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SECOND LOOK: FIELDS OF STUDY

There's a fine line between madness and genius. Getty Images

[Ed.'s Note: In the latest issue of The Mag, Brett Zarda outlines a few of the major sports science studies making headlines today. Here's a little more background on each of those studies, as well as a few others that didn't make The Mag.]

DEBUNKING THE MYTHS

THE VO2 DEBATE
The 40-yd dash is to football coaches what VO2 Max is to exercise physiologists. But a paper published this April in the British Journal of Sports Medicine argues the iconic metric is literally 'mindless'. By not telling the subject the duration of the test, imposing a mandatory work rate and requiring an increasing intensity, the test places foreign limits on the body while negating the importance of the mind in self regulation. The power of the brain to control pacing and ensure a safe intensity is critical to overall performance but ignored by the test.

SO MUCH FOR PROTECTION
A paper published last month in the Journal of Sports Economics draws into question the advantage of hitting with a good player on deck. The study shows that a better hitter on deck actually decreases the batting average (1%) and likelihood of an extra base hit from the player at bat (4%). The assessment of the 'spillover' uses a complicated mathematical model that accounts for the OPS of each player, the game situation (inning, runners on, outs, etc.) and the advantage of lefties hitting against right-handed pitchers. The data does suggest a lower chance of being walked (3%), but denies any hitting advantage of having a stud on deck.

STOP RUNNING, SERIOUSLY
A paper published this March in the European Society of Cardiology showed marathon runners had a significantly greater incidence of lone atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) than sedentary individuals. While the symptom can remain benign, it has also been associated with increased mortality and a decrease in the quality of life.

IS THE STEROID ERA REALLY THE PLACEBO ERA?
A study presented in June at the Endocrine Society Meeting split 64 athletes into two randomized groups that were given either HGH or a placebo for eight weeks. In the placebo group, more than half the participants incorrectly guessed they were taking HGH and actually showed an increase in endurance, strength, power, sprint capacity and jump height.

ECONOMIC ISSUES

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
Released in June in the Journal of Sports Economics, an economic analysis of 68 tennis tournaments in 2001 shows that the likelihood of a better player winning increases when there's a big differential in prize money. If the difference between winning and losing is $242k vs. $391k, the better player has a 2.8% better chance of winning. But when losing is only worth $50k and winning pockets $242, there's a 3.6% better chance you're not going to see an upset after accounting for a litany of additional variables.

MO' MONEY, MO' PROBLEMS?
Another June study in the JSE shows that NBA players who make more dough find themselves in more trouble. The highest paid player on each team is 7% more likely to get a technical foul or get ejected than the second highest paid. The study also shows a significant correlation between on court problems and off-court arrests. The author suggests a desire for more fame and a sense of being irreplaceable could spark the behavior. Has that been Rasheed's cry for help all this time?

POPULARITY CONTESTS

WHAT'S HAPPENENING TO HURLING?
A study from the Irish Sports Council showed that Gaelic Games are no longer the most popular sports for Irish children. A steady decline over the past 40 years has seen soccer and swimming overtake the traditional favorites. How could hurling and rounders not be as exciting as they sound?

MOVE OVER, SOCCER
According to data compiled by the National Sporting Goods Association, skateboarding led all sports in growth over the past ten years, exploding from 5.8 million to 10.1 million participants between 1998 and 2007 (74% growth). Can you guess what was second? Try target shooting, which grew 63% and now has more than twice the participation of skateboarding at 20.9 million.

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

CALIFORNIA RAISIN POWER
Research conducted at San Diego State University suggests a box of raisins provided the same performance benefits as a commercially available sports gel. Eight cyclists conducted 45-minute cycling trials after ingesting raisins or sports gel. There was no difference in the results, even though raisins cost just 1/5 of the price of the gel.

THE SECRET TO LOWERING YOUR HANDICAP
After a round of golf, forty-six golfers were asked to pick the size of a golf hole from nine options on a poster ranging between 3.5 and 5 inches (an actual golf hole is 4.3 inches). The golfers who shot a better score picked larger sized holes. The data, published in the June issue of the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, is consistent with softball research showing batters with a higher average perceived the ball to be bigger.

JET LAG WOES
A ten year retrospective study, funded by MLB, analyzed whether throwing a team's circadian rhythms out of whack can make a difference in wins and losses. Assuming that each time zone crossed requires a day to adjust, researchers analyzed how a team with more lag did against a team with less. While teams with equal 'lag' faced off 79% of the time, when a disparity existed, teams without a lag won 52% of the time. When the difference in lag jumped to three days, the fresher team won more than 60% of the time.

SLEEP DOES A BODY GOOD
Research conducted at Stanford showed that members of the swim team cut a half second of their 15-meter sprint time by changing their sleeping habits. Subjects extended their nightly sleep to 10 hours for a six or seven week period. By the end of the trial, the swimmers were more alert, in better moods and faster in the pool. The change also improved their speed off the blocks in and in the turns. The trend might hold for more than those in water. Data from the same research group presented last year showed increased sprint times and free throw shooting from Stanford basketballers catching a bit more shuteye.

GOLF IS THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH … KINDA
A Swedish study of 300,000 golfers showed that those forking over greens fees had a five-year increase in life expectancy compared to others of similar sex, age and socioeconomic status. Researchers theorize that the long walking over a four-hour period and the ability to play late in life contribute to the increase.