From the archive: Things Learned in 40+ Years of Sports Science Part 1 - People
(Note: Dr. Stone has been in this field for a long time, so he has a quite different perspectives from some of us young bucks. It is always important for us to consider the experiences of those who come before us. Enjoy!)
By Michael H. Stone,
I am now 60 (and a little more) years old. For the last few years, by telephone, e-mail, conferences, symposia etc., I have been asked to write a few thoughts about what things I think I have learned about training, strength, power endurance, etc. - so, here are a few thoughts.
I have been involved, either directly or indirectly, in sport science for over forty years. During that time there have been ups and downs but most of the time it has been rewarding and even pleasurable. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best colleague's and students that anyone could ask for; indeed, they have made me look good. So, it is with/through these colleagues and current students that I share these few thoughts. I would be remiss if I did not mention a few of these colleagues and friends that I have known for many years, that I still work with and who have made a substantial impact on my life and on sports science. As with anyone, there are people (beyond your family) who have some influence on your life and you will not forget that, however, these few people that I write about are those that, helped me to conceptualize what and why I believe what I do about the world, especially the world of sport science and made me think much deeper than I would have otherwise. Anyone who reads this should realize that these are truly gifted, special people who will continue to impact not only my life, but many, many others.
Older Folks (I've known them longer)
First is Meg Stone MS, my wife and best friend. Meg, born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, was a multi-time all American thrower at the University of Arizona. She was the 1983 Commonwealth Games Gold Medal winner in the discus, and a two time Olympian for Great Britain (1980, 1984). Meg (Ritchie) was the first women to be a Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at a D-1 University or any other level (U of Arizona 1983 - 1994 and later Texas Tech 1994-1996); she was one of the first three women selected as Fellows of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the first women to be awarded an NSCA Life-time Achievement Award (2009). She was the first women to be a Head National Athletics Coach (track and field) in Great Britain or Europe (Scotland 1999-2002). She has coached several national and international level athletes in both track and field and weightlifting. Meg has been interested in sport science and coach education for many years and has had a dream and set herself a goal of creating a true performance based coach education program in an academic setting. This dream is coming true at ETSU. Currently, she is the Director of the East Tennessee State University Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education (CESSCE). Even with her busy schedule, she still finds time to get involved directly with sports science research and especially coaches education. Meg really makes me look good and has taught me a lot about the practicalities of teaching, coaching and dealing with people.
I met Travis Triplett PhD in 1988; she was one of my graduate students at Appalachian State University. One of the things learned early in my career is that one good way of beginning to separate those who can from those who cannot is to challenge them very directly. This is easily accomplished by telling someone "they cannot do something, they are wrong, or implying they are too dumb to figure something out", then observing, carefully, their reaction, both immediate and long-term. Although this can really upset some people, most of the time, those worth knowing and dealing with, rise to the challenge. Trying this with Travis, I soon learned that she was resilient, absolutely knew what she was doing and who she was, and even better, she was a lot smarter than me (and still is). After her master's degree she spent a year as an intern at the USOC, went on to finish a PhD at Penn State and then a Post Doc at Southern Cross University in Australia. Travis was the first women to be selected as a Fellow of the NSCA and as of February 2009, is still one of only three. Travis is currently back at ASU and is one of the leading researchers in the areas of resistance training and the elderly, and resistance training and osteoporosis, and still finds time to do some sport science. Travis collaborates with the CESSCE on a regular basis, which helps to keep us straight.
Harold O'Bryant PhD, a former assistant collegiate gymnastics coach at Appalachian State University and head Men's coach at Jacksonville Sate University, received his PhD at LSU, some years back. I was lucky enough to be on his doctoral committee, even though I had graduated from FSU only a year before. It was obvious that Harold was a special person from the onset. His dissertation is quite unique - to my knowledge it was the first research performed in the United States (carried out in the late 1970's and early 1980's) with resistance training and periodization as the focus. His research was far far ahead of its time. Today, it is still one of the best sources of information dealing with periodization and resistance training that exists. Everyone, interested in this area should take the time and effort necessary to find and to read this document. Experiments were carried out on males, females, non-athletes and athletes. The studies dealt with various forms of periodization and their comparison to other methods of resistance training. Not all of the manuscript has been published (yet). Harold can make any device work, create new devices when necessary, repair almost anything, and has probably saved his department a few hundred thousand dollars as result. Harold is a full Professor, Director of the Biomechanics Laboratory and Exercise Science Program Director (not to mention having been graduate coordinator, teacher, Master's thesis director, committee member, etc. since 1982). Harold is currently part of the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University, where he is greatly under paid and under appreciated. Harold is still active in research, especially as it concerns the conditioning aspects of gymnastics, recovery and vibration and is currently collaborating in several projects with the CESSCE.
I have known Kyle Pierce EdD, for about 35 years as a student, athlete, colleague and friend. Kyle is without a doubt the leading weightlifting coach in the United States. Kyle was my doctoral student beginning at LSU and finishing up at Auburn. Kyle is currently an Associate Professor of Health Science and Director of the USAW Developmental Center at LSU-Shreveport (which exist almost solely as a result of Kyle's efforts). He has been quite active in both the USAW and IWF, consistently giving much more than he gets back. One of the unique aspects about Kyle is that he is a very good scientist, being actively engaged in research and is also an outstanding coach and teacher. As you might expect Kyle's research interests' center around strength, especially as it relates to weightlifting and particularly as it relates to children and adolescents. He is also an excellent strength and conditioning coach and regularly trains a host of athletes besides the weightlifters. As one might expect, Kyle is in great demand as a speaker at both scientific and coaches' meetings around the world (e.g. IWF meetings, NSCA, UKSCA). Kyle's approach to weightlifting and weight training is also unique in that he, unlike most coaches, actually applies what he learns from sport science to his coaching endeavor and has not followed the typical "let's copy the Bulgarian's, Greek's or Russian's" training programs which has been so prevalent among weightlifting and strength coaches in this country. Instead, Kyle has relied on good research, logical inferences from research as well as his experience and is producing, consistently, the best weightlifters in the USA, including the number one male weightlifter and 2008 Olympian, Kendrick Farris. In this context he recently received the Doc Councilman award from the USOC. This award goes to the coach (international level) who best integrates science and coaching. Kyle is regular speaker at our symposia (at least when he is in the country) and is involved with our research efforts, particularly when it involves weightlifting.
John Garhammer PhD, was the first scientist I was ever around who had a real interest in weightlifting and strength as something more then a passing curiosity or something to be made fun of. I first met John in 1978 at the Common Wealth Games Sports Science meeting in Edmonton, Canada, although we had been corresponding for about a year before that. We were both doctoral students in 1977 and John contacted me about a paper I wrote for International Olympic Lifter. He was the reviewer for that journal and I think he was astounded that there was anyone else, in academics, interested in weightlifting. We continued to keep in contact, by phone occasionally, letters (this was before e-mail - not sure how we did it -rather primitive) and also seeing each other at weightlifting meets/clinics or scientific meetings. Beginning in October 1979, we worked together at Auburn University for a few years at the National Strength Research Center (a good idea that never really got off the ground), both of us left, John before me and went on to other things. During the early 80's we worked together on the USOC/USAW weightlifting elite athlete project, one of the first scientific studies on weightlifting or weightlifters to be carried out in the USA. We continued to keep in touch and collaborate on various projects, particularly weightlifting projects. John, likely has done more on the biomechanics of weightlifting then anyone anywhere. Although, semi-retired, John continues to present and write about a number of strength and conditioning topics, especially his about first love, weightlifting.
I have known Dan Wathen since the early 1980's; we met at one of the first few NSCA meetings and like a lot of things, I can't remember which one. Dan was the Head Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Supervisor at Youngstown State University for many years. He was also a national and international level powerlifter. He recently retired from YSU (2008) but from what I understand, will not go away. Dan knows more trivia and general facts then anyone I know, luckily for us this includes knowing a whole lot about sport medicine and sport science. Furthermore, he keeps up (better than anyone) with current powerlifting, weightlifting and strongman competition. There is almost no area of strength and conditioning that Dan has not read about and more importantly, thought about and presented or written about. As a result he is in great demand as a speaker at both national and international meetings; indeed when I was at Edinburgh University in Scotland and we ( Primarily Dougie Bryce) were developing what became the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association the first invited speaker we asked to address the association was Dan Wathen. Indeed, when I (and my colleagues at the CESSCE) get an idea about trying out new some aspect of sport science research or testing athletes, Dan is one of the first people I call. He is also a NSCA Past President and (among many awards) a Life-Time Achievement Award recipient. One of Dan's strength' (one of many) is that he always tries to see both sides of a question (political, scientific and otherwise) and consequently is often more objective about an issue than most of us. Dan regularly contributes to our (CESSCE) symposia and hopefully will continue to do so for years to come.
Bill Sands PhD is without a doubt the best "sports scientist" I know. I have known him for about 20 years and my respect for him and what he does grows every day. I was lucky enough to work directly with Bill at the USOC for several years where he is now the Head of the Recovery Center. Bill was a gymnastics coach in the early part of career, producing and/or working with many national and international level men's and women's gymnasts, including several Olympians. Wanting to become a better coach is a large part of what "drove" Bill toward sport science; in fact many of the tools developed by Bill in his early career (as a coach) are still cutting edge sports science today; such as a computer based athlete monitoring system. Characteristic of a good scientist, Bill has developed a broad scope of knowledge that is far beyond the norm; having expertise in psychology, biomechanics/engineering, physiology and more. Like Harold O'Bryant, Bill can make anything work that is broken, and build just about any device that is worth building. Thus, it is no wonder that he wears so many hats at the USOC (biomechanics', physiologist etc.). Although, I worked as sport scientists for many years before working directly with Bill, he really made me (and others) aware of the "conceptual nature" of sport science, the profound impact of sports science and its international scope. Fortunately, he continues to work with the CESSCE.
I met Larry Meadors PhD at an NSCA conference about 12 years ago and it was a good day for sure. Larry is one of the true pioneers in strength and conditioning, extolling the virtues of strength and conditioning way before it became popular or routine. Retired now (sort of); Larry was a high school coach in the Burnsville school district in Minneapolis for nearly 40 years. Presently, he spends much of his time coaching everyone from beginners to professional athletes, particularly dealing with ice hockey athletes (as well as training members of the Minneapolis SWAT team). Larry has developed a number of excellent programs for junior high school, high school and beyond. One program, in particular, that is outstanding is a method of teaching/training weightlifting movements when dealing with beginners. Larry is very thoughtful, dedicated and hardworking; this truly makes a difference when working to create good programs for committed athletes. He is a long-time strong supporter of sports science; he has been a supporter of the CESSCE from the beginning - regularly makes contributions and we are fortunate to have him as a colleague.
In any academic or practical endeavor, especially one dealing with an area that is not typical of a university system or which does not typically bring in large grants and contracts, such as sport science, life can be harder than normal. This is especially true if you are determined to excel in that area. So, it is imperative that those involved are strongly and wholly committed to reaching beyond the norm, establishing high standards and have a tough hide. Furthermore, more than other faculty or staff, they have to pull together and often have to work twice as hard to reach their goals. Mike Ramsey PhD, came to ETSU at the same time I did (2005). Mike came to ETSU right out of Texas A&M where he attained an excellent background in basic and applied science. Although not trained as a sport scientist (almost no-one is in the USA), he knew this is what he wanted to be when he grew up; there is no doubt he is grown. While both of us struggled with the high teaching loads, service loads and the typical university red-tape, we also worked hard at establishing good relations with the athletic department, re-orienting our students to a more scientific-research based approach to academics, ramping-up the research efforts of our laboratory and we started upgrading the "visibility" and role of sports science in the curriculum. No-one could ask for a better colleague and good friend then Mike Ramsey. Indeed I am quite proud to say that Mike is a friend and colleague as he is not only becoming a good teacher and sport scientists, but he is quite simply a good man. Mike has taken a leading role in the establishment of the athlete monitoring program (Sport, Performance Enhancement Consortium- SPEC) which is a co-operative effort with the ETSU Intercollegiate Athletic Department and the CESSCE. In fact neither would exist without Mike's efforts.
I first met Jay T. Kearney PhD in the early - mid 1980's when he was the chair of the Department at the University of Kentucky. Jay T. was an elite athlete and an Olympian (Canoe). This really surprised me as I had previously thought of Canoe/Kayak folks as being on the small side - Jay T. is not, nor is there anything small in his life including his intellect. He is obviously knowledgeable about the science of canoe/kayak training and competition and, like all good scientists has a broad knowledge and interest in a number of areas, especially as it concerns endurance training. Currently, Jay T. is the Head of the "Endurance Sportfolio" at the USOC. Knowing Jay T. influenced my life - perhaps more than he knows - it was relatively early in my carrier when we first met and I was still deciding exactly what I was going to be; shortly after we met, he became the Head of Sport Science at the USOC. Jay T. is a highly respected scientist and administrator and he has a unique approach to sport science that is often missing among many (perhaps most) sport scientists. Generally, sport science, especially strength and conditioning is not appreciated in academic settings for a number of reasons. Indeed some administrators and "basic" scientists look down upon sport science as "lacking merit" partly because you see very little sports science in "high impact journals" (more on this later) and you cannot get NIH funding etc. to study sport. Jay T. has as much passion and zeal to assist coaches and athletes as anyone I know but he was also the first person (and first scientist) that I know to approach sport science as a true intellectual pursuit, worthy of a place in the academic community (or any other community). This made a deep and lasting impression on me and colors much of what I am to this day. Additionally, Jay T. has helped me to understand the "politics" of sport (and of academics), a factor(s) that never ceases to amaze me. We have collaborated on several research and educational projects through the years and I value his opinion very much. He has never steered me wrong on any issue.
Andy Fry PhD, is the Head of the Department of Health, Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Kansas. I met Andy in 1990 while we were carrying out an experiment on supplements for USA Weightlifting. I had gotten a USOC grant for this study and was working with Jay T. Kearney; Andy was one of Bill Kraemer's (at PSU) doctoral students at the time and Bill sent him to help out. Andy had come back to school after working for a few years and it was immediately apparent to me that (after my usual verbal assaults) that he was worth knowing. After graduating from Penn State, he took a job as a muscle physiologist at the University of Memphis. He stayed at the University of Memphis for several years and worked with Brian Schilling as a student and later as a faculty member. Andy was the head of the laboratory while he was at Memphis and together with Brian Schilling, Larry Weiss and their students turned out some pretty good sport science research even though that was not their primary task in their department. Although, not directly sports science, Andy is turning out a good deal of exercise and basic science that helps to underpin much of what goes on in sport science.
I first met Dave Collins PhD in March 1999. I could tell right away that he was different. Not only was he the new Head of the Department of Physical Education, Leisure and Sport Sciences at Edinburgh University in Scotland, but had been in the Special Services (somewhat similar to the Navy SEALS and Marine Recon Companies). He left Edinburgh University to become the High Performance Director for British Athletics for several years (a thankless job at best), including the period during the last (2008) Olympics, during which GB performed quite well in athletics (Track and Field). Furthermore, he is a Sport Psychologists. Dave is very bright, one of the most emotionally intense people I have ever met, and works very, very hard to be the best at what ever he does. There is almost no job that that he cannot do and do well. One of the things that I learned from Dave is, never, never give up. We still stay in touch and consult with each other on a regular basis about a variety of topics dealing with sport science and sport.
I met Dougie Bryce MS when I was Professor and Chair of Sport at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Dougie worked for SportScotland. Part of Dougie's job was to develop and provide coaches education, a task that he took (and still does) very seriously. Dougie talked me into teaching a "certification" course in sport science/strength and conditioning for a group of coaches at a primary training center, Grangemouth, Scotland early in 2000. Three major things came out of this first course; 1) this created the initial nucleus of strength and conditioning coaches in Scotland and 2) this course developed into a regular certification course that was taught twice per year at Largs, Scotland (another training center), many coaches and potential sport scientists took this course and expanded the number of "certified" S & C coaches in Scotland. 3) Perhaps the most important development from these courses - thanks to Dougie Byrce - was the addition of a symposium along with the course that began to attract large numbers (150+) coaches and sports scientists from all over the world. - It was this symposium that developed and grew towards a Scottish strength and conditioning association that then developed into the UK Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA) which now has several thousand members and currently has the most comprehensive certification program going. Dougie Bryce was the person behind this, made it happen with few resources and deserves the credit for this major development in the world of strength and conditioning. Dougie, is currently the Executive Director of Scottish Judo and they are lucky to have him. Perhaps more than anyone, Dougie showed me what can be if you are diligent and work at it.
Ron Byrd PhD, is a professor of exercise science at LSU-Shreveport. He was my doctoral major professor at Florida State University back in the mid 1970's. He also was Harold O'Bryant's major professor at LSU during the early 1980's and now works with Kyle Pierce at LSU-S. He has been a Department Head and Dean and was a Fullbright Scholar; he publishes in a wide range of journals from exercise science and ergonomics to sport science to sport history. Although, trained as an exercise environmental physiologist, Dr. Byrd has kept up a steady stream of sport science and related research for more than 50 years. Both by class-room teaching and more importantly by example, Dr. Byrd taught me (and a lot of other people) that having a broad knowledge of the area was extremely important if you really wanted to become a good scientist, teacher or coach. He also taught me that one study does not make truth and was never enough. As much as anyone Dr. Byrd instilled in me the basic tenant of science - as search for truth. He is still active in as a teacher, researcher and scholar.
Clive Brewer MS currently works for SportScotland, the Scottish equivalent of the USOC. I met Clive in about 2000 at one of the early UKSCA formative meetings in Scotland. I had known his wife Linda (also working for SportScotland) for about 2 years before I met Clive. Together they make a formidable sport/sport science team. Clive knows more about the ins and outs of athlete development than anyone I know. He is well versed on the physiology/biomechanics of sport performance as well as the administrative/financial aspects of athlete development. Clive also has a superior knowledge of training principles, especially as it concerns strength and conditioning. He is a prolific writer and his (along with Mike Favre from the USOC) papers on the technique and uses of weightlifting movements are as good as any available. Another paper (co-authored with Kyle Pierce, Bill Sands and myself) that is especially pertinent to today's climate of strength and conditioning and will form the backbone of the UKSCA position stand on resistance training for children and adolescents. He has written several excellent textbooks dealing with strength and conditioning for team and individual sports; and if these are not in your library, they should be. Clive is a good person, enthusiastic, emotionally intense and always gives far more than he receives back; as with others on this list - he is under appreciated and SportScotland do not know what they have. Clive is a regular, much in demand and much appreciated contributor to our CESSCE symposia and clinics.
Greg Haff PhD was a master's student at Appalachian State in the mid 1990's. It was quite apparent to me, even then, that he would have a bright future and become a leading sport scientist. He went on to get his doctorate at the University of Kansas and was without a doubt one of their better students. Currently, Greg is on the faculty of the Exercise Physiology Department in the Medical School at West Virginia University. I also coached Greg as a weightlifter; he reached national level, and I believe that this experience as a high level athlete helped him to understand how a scientific approach could benefit an athlete. Furthermore, from a very practical hands-on experience, how "science"could be integrated into a sport training process. This experience likely helped him to move, away from the dark side, toward sports science and coaching. Greg's background in academics, his experiences as a high level athlete and later his coaching work has given him insights that are unlikely to be attained through academic pathways alone. Greg is presently, without a doubt, one of the leaders in strength and conditioning both nationally and internationally, particularly as it concerns the training process. He is currently on the BOD of the NSCA and has recently become involved/accredited with the UKSCA. Although living and working in Morgantown, WV, Greg collaborates, almost daily, with the CESSCE. We stay in touch by e-mail, phone and occasional visits. He has served (and continues to) on several graduate thesis committee's at ETSU and we regularly collaborate on research projects (both at ETSU and WVU); he is a valuable contributor to our symposia and clinics.
Brian Schilling PhD, came to Appalachian State University in 1997 as master's student. I was Brian's major professor and also helped him with his weightlifting; he became a national level lifter and as with other athlete/students I am sure this helped to drive his interest in sport science. Brian has had an interest in sports science from the beginning, his thesis dealt with the effects of creatine supplementation on athletes, which was really cutting edge and a hot topic in the mid-late 1990's. Brian went on to get his PhD in biology with a specialization in physiology at the University of Memphis, where he is now on the faculty and the Head of their Neuro-Mechanics Laboratory. Brian has continued his interest in nutrition/supplementation and biomechanics, married a RD (Leslie Schilling) and together they are making a strong contribution to the sport nutrition area. Brian's primary research deals with resistance training and Parkinson's disease but still finds time to study, present and write about various topics in sports science, especially strength training. Indeed, some of Brian's work on explosive exercise and specificity is as good as it gets. We still collaborate on various items and Brian has been a valued regular contributor to the CESSCE symposia and clinics for the past year(s) and hopefully will continue to do so for years to come.
I have always admired true iconoclasts (there are lots of fake ones around). True iconoclasts regularly tear down idols and poke holes in windmills (and windbags) and never, never boast about it. I first met Steve Plisk MS at an NSCA meeting about 15 years ago and I am very glad I did. Steve is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches that I know. He has knowledge of training practices and principles next to none. We have worked together on several projects including several published review papers. These have included two reviews which I believe are quite good and worth the read; one deals with training modes and methods (Stone, M.H., Plisk, S. and Collins, D. Training Principles: evaluation of modes and methods of resistance training - a coaching perspective, Sport Biomechanics 1: 79-104, 2002) and the other is what I believe is an important paper dealing with periodization and training principles. (Plisk S. and Stone M.H.Periodization Strategies, Strength and Conditioning 25:19-37, 2003). Steve has some very unique and thought provoking insights into the world of strength and conditioning (and life in general) of which everyone should take note. Steve is currently a regular contributor to the CESSCE clinics/symposia and we are lucky to have him as a participant.
Jeff McBride PhD, is an Associate Professor of Biomechanics at Appalachian State University. I was the outside reader for his dissertation, which was completed at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia. Jeff went on to do a Post-Doc with P. Komi in Finland. Jeff is probably the youngest of this group; was educated abroad and so has a little different (and refreshing) way of looking at some of the same problems the rest of us have been struggling with for years. Although Jeff and his students/colleagues don't always work directly with athletes (who does), most of his research is largely related either directly or indirectly to improving sport performance. In my opinion Jeff is probably the leader right now in innovative biomechanical research dealing with strength training. If you have not attended one of his presentations (bring a calculator) or read his papers, you should. Jeff is active with the CESSCE both in research endeavors and is a regular contributor to our clinics and symposia.
I hope that anyone reading this, who is really interested in sport science, coaching and coach education, will take the time to get to know something about these people. You may never actually meet them, however, go to their presentations, listen to them and read their works. Rarely, in a person's lifetime will you meet more than two or three special people. I am very, very lucky in that I have worked with all of them and have gotten to know these people, know their capabilities, know what is in their hearts and can say again, without reservation - they are special, gifted far beyond most and I am lucky to have them as colleagues and more importantly as a friend.
Many of the people I written about (above) were my students - I would be quite remiss if I did not say a few words about the students I have been fortunate enough to be associated with over the years. While there are always a few that you would like to forget, on the whole I remember all of my students - they have helped immensely. We have a unique situation here at ETSU and we have an especially good and knowledgeable group of students; there is no doubt in my mind that many of them will go far in the world of sport science or anything else they chose. I would be equally remiss if I did n not mention the athlete's that I have coached over the years. They have included athletes in a number of sports from baseball to track and field, from developmental athletes, including juniors, to Olympians and have included athletes from several different countries. Most have been weightlifters and throwers. I remember them all and learned a great deal from my coaching experience. Indeed, I believe that all sport scientists should both compete and coach at some point in their career (or a least try to) as the insights gained into the problems facing coaches and athletes are invaluable. Although I have not named these students and athletes here, I am sure that I will be writing about many of them in the near future. I can truly say that without these people I would not be where I am today, would not be able to pursue sport science research and would not know most of what I know about sport, sport science and especially strength and conditioning.
MICHAEL H. STONE PHD,
FELUKSCA, ASCC, FNSCA
CENTER OF EXCELLENCE FOR SPORT SCIENCE AND
COACH EDUCATION (CESSCE)
Olympic Training Site Promo Video
Pretty awesome video for US Olympic Training sites.
(Note: This is another post from our archive. While Oscar Pistorius is no longer at his peak, the after-effects of his participation in London are still reverberating. This is still an interesting, and relevant, discussion.)
By Dr. Mike Stone & Dr. Bill Sands
There has been a great deal of recent discussion about the inclusion of Oscar Pistorius (Blade Runner) in the Olympic games – here are some questions that have come up in several e-mails and also at the recent ACSM - you might think about these:
1. Will the inclusion Pistorious damage the Para Olympics and Special Olympics and the other special Games for those with physical and mental challenges by encouraging such entrants to pass up them up for the mainstream or remove the “special” from special Olympics?
The “Special” Olympics is an event designed to serve mentally challenged children and adults. As such, I do not believe the Special Olympics are in danger of being overwhelmed by bioengineering. However, other events, such as a (lower case) special Olympics may indeed need to be inaugurated for those with physical challenges that can be enhanced via biomaterials, prostheses, robotics, and so forth. The current Paralympics already has considerable problems with classifying the myriad of physical disabilities in order to allow fair competition. A dwarf discus thrower is clearly at a disadvantage when compared to a “normal” size, lower extremity amputee who can use lower extremity prostheses. Arm length will likely establish an insurmountable obstacle for dwarfs who want to compete in the discus, or perhaps any throwing event. If memory serves, this is not a fictitious problem but one that actually happened at the Paralympics.
The ancient Olympic Games saw the use of performance enhancing substances (or at least, so they thought, strychnine, etc.), and the application of semi-sophisticated engineering to enhance specific event performances. For example, the ankyle in ancient Greece was used to enhance the throwing distance of the Olympic javelin and its cousin – the war spear (23), Murray, et al., in press. We now know that this leather strap actually worked, and increased throwing distance about 50%.
We also know that often the decisions of whether something is allowed or not is fairly capricious. The Fosbury Flop (Mexico, 1968) got in. The somersault long jump (Tom Ecker, Ron Galimore) did not. I understand the somersault long jump was not allowed because “it didn’t look like long jumping.” Although debated by scholars regarding techniques, halteres were used to enhance long jumping performance. If anyone is interested, I plan to study the technique of halteres as one of my first studies upon landing at ETSU. Dr. Murray can correct me, but I believe the scholarly/historical debate is whether the jump was running or standing, and if running, then how many steps.
I think I can say without hesitation that whatever happens, some person or persons will make money, have a conflict of interest, use little hard reasoning for the decision, and “special interests” will be involved.
The current Olympic Games are already “corrupted” by both money and a desire for national prestige. It is hard to draw a line between fair play and “otherwise-enhanced” play. The inclusion of professional athletes (i.e. those athletes who are paid to play their sport and make their living by such play) has already changed the face of the Games to such an extent that the original spirit of the Games has been almost completely lost. In the modern era, drugs were the tool of enhanced performance, but recent evidence indicates that countries simply “buy” athletes willing to change their citizenship (including the U.S. in several sports) and thereby create medal contending performances for their national prestige (1-15, 17, 18). Lying about age has occurred in gymnastics and the Chinese lost a medal and the U.S. team got a post hoc bronze (16, 19, 21, 22, 24-26). When drug use was rampant, especially among females, it was thought that female endurance athletes might surpass males. However, this never happened perhaps because of better drug testing (27). Although maybe stretching the idea of performance enhancers, even living and training at altitude has come under scrutiny (20). No “altitude tents” were allowed in Torino. The Italian government apparently passed a special law prohibiting them just for the Games. Thus, one faced criminal penalties for using them, not just IOC stuff.
2. Would physically challenged athletes with one blade now want their other leg removed so they would have two blades and run faster? (don’t laugh apparently it’s already happening)
I have also heard that this has been discussed, but whether anything has actually happened is hard to say. I would be surprised if any physician, worthy of the name, would conduct the amputation. “At least do no harm…”
3. Are the blades themselves "fair" against feet and legs of the other competitors? There has been discussion and research dealing with advantages of the blades dealing with the energy conservation and return – evidence indicates that he may not be able to accelerate as fast – but could sustain a high velocity for a longer time period.
Peter Bruggemann (I know through gymnastics, former and occasional national coach for women’s gymnastics in the former West Germany and later the re-unified Germany) apparently did the only study I know of with the “Cheetahs.” He indicated that Pistorius could run at the same speed as able-bodied runner using only 3/4s of the energy. As far as I know, no one has replicated the study, and no one has questioned the results. Bruggemann also indicated that there was an issue with acceleration, but I’ve never seen the study published. Like cold fusion, I believe the press got to it before anything could be reviewed. In Bruggemann’s defense, he is a top-drawer scientist and I personally trust him.
The issue of running “rhythm” is an important one, but usually seen only in quadrupeds. Many animals have to go through a walk, trot, canter, gallop sequence to rhythmically synchronize their legs prior to reaching top speed. I understand that it takes a Cheetah a little while to reach top speed, apparently getting legs synchronized and working most efficiently. However, cats don’t canter so I suspect getting to a gallop occurs more quickly.
As you probably already know, there have been studies of carbon fiber insoles (I have a box of them now at the ETSU Lab). We studied them at BYU with female T&F athletes and they appeared to work. At least one other has found similar results and some good rationale (28-31). Here’s another study for anyone interested. I have some insoles, and they looked promising. Unfortunately, they’re expensive (about $100 per pair), and you need different sizes. I had two stiffness types made. The least stiff was clearly the most popular and easiest on the feet.
Interestingly, I also found some runners (not all) got plantar fascitis relief when using them (at CMU).
4. If you believe the blades (other types of blades) are "fair" for running events, would "fairness" be retained if they were entered in the high jump or other more "springy" events? Would they be an "unfair" advantage in say, high hurtles as well?
If they’re allowed in one event, I’m not sure how one could justify excluding them from others. However, such a thought would probably result in outlawing them completely. I could see him running as an “exhibition.” I think the IOC could sell that and it would make a boatload of money whether he won or lost.
5. Could you “cheat “ by developing new more efficacious blades that are not IOC approved and sneak them into competition?
I talked to Craig Poole at length about this idea when we tested the carbon fiber insoles. I understand (according to Craig) in Sydney that the person who got the silver was wearing Adidas shoes with carbon fiber in the soles. However, he got beat by someone wearing Nikes. Nike went for aerodynamics and apparently Adidas later abandoned the idea. Unfortunately, I have no idea if any of this is true. Moreover, I asked Craig if anyone had ever “inspected” athletes’ shoes and his response was – never. Peter Vint did a study (very loosely defined) of volleyball players and jumping (females I think), and didn’t find anything. However, I think the study was so poorly done (not all Peter’s fault) that one could not really tell one way or another.
5. If Oscar ends up defeating the “non-challenged able bodied” entrants (the non bladed entrants), what do you believe will be the result of this and do you think it will result in a ban? Could there be court challenges as to the "fairness" of the entry?
I personally doubt he will be allowed to compete with the able bodied. However, as you know, stranger things have happened. Heck, there’s always Jerry Springer.
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Great video from youtube- very relevant to coaches.
(Note: We published this on our blog a few years back, but still frames some very important thoughts. We thought you would enjoy the read.)
Just Some Brief Thoughts About Recent Events
By Mike Stone, William Hornsby, Mike Ramsey, Dan Wathen, Brian Johnston, Meg Stone
Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education
As most of you are aware the University Iowa American football program has recently had problems stemming from the hospitalization of 13 members of the team (apparently mostly freshmen and sophomores).
This phenomena created the usual pursuit (especially be the media) for someone to blame. No doubt there are a number of coaches and medical personnel who will receive their share (fair or not). No doubt these personnel are searching for answers, and I am sure they are mulling over their own decisions about training that might have led to this event. Undoubtedly, without any prompting, although they will receive plenty, alterations will be made in initiation of training for the future.
However, while the fire is still hot, we will take a few moments of the reader’s time to give our own opinions as to where blame lies:
There is no particular order here – however we would argue that a major portion of the blame lies with the NCAA and other governing bodies for these reasons:
1. Over the past 30-40 years the number of training days allotted has steadily decreased – concomitantly the number of competition days has steadily increased; for example collegiate baseball now plays 56 games in 13 weeks. This was suppose to obviate poor decisions by coaches as to “training all the time” Instead it has allowed many (not all) athletes, to take considerable amounts of time off during the summer, at Christmas, spring break, fall break, thanksgiving, etc. - during this break time they eat more and train less (often not at all) ; they come back to practice/training fatter and out of shape for that sport.
The various rules put in place to limit training time are often not appreciated for their negative effects --- Often, soon after the break there is a competition, for example(s): collegiate volleyball competitions may occur two weeks after athletes return from summer break – thus the coach is faced with trying to get their athletes into “shape” in two weeks, which is not possible or logical – yet their job often depends upon winning each game. In collegiate track and field, training begins in September, and a great deal of effort is expended by athletes and coaches for “preparation” stage training and usually one indoor meet before Christmas break – so, much of the conditioning (not to mention event practice) is lost through de-conditioning across 3-4 weeks of break – then the athlete returns to school for a competition (and often travel) held the first week-end of their return. Obviously, the coach(s) is faced with how to deal with a de-conditioned (to various degrees) athlete in a very short amount of time.
2. NCAA and Athletic departments and academics all must share some of the blame for poor coaches educational programs.
One analogy that seems reasonable is that in many ways being a coach is a like being a medical doctor. A medical doctor must go to medical school, obtain a scientific background so that they can better practice the art of medicine. Logically, it makes sense that a good coach would go to school, obtain a science background and so that they could better practice the art of coaching.
Interestingly, most people in the USA would not send their children (or themselves) to a MD that did not attend (and become certified) medical school. Yet, we consistently do this and allow it to be done with coaches.
One might argue that coaching, especially strength and conditioning, coaching is in a similar state to that of medical education before the advent of the Flexner report of 1910 (Carnegie Foundation Bulletin Number Four). When Flexner compiled his report, many USA and Canadian medical schools were "proprietary", essentially small trade schools owned by one or more doctors, unaffiliated with a college or university, and awarded a degree or certification to primarily to make a profit. A degree was typically awarded after only two years of study. Laboratory work and dissection were not necessarily required. Many of the instructors were local doctors teaching part-time, whose own training left something to be desired. The regulation of the medical profession by state government was minimal or nonexistent. “Physicians” varied substantially in their scientific understanding of medicine, human physiology or pharmacology. There is no evidence that the majority of 1910 Americans were aware of the situation or were dissatisfied with this situation. As a result congress, state and local governments enacted legislation altering medical education. The consequences of this report include some very positive (but some negative) results.
A physician must receive at least six, and preferably eight, years of post-secondary formal instruction, in a university setting;
It can be argued that athletic trainers went through a similar process in the 1950’s – resulting in the NATA and certification. Think about this in terms of today’s coaches, particularly S and C coaches – hopefully we can move toward better education, perhaps certification and greater respect from other professionals.
Consider the following - at present:
· The NCAA has no real educational standards for coaches, particularly as it concerns the strength coaches
· Athletic departments have no real standards for coaches including S &C coach, nor do athletic departments strongly promote coaches education
· Most academic (college and University) related programs, leading to a degree, are based on participation not performance and are generally devoid of classes dealing with the training process, use of monitoring programs, appropriate strength and conditioning practices or how to interface with sport science/sport medicine.
3. Sports Science – hardly any in the USA – there are many Exercise Science/Wellness programs in the USA, there are a few exercise scientists that have done some exercise science with teams from time to time, there are few real sport scientists in the USA (See: What is Sport Science? – www.sportscienceed.com).
4. Sport Medicine – while the sport medicine group has done well at becoming a true profession and performs an invaluable service to sport – one must question some of the practices employed:
1. because of the professional nature of sport medicine (e.g. medical doctors and NATA certified staff) the sport medicine staff are able to “overrule “coaches on training/practice procedures – while this may have many beneficial effects – it is not always in the athletes’ best interest. This assumes that the sport medical staff has a good knowledge of training practices and the training process, which is usually not the case for example:
a. although dying out – the erroneous idea that squats are bad for your knees
b. blaming the weight room for everything – for example – a hand injury becomes a total ban on lifting weights
c. adding in rehabilitation exercises without telling the S and C coach – which alters the “prescription” for training, increases injury potential and may interfere with training adaptation (i.e. adding in endurance activities to strength-power athletes’ training)
d. assuming that the sport coaches and particularly the S and C coach are poorly educated and trained – while this is often true it is not universal (e.g. – not recognizing that the S and C coach may have a reasonable level of education knowledge and experience dealing more directly with the training process)
the above is by no means always the case – however, in observing and discussing issues with AT’s and coaches over the years these problems (a – d) do appear to be commonly encountered.
5. Some of the blame must ride on the shoulders of strength and conditioning who have allowed their profession to be taken over by the sports coach or the sports medicine department. We would argue this stems from:
a. the S and C coach may indeed be poorly educated. This may be partially related to # 2 above. The university based coaches program they received a degree form may not have contained the necessary ingredients to give them a sound education.
b. Many (perhaps most) coaches do not have a degree in physical education, exercise physiology, sport science or anything related. Indeed, they strongly believe that they can learn on the job through “paying their dues” and simply gaining experience. While experience is necessary – it cannot take the place of a sound science background – see number one above.
c. Even for those coaches, especially for S and C coaches, the current environment in sport is that the head coach has the final word on everything (except participating with severe injury). Indeed the S and c coach is looked upon as a service provider rather than a professional. For example: the head coach (or an assistant) makes poor decisions dealing with training of athletes that likely will increase injury or overtraining potential – the strength coach recognizes this but is powerless to alter the course of events.
The S and C coach must bear some responsibility for allowing this to happen. In some cases the s and c coach is well educated, has served their dues, and does in fact understand the training process, better than other coaches and better than the sport medicine staff – they understand the potential consequences of allowing the poor training practice to precede –but it still takes place, often with poor outcomes.
An interesting dilemma, the S and C coach knows better, by allowing the poor training practice to proceed they are sanctioning the activity – however, if they speak up they rarely are heard, not taken seriously by the coaching staff or the Athletic Department and often get blamed for the poor outcome??
Hopefully, the reader will think about what has been presented in this short paper.
Information on the Flexnor Report was modified from Wikipedia and Medicinenet.com
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