Applied Sports Science newsletter – August 18, 2017

Applied Sports Science news articles, blog posts and research papers for August 18, 2017


The NFL Wasn’t Ready for Jabrill Peppers

The Ringer, Kevin Clark from

While the league has supposedly moved toward a flexible-positional future, the multifaceted Michigan star says that his versatility kept him from being drafted higher. He’s out to prove everyone wrong—from all across the field.


Gilles Müller Finds Success in Tennis at an Age When Others Retire

The New York Times, Ben Rothenberg from

… Müller, 34, is a fitting face for such a revitalization effort. He has transformed himself into a better player late in his career, achieving his best results at an age when careers have often been over. Müller won his first two ATP titles this year, on the hardcourts of Sydney in January and the grass of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, in June.

“I was always kind of worried that time was running away, and I was going to be one of those players that would never have a title,” Müller said. “When that happened in Sydney, a lot of weight fell off my shoulders, and it’s a lot easier now.


Arsenal’s Premier League title tilt could hinge on Aaron Ramsey fitness

ESPN FC, James McNicholas from

If Arsenal’s Premier League turnaround against Leicester City hinged on one moment, it might well have been an immaculate Aaron Ramsey first touch.

At that point, Leicester appeared to be heading for an unlikely 3-2 victory. However, when Granit Xhaka’s pass found the Welshman at the far post, he showed exquisite technique to bring the ball under control before firing expertly beyond Kasper Schmeichel. Ramsey’s brilliance turned the tide, and from that point on Arsenal’s victory felt inevitable. If the Gunners are to mount a successful 2017-18 campaign, they’ll need more emphatic interventions from their gifted midfielder.

Ramsey, of course, did not start Arsenal’s first competitive fixture of the season. That’s become a worrying trend for a player whose impact has been severely restricted by a litany of muscular injuries.


Why Joe Maddon is telling the Chicago Cubs to show up late

ESPN MLB, Jesse Rogers from

Chicago Cubs reliever Brian Duensing isn’t sure whether he likes the extra down time. And rookie Ian Happ said he felt disoriented on Day 1.

You wouldn’t think those would be the thoughts of employees being asked — make that, told — to arrive at work later than usual. But that’s the problem in baseball, according to manager Joe Maddon. Players are so used to one routine, it’s hard for them to break from it.

For one week, every August since 2009, a Maddon-managed team is allowed to show up to the ballpark no more than three hours before first pitch and is encouraged to come even later. It’s called American Legion Week, in reference to when Maddon would have a day job and then “show up at 5 p.m. for a 5:30 game” in American Legion ball. Even more than normal, he wants less work from his players before games this week.


Usain Bolt, Shaquille O’Neal, and Katie Ledecky Don’t Represent the Limits of Human Athletic Potential

Nautilus, Stephen Hsu from

For many years I lived in Eugene, Oregon, also known as “track-town USA” for its long tradition in track and field. Each summer high-profile meets like the United States National Championships or Olympic Trials would bring world-class competitors to the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. It was exciting to bump into great athletes at the local cafe or ice cream shop, or even find myself lifting weights or running on a track next to them. One morning I was shocked to be passed as if standing still by a woman running 400-meter repeats. Her training pace was as fast as I could run a flat out sprint over a much shorter distance.

The simple fact was that she was an extreme outlier, and I wasn’t. Athletic performance follows a normal distribution, like many other quantities in nature. That means that the number of people capable of exceptional performance falls off exponentially as performance levels increase. While an 11-second 100-meter can win a high school student the league or district championship, a good state champion runs sub-11, and among 100 state champions only a few have any hope of running near 10 seconds.

Keep going along this curve, and you get to the freaks among freaks—competitors who shatter records and push limits beyond imagination.


The Best Way to Test Students? Make Them Explain It On Video

WIRED, Science, Rhett Allain from

As a physics professor, I have two jobs. The first, obviously, is to help students understand physics. That makes me something of a coach. But I want to talk about my second job: evaluating what students understand about physics. You might call this grading them.

Evaluating a student’s understanding of a topic is like taking a measurement. However, it requires measuring something that is difficult to see. It’s not like I can stick a ruler into a student’s brain to determine the size of their physics stuff. Now, most teachers use indirect means, usually a multiple-choice test or an exam in which students work through a problem. These are poor measures of student understanding. Someone could simply guess, or flub the answer through a silly mistake.

So how can I accurately assess a student’s understanding of physics? Until someone invents a way of reading a student’s mind, I must do something else. I use a combination of written tests and video assessments.


GUEST POST: What does it take for students to exchange bad study habits for good?

The Learning Scientists, Rich James from

This is the story of what we tried and learned from our pilot “Unlocking the Learning Code” project. We attempted a distributed approach to teaching study skills and conducted pre- and post-intervention surveys with the students. While we haven’t (yet!) seen tremendous results, along the way we’ve gained insights and ideas that may help students learn and adopt the “Six Strategies for Effective Learning” advocated by the Learning Scientists.


Knee Arthritis Has Doubled… And It’s Not Because of Running

Runner's World, Sweat Science blog, Alex Hutchinson from

One of my pet topics on this blog has been the persistent myth that running will ruin your knees. In truth, as numerous studies over the years have suggested, runners are no more likely, and perhaps even less likely, than comparable non-runners to develop osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear form of arthritis, in their knees.

Still, there’s a widespread sense that osteoarthritis is getting more common, which is often blamed on the fact that people these days are heavier and live longer than they used to. Is that really true? That’s what a new study from Dan Lieberman’s group at Harvard University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (press release here), sought to determine.

The methodology of the study was fascinating. One of the researchers traveled around the country to examine collections of old and new skeletons, looking for signs of “eburnation,” which is a polished surface on the bones of the knee joint that occurs when the bones rub against each other because of the loss of cartilage associated with osteoarthritis.


Mental health of elite young athletes: spot and support them before it’s too late

BMJ Blogs: BJSM blog, Johnson Pok-Him Tam and Manroy Sahni from

Elite sport is results driven. Each generation of new athletes is pushing themselves to new limits, to reach new heights and eclipse records set by their predecessors. But what impact can this constant cauldron of pressure and expectation have on the mental health of a young athlete? Are young athletes speaking out when they need help? And what help is available?

Elite young athletes have daily gruelling training regimes to help reach the potential suggested by their outstanding natural talent. To achieve these goals, they are usually guided by an expert coach, medical team and close family and friends[i]. This network is intended to be a support system in both a sporting and an emotional sense. However, at times it can contribute to a high level of expectation placed on the shoulders of young sports stars.

Determining the burden of mental health issues in sport can be difficult. Especially considering the (1) stigma associated with speaking out given the sporting culture in which professional athletes are enmeshed (read past blog in link for more), as well as (2) the research suggesting a positive association of physical activity on the prevention and treatment of mental health issues


The Scientists Who Shape What and How We Eat

The Ringer, Tove K. Danovich from

Behind every quick-and-easy weight-loss tip you read in a magazine is a scientific study aimed at figuring out the psychology of our dining habits. And odds are, the bulk of those studies were conducted by a behaviorist named Brian Wansink. But in an industry that helps churn out convenient solutions to serious food issues, it’s fair to wonder how quickly shortcuts can lead to dead ends.


How Gatorade Invented New Products by Revisiting Old Ones

Harvard Business Review, David Robertson from

When it comes to innovation, businesses have a strong bias for the new. The idea of creating a fresh new product, the prospect of increasing market share with brand new offerings, or the vision of disrupting some slow-moving incumbent with a radical new technology – these have an inherently strong appeal for companies keen for growth. What’s more, legacy products seem to be at a natural disadvantage. Company leaders and product managers worry that these core products have been around for years and may not be able to deliver much more. How will they perform well enough for us to meet our targets?

Should you heed the siren call to reach outside your core business? Should you explore new technologies that will disrupt current products? Should you search for new “blue ocean” markets that will let you redeploy those products in exciting new ways?

My advice is to resist that urge. Too often the preoccupation with finding or creating shiny new products can cause you to take your eye off your most profitable and lowest-risk opportunity: reviving your current product by innovating around it.

Consider the example of Gatorade in 2008.


The Math of Weighting Past Results

The Hardball Times, Adam Dorhauer from

The 2016 season has just ended. You’re the GM of your favorite team, and your team needs a center fielder (if you’re an Angels fan, you’ll have to pretend you’re somebody else’s GM for this exercise). You’ve got two names in front of you: Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gomez.

Whom do you offer more money? Both are around the same age. Over the past three years, they’ve put up pretty similar value (9.5 fWAR for Fowler vs 9.2 fWAR for Gomez). Fowler’s been the better hitter and Gomez the better fielder, but overall, they’ve been pretty similar.

The actual MLB GMs gave a pretty clear answer to this question. Fowler signed for five years and $82.5M, while Gomez signed for one year and $11.5M. Why the disparity? Recency. Fowler was coming off the best season of his career, while Gomez was coming off a season during which he got released by the Astros. And while Gomez has rebounded fairly well with the Rangers, Fowler was easily the better bet coming into this season.


Sport disciplines, types of sports, and waist circumference in young adulthood – a population-based twin study

European Journal of Sport Science from

Purpose: The benefits of physical activity (PA) in preventing abdominal obesity are well recognized, but the role of different sport disciplines remains open. We aimed, therefore, to investigate how participation in different sport disciplines, and the number and types of sports engaged in are associated with waist circumference (WC) in young adulthood. Methods: This population-based cohort study comprised 4027 Finnish twin individuals (1874 men), with a mean age of 34 y (32–37), who answered a survey, including self-measured WC. We extracted the number and identified the types (aerobic, power, and mixed) of the different sport disciplines respondents reported participating in. Results: The number of sport disciplines participated in was inversely associated with WC, the linear decrease averaging 1.38 cm (95% CI 1.10–1.65) per each additional sport discipline. The result persisted after adjustment for the main covariates, such as volume of PA and diet quality. Among dizygotic twin pairs discordant for sports participation (0–2 vs. 5 or more disciplines), the mean within-pair difference in WC was 4.8 cm (95% CI 0.4–9.1) for men and 11.2 cm (95% CI 4.4–18.0) for women; among discordant monozygotic pairs, no differences were observed. In men, all three types of sports were individually associated with smaller WC, while in women, only mixed and power sports showed this association. Conclusions: Participation in several sport disciplines and sport types was associated with smaller WC among young adults in their mid-30s. Shared genetic background may explain some of the associations.


The influence of speed abilities and technical skills in early adolescence on adult success in soccer: A long-term prospective analysis using ANOVA and SEM approaches

PLOS One; Oliver Höner, Daniel Leyhr and Augustin Kelava from

Several talent development programs in youth soccer have implemented motor diagnostics measuring performance factors. However, the predictive value of such tests for adult success is a controversial topic in talent research. This prospective cohort study evaluated the long-term predictive value of 1) motor tests and 2) players’ speed abilities (SA) and technical skills (TS) in early adolescence. The sample consisted of 14,178 U12 players from the German talent development program. Five tests (sprint, agility, dribbling, ball control, shooting) were conducted and players’ height, weight as well as relative age were assessed at nationwide diagnostics between 2004 and 2006. In the 2014/15 season, the players were then categorized as professional (n = 89), semi-professional (n = 913), or non-professional players (n = 13,176), indicating their adult performance level (APL). The motor tests’ prognostic relevance was determined using ANOVAs. Players’ future success was predicted by a logistic regression threshold model. This structural equation model comprised a measurement model with the motor tests and two correlated latent factors, SA and TS, with simultaneous consideration for the manifest covariates height, weight and relative age. Each motor predictor and anthropometric characteristic discriminated significantly between the APL (p < .001; η2 ≤ .02). The threshold model significantly predicted the APL (R2 = 24.8%), and in early adolescence the factor TS (p < .001) seems to have a stronger effect on adult performance than SA (p < .05). Both approaches (ANOVA, SEM) verified the diagnostics’ predictive validity over a long-term period (≈ 9 years). However, because of the limited effect sizes, the motor tests’ prognostic relevance remains ambiguous. A challenge for future research lies in the integration of different (e.g., person-oriented or multilevel) multivariate approaches that expand beyond the “traditional” topic of single tests’ predictive validity and toward more theoretically founded issues.


On the risks of categorizing a continuous variable (with an application to baseball data)

Michael Lopez, StatsbyLopez blog from

… Intracacies of the baseball rulebook are out of my realm of expertise, but that specific play got me thinking about what goes into decisions to reward an error. Primarily – is the difficulty of the play (including the exit velocity of the hit) taken into account? Fielding a sharp ground ball or line drive, no matter where its hit, would seem excessively more difficult than fielding a dribbler or pop fly. Alternatively, one could argue that its the slowest ground balls that are the most problematic, given that a fielder may need to rush his throw.

The point of this post will be to identify a few predictors of error rates, starting with a sidebar about categorizing continuous variables.


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