are more likely to lose

A new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Emotion, finds that when humans see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful. And people are unaware of the color's intensifying effect.

The findings may have applications for sporting and other activities in which a brief burst of strength and speed is needed, such as weightlifting. But the authors caution that the color energy boost is likely short-lived.

"Red enhances our physical reactions because it is seen as a danger cue," explains coauthor Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a lead researcher in the field of color psychology. "Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack," he explains. "People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and it's implications."

But threat is a double-edged sword, argue Elliot and coauthor Henk Aarts, professor of psychology at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. Along with mobilizing extra energy, "threat also evokes worry, task distraction, and self-preoccupation, all of which have been shown to tax mental resources," they write in the paper. In earlier color research, exposure to red has proven counterproductive for skilled motor and mental tasks: athletes competing against an opponent wearing red are more likely to lose and students exposed to red before a test perform worse.

"Color affects us in many ways depending on the context," explains Elliot, whose research also has documented how men and women are unconsciously attracted to the opposite sex when they wear red. "Those color effects fly under our awareness radar," he says.

The study measured the reactions of students in two experiments. In the first, 30 fourth-through-10th graders pinched and held open a metal clasp. Right before doing so, they read aloud their participant number written in either red or gray crayon. In the second experiment, 46 undergraduates squeezed a handgrip with their dominant hand as hard as possible when they read the word "squeeze" on a computer monitor. The word appeared on a red, blue, or gray background.

In both scenarios, red significantly increased the force exerted, with participants in the red condition squeezing with greater maximum force than those in the gray or blue conditions. In the handgrip experiment, not only the amount of force, but also the immediacy of the reaction increased when red was present.

The colors in the study were precisely equated in hue, brightness, and chroma (intensity) to insure that reactions were not attributable to these other qualities of color. "Many color psychology studies in the past have failed to account for these independent variables, so the results have been ambiguous," explains Elliot.
The study focused exclusively on isometric or non-directional physical responses, allowing the researcher to measure the energy response of participants, though not their behavior, which can vary among individuals and situations. The familiar flight or fight responses, for example, show differing reactions to threat.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thoughts That Win


Back in high school, on the soccer field, poised to take a crucial penalty kick, “I always had a lot of thoughts going on in my head; I think most people do” says sports psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis. “I was setting the ball and planning my shot; I was the captain and never missed those types of shots; then I had that thought striking me that it was not going to be good. I knew I was going to miss,” he recalls, “and I did miss.” Even then, he could see that his mind had a big effect on his body.

From these unhappy experiences evolved Hatzigeorgiadis’ interest in the psychology of sport – the link between one’s thoughts and performance, and specifically in “self-talk”— the mental strategy that aims to improve performance through the use of self-addressed cues (words or small phrases), which trigger appropriate responses and action, mostly by focusing attention and psyching-up.

“We know this strategy works, and it works in sports,” says Hatzigeorgiadis. But what makes it work better, and in what situations? To find out, Hatzigeorgiadis and his colleagues at the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Thessaly, Nikos Zourbanos, Evangelos Galanis, and Yiannis Theodorakis conducted a meta-analysis of 32 sport psychological studies on the subject with a total of 62 measured effects. Their findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

As expected, the analysis revealed that self-talk improves sport performance.

But the researchers teased out more – different self-talk cues work differently in different situations. For tasks requiring fine skills or for improving technique “instructional self-talk”, such as a technical instruction (“elbow-up” which Hatzigeorgiadis coaches beginner freestyle swimmers to say) is more effective than ‘motivational self-talk’ (e.g., “give it all”), which seems to be more effective in tasks requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence and psyching-up for competition. Thus, we should carefully design the self-talk athletes use according to needs.

Some other findings are that self-talk has a greater effect on tasks involving fine skills (such as sinking a golf ball) rather than gross skills (e.g., cycling); probably because self-talk is a technique which mostly improves concentration. Self-talk is more effective for novel tasks rather than well-learned tasks; because it is easier to improve at the early steps of learning. Nevertheless, both beginners and experienced athletes can benefit, especially when they practice the self-talk technique.

Most important, says Hatzigeorgiadis, is that athletes train to self-talk—they prepare their scripts and use them consistently in training under varying conditions to better prepare themselves for competition.

The main goals behind self-talk—like other techniques such as visualization to “rehearse” a performance or meditation to improve focus and relaxation—are twofold, says Hatzigeorgiadis: “to enhance your potential; and to perform during competition in terms of your ability and not less.”

The meta-analysis can help sports psychologists and athletes refine their training. But the strategy has implications beyond the playing field. “The mind guides action. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior,” says Hatzigeorgiadis.

“The goal of being prepared is to do the best you can do.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Off the Backboard Shots Better Bet

The Physics of Bank Shots
Released: 3/10/2011 3:45 PM EST
Source: North Carolina State University

New research by engineers at North Carolina State University show that you had a better chance of scoring that particular game-winning bucket with a bank shot than with a direct shot.

After simulating one million shots with a computer, the NC State researchers show that the bank shot can be 20 percent more effective when shooting at many angles up to a distance of about 12 feet from the basket. Bank shots are also more effective from the “wing” areas between the three-point line and the free-throw lane. However, straight-on shots – those corresponding to the area around the free-throw line – from further than 12 feet are not as well suited for bank shots.

The researchers also found the optimal points where the simulated made baskets were aimed. The results show the optimal aim points make a “V” shape near the top center of the backboard’s “square,” which is actually a 24-inch by 18-inch rectangle which surrounds the rim. Away from the free-throw lane, these aim points were higher on the backboard and thus further from the rim. From closer to the free-throw lane, the aim points were lower on the backboard and closer to the rim.

The researchers also discovered that if you imagine a vertical line 3.327 inches behind the backboard and found where it crossed the aim point on the “V” shape on the backboard, you’d find the optimal spot to bank the basketball to score a basket.
“Basketball players can’t take a slide rule out on the court, but our study suggests that a few intuitive assumptions about bank shots are true,” says Dr. Larry Silverberg, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and the lead author of a paper describing the research. “They can be more effective than direct shots, especially from certain areas of the court – and we show which areas on the court and where the ball needs to hit the backboard.”

The researchers made a few assumptions while conducting the study. They used a men’s basketball, which is slightly bigger and heavier than a women’s basketball; launched the simulated shots from 6, 7, and 8 feet above the ground; and imparted 3 hertz of backspin – which means three revolutions per second – on the shots. The latter variable was shown in previous research to be optimal for successfully converting a free throw.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For Hitters on Deck, Warm-Up Devices Don't Increase Bat Speed


Player Preference Should Determine Warm-Up Routine, Reports The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Donuts, bat wraps, weighted gloves…a wide array of devices are available to help baseball players warm up while waiting to go to bat. But a new study finds that none of ten commonly used warm-up devices has a significant effect on bat speed, reports the February issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

"Furthermore, heavier warm-up devices did not provide greater bat velocity than the 'standard' bat or lighter devices," according to the new study, led by David J. Szymanski, PhD, CSCS*D, RSCC*D, of Louisiana Tech University, Ruston. They believe their results, combined with previous studies, have implications for recommended warm-up routines for batters in the on-deck circle.

Ten Different Warm-Up Devices Show No Difference in Bat Speed

In the study, 22 Division I college baseball players were tested using various devices designed for use in warming-up before batting. The devices ranged from a simple "donut ring," to weighted bat wraps and gloves, to special warm-up bats. The weight of the warm-up devices ranged from 22 to 96 ounces.

At each testing session, the players took three practice swings, as hard as possible, using one of the ten devices. Then, using a standard game bat (33 inches, 30 ounces), they hit a baseball off a tee, attempting to generate maximum bat velocity. A special device was used to measure the velocity of the bat head to see if any of the different warm-ups led to a significant change in bat speed.

Bat speed is thought to be an important component of hitting performance. "The idea is that swinging a heavy warm-up device in the on-deck circle will increase players’ bat velocity with their game bat when attempting to hit the baseball during an at-bat," Dr. Szymanski and co-authors explain. "If bat velocity is increased, this will allow the exit velocity of the batted ball to be greater, resulting in the baseball being hit farther."

In the study, however, none of the ten warm-up devices led to a significant increase (or decrease) in average bat velocity. Bat speed was no different when the players warmed up using heavier versus lighter devices, or with their usual game bat alone.
From Little League to the Big Leagues, batters in the on-deck circle use a variety of weighted devices to warm up for their turn at bat. Some previous studies have suggested that warming up with a heavier bat may lead to perceptual distortion, or a "kinesthetic aftereffect." Warming up with a weighted bat may make the standard bat feel lighter, providing the player with a psychological advantage.

However, the new report finds no evidence that any type of warm-up device affects objectively-measured bat velocity. "This study suggests that Division I intercollegiate players interested in having the highest bat velocity during a game at-bat can use any of the ten implements tested," Dr. Szymanski and co-authors write.
They note that their result differs from some previous baseball research—including a study by DeRenne and colleagues, which found that warming up with a weighted bat of plus or minus twelve percent (4 ounces) of game bat weight produced the greatest bat velocity (in high school players). Other studies have suggested that using a device that adds weight to the top of the bat, such as a donut or wrap, may actually slow bat speed. Dr. Szymanski comments, "Thus we'd suggest that, if players use a warm-up device, they should follow the recommendations of DeRenne and colleagues and use a weight within twelve percent of their standard game bat, and that the weight should be evenly distributed."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stretching before a run does not prevent injury


However, runners who typically stretch should continue, or risk injury

Stretching before a run neither prevents nor causes injury, according to a study presented today at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

More than 70 million people worldwide run recreationally or competitively, and recently there has been controversy regarding whether runners should stretch before running, or not at all. This study included 2,729 runners who run 10 or more miles per week. Of these runners, 1,366 were randomized to a stretch group, and 1,363 were randomized to a non-stretch group before running. Runners in the stretch group stretched their quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius/soleus muscle groups. The entire routine took 3 to 5 minutes and was performed immediately before running.

The study found that stretching before running neither prevents nor causes injury. In fact, the most significant risk factors for injury included the following:

history of chronic injury or injury in the past four months;
higher body mass index (BMI); and
switching pre-run stretching routines (runners who normally stretch stopping and those who did stretch starting to stretch before running).
"But, the more mileage run or the heavier and older the runner was, the more likely he or she was likely to get injured,"

"As a runner myself, I thought stretching before a run would help to prevent injury," said Daniel Pereles, MD, study author and orthopaedic surgeon from Montgomery Orthopedics outside Washington, DC. "However, we found that the risk for injury was the same for men and women, whether or not they were high or low mileage runners, and across all age groups. But, the more mileage run or the heavier and older the runner was, the more likely he or she was likely to get injured, and previous injury within four months predisposed to even further injury," he added.

Runners who typically stretch as part of their pre-run routine and were randomized not to stretch during the study period were far more likely to have an injury. "Although all runners switching routines were more likely to experience an injury than those who did not switch, the group that stopped stretching had more reported injuries, implying that an immediate shift in a regimen may be more important than the regimen itself," he added.

The most common injuries sustained were groin pulls, foot/ankle injuries, and knee injuries. There was no significant difference in injury rates between the runners who stretched and the runners who didn't for any specific injury location or diagnosis.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New 10-Year Study Confirms Too Many Pitches Strike Out Youth Athletes Early


For years, sports medicine professionals have talked about youth pitching injuries and the stress the motion causes on developing bones and muscles. In a new, 10-year study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers showed that participants who pitched more than 100 innings in a year were 3.5 times more likely to be injured.

“The study proved a direct link between innings pitched in youth and adolescent baseball and serious pitching injuries. It highlights the need for parents and coaches to monitor the amount of pitching for the long-term success and health of these young athletes. We need to all work together to end the epidemic of youth sports injuries, and education through campaigns like STOP Sports Injuries is in excellent first step,” said lead researcher, Glenn S. Fleisig, PhD, of the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.

The study followed 481 pitchers for 10-years (1999-2008). All were healthy, active youth (aged 9 to 14 years) baseball pitchers at the beginning of the study. Every year each participant was asked whether he played baseball in the previous 12 months and if so what positions, how many innings pitched, what types of pitches he threw, for what teams (spring, summer, fall, winter), and if he participated in baseball showcases. Each player was also asked every year if he had an elbow or shoulder injury that led to surgery or retirement from baseball.

During the 10-year span, five percent of the pitchers suffered a serious injury resulting in surgery or retirement. Two of the boys in the study had surgery before their 13th birthday. Only 2.2 percent were still pitching by the 10th year of the study.

“It is a tough balancing act for adults to give their young athletes as much opportunity as possible to develop skills and strength without exposing them to increased risk of overuse injury. Based on this study, we recommend that pitchers in high school and younger pitch no more than 100 innings in competition in any calendar year. Some pitchers need to be limited even more, as no pitcher should continue to pitch when fatigued,” said Fleisig.

The study also looked at the trend of playing pitcher and catcher in the same game, which did appear to double or triple a player’s risk of injury but the trend was not statistically significant. The study also could not determine if starting curveballs before age 13 increases the risk of injury.