The Psychology Of Words And The Young Athlete

The Psychology Of Words And The Young Athlete

Young athletes live in a pretty strange world. So many adults saying things to them but no one really communicating. Its hard enough for them to decipher one adult's vague instructions but then have to blend the mixed messages of parents and coaches.  

Ken Taylor, former NFL cornerback for the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears, has been working with young athletes for over 20 years, specifically on making them faster. 

Ken and I have been discussing the cognitive side of training athletes and he agrees that coaches and parents need to better understand how a 8-18 year old brain learns new sport skills.

In this approved excerpt from Ken's terrific book, “You Just Can’t Teach That, Or Can You?", he encourages coaches to be specific with their instructions.  

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See The Game Through The Eyes Of The Quarterback

Going into the start of football season, there is plenty of expert commentary on what makes up the “right stuff” when evaluating quarterbacks. Everything from arm strength to height to foot skills to the size of their hands was measured and dissected to find the magic combination of variables. While the body mechanics of delivering a football on target are vital, QBs rely even more on their vision both before and after the ball is snapped.

It’s not just knowing where and when to look at an opposing defense but also understanding what to look for across the line. Defensive players are taught to “read the eyes” of the quarterback to gain clues to the play call. Coaches ask their QBs, “What are you seeing out there?” or “Where were you looking on that play?” Now, with the help of an innovative helmet cam, coaches, players and maybe even fans can get behind the mask and get answers to those questions.

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Why NFL Combine Results For Jadeveon Clowney And Johnny Manziel Don't Matter

With the Olympics over and the NBA and NHL not yet into playoff mode, the NFL knows its fans need a shot of football in late winter. To prepare us (and the team general managers and coaches) for the NFL Draft in early May, 300 of the best college football players visited Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last week for the annual NFL Scouting Combine.

While there are specific drills that the players go through for each position, it is the six workout drills, testing strength, agility, jumping and speed, that generate the most TV coverage and conversation.  However, sport science researchers keep putting out study after study that shows that not only are the six tests redundant but that they also have little correlation to actual NFL performance, making them poor predictors for success

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Mirror Neurons Help You Avoid Broken Ankles

Across just about every team sport, young defenders are coached how to read an opponent’s body cues to avoid being caught out of position.  Whether in hockey, basketball, soccer or football, if a player can learn to focus on a consistent center point, like the chest, he can take away the offensive attacker’s element of surprise.  As with most skills, this takes time to master, but new research shows that experience does matter.

Watching players develop in practice and games offers a subjective view of their learning curve, but what would put any doubt to rest would be to actually peer inside their brains to monitor their progress.  That’s exactly what sports psychologist Dan Bishop did in his lab at the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in London.

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Balancing The Running Back's Brain

One of Associate Head Coach Burton Burns’ favorite drills for his University of Alabama running backs has them hopping over pads with both feet, teaching his players balance and more importantly how to recover from a stumble. 

One of his many star students was Trent Richardson, who liked the drill. “Even my freshman year when we were against North Texas and I had a long run and I could feel it near the end, someone just hit my feet,” Richardson told “We get our feet up, it's better for us to keep our balance.” 

As you watch the video of the drill below, notice the stumbles after the second or third hurdle. Their brain engages in some fast calculations to sense the pending fall and sends signals out to the limbs to adjust for the unexpected body position. How exactly our brain senses a balance problem and how quickly we can adjust are the questions of two new research studies at McGill University and the University of Michigan.

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What Happens When Johnny Manziel Sleeps Late

Last month, Johnny Manziel, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Texas A&M, made news when he was asked to leave the Manning Passing Academy after he missed a morning meeting and practice.  In his role as a coach/counselor to the future QBs at the camp, he was helping teach the fundamental movements and technique of the position.  

His reason for his absence? “I just overslept”. While some in the media have suggeste other reasons for his “tiredness”, new research reveals that all that sleep may have actually helped him improve his own motor skills for the new season.

Researchers have known for awhile that we all need sleep, not only for rejuvenation, but also to help us consolidate and organize new information and allow the day’s learning to solidify in our brains.  This is especially true for motor tasks, including everything from playing a complicated piano piece to riding a bike to throwing a tight spiral twenty yards down field.

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Muscle Memory Is Real And Can Help Your Game

You’ll hear the same thing over and over on high school and college football fields this month. “We just have to get our reps in.” “Time to knock the rust off and find our rhythm.” “Its all about timing and getting everyone in sync.”  
The common theme for players is trying to increase the efficiency of their thinking and their movements, better known as muscle memory.  By repeating the same motions and plays, practice may not become perfect but it certainly will improve.  Now, neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found that brains actually do become more energy efficient after numerous repetitions by decreasing the electrical activity between neurons.

Unlike its meaning in strength conditioning, muscle memory in skill development is also referred to as motor learning.  By stringing together an entire series of micro movements, whether it be a QB throwing a back shoulder pass or a linebacker executing an open field tackle, the recipe for the whole process becomes a procedural memory stored, obviously, in the brain not the muscles.  Located in the brain’s primary motor cortex, this neural network has been shown to decrease in activity as athletes go through the learning process as it finds the most economical connection pathways between neurons.
Neuroscientist Peter Strick, professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Pitt School of Medicine, wondered if this decline in metabolic activity coincided with a decrease in the number of neurons firing.  He and his research team trained monkeys to do two tasks, one where they had to learn to anticipate a point appearing on a screen and one where they had to learn a short sequence of movements without any visual cues.  The second task simulated a motor learning experience where they had to string together a complete movement, like throwing a bullet into double coverage.
They found that the level of neuron firing was the same with both tasks but the metabolic or connection activity required was lower for the internally remembered task.  The research was just published in Nature Neuroscience.
“This tells us that practicing a skilled movement and the development of expertise leads to more efficient generation of neuron activity in the primary motor cortex to produce the movement. The increase in efficiency could be created by a number of factors such as more effective synapses, greater synchrony in inputs and more finely tuned inputs,” Dr. Strick noted. “What is really important is that our results indicate that practice changes the primary motor cortex so that it can become an important substrate for the storage of motor skills. Thus, the motor cortex is adaptable, or plastic.”
So, those endless drills and repetition really do physically change the structure of the brain.  Getting football movements installed as muscle memory lets the player perform them automatically without thinking about each movement component.
To continue with mental reps even after the two a day practices end, many young QBs are turning to cognitive training tools, like the Axon QB app for iPad.  The sooner the better before the season starts.

How Football Players React To Sound On The Field

Russell Wilson
For as much as we hear about the importance of vision on the football field, there are quite a few phrases emphasizing the sounds of the game, such as “he heard footsteps coming”, “listen for the audible at the line”, “play until you hear the whistle” and even the backhanded compliment to the ears, “he has eyes in the back of his head.”

Listening is a skill to be exploited for better anticipation, reactions and decision-making.  Now, neuroscience researchers have filled in some missing details of how we actually use the sounds around us to instantly direct our muscles to take action.

To appreciate the benefit of listening during a game, NFL Films mic'd up the Seahawks' QB Russell Wilson in week 17 last season.  As you watch (and listen) to the video below, focus your ears on the verbal communications and noisy environment on the sidelines, in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.  A player's auditory processing must be just as active as his visual sense.

So, how do our brains take in all of those sound waves, separate the signal from the noise and then instantly make decisions on how our muscles should react?  Neuroscientists have been working on the missing link in the middle. “We know that sound is coming into the ear; and we know what's coming out in the end -- a decision," said Anthony Zador, biology professor and program chair at Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory.
From past research, we know that sounds we hear travel through our ears to the auditory cortex part of our brain.  Here they are translated into electrical impulses known as representations. From there, no one was sure how these representations mix with other input, knowledge and goals already in our brain to become specific reactive movements.
Last year, Zador and Dr. Petr Znamenskiy trained lab rats to listen to a sound and then make a decision to turn and run right if they heard a high pitch sound but to go left for a low pitch sound.  By observing the neuron pattern of the rats, they discovered that the sequence from hearing to muscle movement takes a different path than expected.
"It turns out the information passes through a particular subset of neurons in the auditory cortex whose axons wind up in another part of the brain, called the striatum," said Zador.  They found that only a few of the neurons send information to the striatum, known primarily for planning movement.
“The neurons registering 'high' and 'low' are represented by a specialized subset of neurons in their local area, which we might liken to members of Congress or the Electoral College,” commented Zador. “These in turn transmit the votes of the larger population to the place -- in this case the auditory striatum -- in which decisions are made and actions are taken."
Their research just appeared in the journal Nature.
Here’s Zador describing the overall process of turning hearing into action:

As much as players study film, there are opportunities to introduce the sounds of the game into their training. Both understanding verbal communications and sensing environmental sounds contribute to on-field success.  It starts by closing the eyes and listening to the game.

Vision Research Gives Clues How Receivers Survive NFL Combine Drills

Dee Milliner
One of the most challenging and entertaining workout drills at this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is the Gauntlet Drill for wide receivers and tight ends.  Whether or not it relates to real NFL success is debated but it does provide a true test of hand-eye coordination and the ability to change focus while on the move.
Obviously, being able to instantly pick up the flight of a thrown football is key for receivers but also is important for defensive backs who need to turn their heads at the last moment to find a pass.  Now, vision researchers at Tübingen University in Germany have shown that humans actually use extremely small eye movements, called microsaccades, to achieve what’s more commonly known as peripheral vision.

In this NFL video, uber-analyst Mike Mayock provides a great overview of the Gauntlet Drill.  Receivers run straight down a yard line while receiving a series of passes from alternating sides.  The key is to change your focus quickly on the fly.
Here's Florida State's Rodney Smith completing the drill at the 2013 Combine.

As a player takes in the field with his vision, it appears to him as a smooth scan of the environment.  In reality, humans make quick, darting glances, called saccades, at different targets.  Its like our eyes see a movie shot at 3 frames a second while our brain perceives a scene at 30 frames per second.
In between these longer saccades are millisecond movements, microsaccades, that are believed to help the brain fill in missing information from the scene and prepare the eyes for an upcoming shift in focus.
"Microsaccades are sort of enigmatic," said Ziad Hafed, the leader of the Physiology of Active Vision Group. “They are movements of the eye which occur at exactly the moment when we are trying to look at something steadily -- i.e., when we are trying to prevent our eyes from moving.”
In the video link below (click to play), from his lab, you can see the microsaccades when the blue focus point changes from blue to red, while the test volunteer tries to keep their eyes fixed on the crosshair.

In describing how our vision and brain work together, Hafed used a soccer analogy. "Imagine that you are the coach of a (soccer) team," Hafed said. "You would normally ask your defenders to spread out across the field in order to provide good coverage during match play. However, in preparation for an upcoming corner kick by your opposing team, you would reorganize your defenders, assigning two of them to become temporary goalkeepers and protect the goal. What I found was evidence for a similar strategy in the visual brain before microsaccades.”
Late last year, Hafed’s research group found that microsaccades actually assist with peripheral vision or the perceived ability to look at two different things at once.  He asked test volunteers to focus on a small cursor on a computer screen while he measured their eye movements with a camera pointed at their retinas.  Then, he added another target off to the right or left of the cursor and measured the microsaccades that occurred immediately before the shift of focus, much like the driver’s vision test we take where we are asked if we see a blinking light on our right or left side of our vision field.
By analyzing the timing of the microsaccades with the correct answers of the volunteers, Hafed realized there was a purpose for these tiny eye movements to prep the brain for the next shift of focus.
The study appears in the latest issue of Neuron.
Back to our football catching drill, when the receivers turn their head while running, their first focus may be on the quarterback but then the in-flight ball appears in the periphery and their next saccade is towards the ball.  Athletic eyes that have been well trained by practice and vision drills will outperform those with less agile vision.  While fast 40-yard dash times and soft hands are important to a receiver, their visual system performance should not be overlooked.
Check out the Axon Sports iPad app that players are training with at the Combine this year.

Spatial Awareness On The Football Field

It’s too bad the Atlanta Falcons won’t be in this year’s Super Bowl. We will miss out on seeing one of the most acrobatic young receivers, Julio Jones, as well as a future, first-ballot Hall of Fame tight end, Tony Gonzalez.  During their run through the playoffs, each made highlight reel catches (see below) that demonstrated their world-class sense of proprioception, defined as our unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation.

The best example of this is executing the “toe-tap” reception, where a receiver, at full speed, is able to turn his head to catch the ball then get both feet to land in-bounds, often only the tips of his toes.  The entire process only takes a split second, certainly not enough time for conscious thought and planning.  Its an unconscious reaction skill that comes from years of honing our spatial awareness.  According to cognitive researchers, three types of brain cells give us this internal GPS, head direction cells, place cells and grid cells.

Jeffrey Taube, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth, has been studying our sense of direction and location. “Knowing what direction you are facing, where you are, and how to navigate are really fundamental to your survival,” said Taube.

In his research, he has found there are head direction cells, located in the thalamus, that act as a compass needle tracking the direction our head is currently facing.  At the same time, in the hippocampus, place cells determine and track our location relative to landmarks in the environment, say the football field sideline or the end zone.  These two sets of cells communicate with each other to guide our movement.

“They put that information together to give you an overall sense of ‘here,’ location wise and direction wise,” Taube explained. “That is the first ingredient for being able to ask the question, ‘How am I going to get to point B if I am at point A?’ It is the starting point on the cognitive map.”

Neil Burgess adds one more set of cells to the equation, grid cells.  As a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, he studies how these cells and their electrical activity helps us navigate through our world. While a place cell helps us know where we are right now, grid cells provide a map of the whole environment, similar to the longitude and latitude of real maps, only in triangular patterns.

In his recent TED talk, he explains experiments conducted in his lab on a rat’s ability to navigate its space.

So, years of practice catching balls at hundreds of locations across a football field could be establishing this set of grid cells in the brain. This mental topography combines with the direction we’re facing, head direction cells, and our current location on the field, place cells, to instruct what our bodies should do at the moment of the catch.

Of course, sometimes this system breaks down and we lose our sense of direction.  Just ask Kent State linebacker Andre Parker.  In a game last fall (see below), he ran down field and picked up a muffed punt, then proceeded to run it back the wrong way towards his own end zone.  After 58 yards, players on the other team, surprisingly, chased him down and tackled him.  Somewhere along the way, his head direction cells, place cells and grid cells all misfired.  Don’t worry Andre, I do that in the mall all the time.

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The Next Madden Game Frontier?

(Graphic courtesy of Oregon State University)
For all of you Madden 12 junkies out there, I've got a new post over at Axon Potential on some current artificial intelligence research being done at Oregon State University.  They are attempting to teach a computer system to watch an OSU football game and be able to identify, categorize and then suggest plays in a football simulation.

Certainly a tall order, even for some humans, but they've had some initial success with a small playbook of twenty passing plays.

According to the lead researcher, “This is one of the first attempts to put several systems together and let a computer see something in the visual world, study it and then learn how to control it,” said Alan Fern, an associate professor of computer science at OSU. “Football actually makes a pretty good test bed, because it’s much more complicated than you might think both visually and strategically, but also takes place in a structured setting. This makes it quite analogous to other potential applications.”

It seems the developers at EA Sports may have a head start on play selection AI, based on my poor record against the Madden gods.

Thanks for making the jump to Axon Potential to read the rest of the story.

Helmet Reveals Data About High School Football Player's Broken Neck

Click image to hear Prof. Broglio talk about HITS (courtesy the crowd watching an Illinois high school football game last fall, it was a sickening feeling watching one of their Unity Rockets' cornerbacks collapse to the ground after delivering a heads-down tackle on an opposing running back (see video here.) 

For Steven Broglio, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan, it was a mixed feeling of concern and curiosity as to the extent of the injury.  Since 2007, Broglio has been collecting data on the violent collisions that occur in high school football and their contribution to concussions and other head injuries.

Unity players use helmets with padded sensors called the Head Impact Telemetry System.
Using a sensor similar to what is used in car air bags, the HITS helmets record and transmit the magnitude of each impact and its location on the helmet to a computer located on the sideline within about 10-20 seconds.  Broglio is able to monitor these collisions and alert the coaching staff if an impact exceeds the threshold known to cause concussions, about 90-100 g-force. Listen to Broglio describe the HITS research.

In the last four years, Broglio has recorded over 120,000 football collisions with 25 resulting in a concussion for the player.  However, on this night, he would record data on a much more rare injury - a broken neck.  After briefly losing consciousness on the field, the Unity cornerback was taken to a hospital emergency room and was diagnosed with a concussion and a stable left C6 facet fracture, otherwise known as a broken neck.  Data from the collision showed the hit occurred at the top right side of the helmet at a amazing 114 g-force.  Just for comparison, a shuttle launch is about 3 g-force while a rolling fighter pilot sustains about 5-10 g-force.

Thankfully, the player was released from the hospital 48 hours later with a hard neck collar.  While his football season was over, he returned to play basketball twelve weeks later.

Broglio describes the encounter in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

The goal of the research is to perfect the technology so that similar, less expensive systems can be used on many more football sidelines.  Broglio said a number of other researchers at universities across the nation, including Virginia Tech, the University of North Carolina and Dartmouth, also are using the system as the basis for studies of biomechanical processes caused by concussions and traumatic brain injuries. The current system has a price tag of about $60,000 while the customization to each helmet costs an additional $1,000.  "Ultimately, we're trying to use these measures to predict concussion," Broglio said. "If someone exceeds a certain level then we would know they have a concussion and we could pull them."

With the recent attention to concussions at the NFL level, there is hope that research will also benefit high school and college players. "To us, the larger public health issue is with the 1.5 million high school kids that play football each year. Not the 1,500 that play in the NFL," Broglio said.

Related Articles: New Return-To-Play Guidelines For Sports Concussions and NFL Concussions Taking Bigger Toll On Players

NFL Concussions Taking Bigger Toll On Players

NFL players with concussions now stay away from the game significantly longer than they did in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to research in Sports Health (owned by American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and published by SAGE). The mean days lost with concussion increased from 1.92 days during 1996-2001 to 4.73 days during 2002-2007.

In an effort to discover whether concussion injury occurrence and treatment had changed, researchers compared those two consecutive six-year periods to determine the circumstances of the injury, the patterns of symptoms, and a player's time lost from NFL participation. Those time periods were chosen because concussion statistics were recorded by NFL teams using the same standardized form. It recorded player position, type of play, concussion signs and symptoms, loss of consciousness and medical action taken.

Researchers found that in 2002-2007 there were fewer documented concussions per NFL game overall, especially among quarterbacks and wide receivers. But there was a significant increase in concussions among tight ends. Symptoms most frequently reported included headaches, dizziness, and problems with information processing and recall.

Significantly fewer concussed players returned to the same game in 2002-2007 than in 1996-2001 and 8% fewer players returned to play in less than a week. That number jumped to 25% for those players who lost consciousness as a result of the injury.

"There are a number of possible explanations for the decrease in percentages of players returning to play immediately and returning to play on the day of the injury as well as the increased days out after (a concussion) during the recent six year period compared to the first six year period," write authors Ira R. Casson, M.D.; David C. Viano, Dr. med.; Ph.D., John W. Powell, Ph.D.; and Elliot J. Pellman, M.D. "These include the possibility of increased concussion severity, increased player willingness to report symptoms to medical staff, adoption of a more cautious conservative approach to concussion management by team medical personnel and a possible effect of changes in neuropsychological (NP) testing."

Source:  SAGE Publications and I. R. Casson, D. C. Viano, J. W. Powell, E. J. Pellman. Twelve Years of National Football League Concussion Data. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 2010; DOI: 10.1177/1941738110383963

See also: Football Players May Still Injure Brain Even Without A Concussion and Youth Sports Concussions Double In Last Ten Years

The Dangers Of Heat Stroke In Sports

In January, first-year Kentucky high school football coach David Jason Stinson pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless homicide in the death of Max Gilpin, a 15-year-old offensive lineman. Gilpin collapsed Aug. 20 while running sprints with the team on a day when the heat index reached 94 degrees.

Last week, Stinson pleaded the fifth amendment and did not answer questions in the civil court case against him, while his criminal case is pending.  The case could signal a landmark shift in the expectation for how coaches deal with struggling players on a hot day.

Gilpin's body temperature was 107 degrees when he reached the hospital and he died three days later from heat stroke. The risks of heat-related diseases to athletes, both young and old, are always present but the warning signs are often hidden.

Since 1995, 33 football players have died from heat stroke, according to an annual report from the University of North Carolina. Frederick O. Mueller, professor of exercise and sports science at UNC and the author of the report, calls the figure unacceptable.
"There's no excuse for any number of heat stroke deaths, since they are all preventable with the proper precautions," Mueller said.

Wake-up call
The wake-up call has been delivered to all coaches. They must be able to recognize a struggling player and resist the assumption that they're just being lazy. Dave Stengel, the prosecuting attorney in the Stinson case, described the coach's responsibility: "This is not about football. This is not about coaches," he said. "It's about a trained adult who was in charge of the health and welfare of a child."

Heat stroke is the most serious of the four levels of heat illness. Progressing from dehydration to heat cramps to heat exhaustion without intervention may lead to heat stroke where the core body temperature exceeds 104 degrees.

Since the common symptoms (nausea, incoherence, fatigue, weakness, vomiting, muscle cramps) of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are similar, it can be hard to tell when a player has crossed that dangerous line. That is why most medical professionals recommend a proactive approach to playing in the heat. Slow acclimation to the heat over several days, planned and regular water breaks, and reduced activity when the heat index rises will help prevent problems.

The National Athletic Trainers Association has published guidelines for parents and coaches to follow.

What happens
In a 2008 study, researchers explored the complex interactions in the human body when subjected to high heat and high levels of physical activity. José González-Alonso, Professor of Sport and Exercise Physiology at Brunel University, and his team looked at the competing demands for blood flow that heat and exercise cause and the physiological breakdown that eventually occurs.

Our bodies actually gain heat from both the environment and our own muscle movement. When the air temperature is greater than our skin temperature, heat will be transferred into our body. When we exercise, our contracting muscles also produce heat. In fact, about 75 percent of the energy expended is lost to heat rather than power.

To cool ourselves down, two processes must take place: increased blood flow to the skin, and sweating.
The evaporation of sweat to the air pulls heat away from the body. One kilogram of sweat evaporated from the skin will remove 580 kilocalories of heat from the body. If fluids are not replenished by drinking water, the sweating process slows down and the core body temperature rises.

Effects on body and brain
When running sprints on a football field in the heat, a player's heart needs to do double-duty; pumping blood to his muscles and to the skin. González-Alonso found that the heart will serve the metabolic demands of the muscles first, allowing the skin blood flow to diminish, which raises body temperature.  The study also found that fatigue is not a result of tired muscles, but rather from an increase in brain temperature.

As a safety valve, the brain sends signals of fatigue that lower our drive to keep going. If forced to continue by an over demanding coach, the downward spiral will continue. If the player does collapse, immediate attention is the key to survival.

"If you cool someone right away, on site, they don't die - period," said Dr. Doug Casa of the University of Connecticut and a national leader in heat-stroke prevention. "The key to surviving heat stroke is getting your temperature (down) to approximately 104 in about 20 minutes."

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NFL Linemen Trade Health For Super Bowl Rings

When the Arizona Cardinals met the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, every starting offensive lineman was a member of the 300-pound club.

This season, there were more than 600 players — about 20 percent of the league — in triple donuts. Even with 6-foot plus heights, their Body Mass Index (BMI) levels are all in the range of grade 2 obesity, one step below what's called morbid obesity.

This super-sizing of NFL players has accelerated in recent years, and some studies suggest health risks are growing. But studies are conflicting on this point.

And the big question on the minds of coaches and owners: Do heavier players mean more wins? No, says one NFL executive.

Strong vs. fat
The trend towards the ever-expanding football player, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, has accelerated over the last 20 years. From 1920-1984 no more than eight players in the league were over 300 pounds.

The motivation to be bigger comes from the perceived advantages on the field. When Nick Saban, now head coach at Alabama, was drafting players for the Miami Dolphins, he said: "I always say it this way: They have weight classes in boxing for a reason. The heavyweights don't fight the lightweights. What's the reason for that? Because if a big guy is just as good as a little guy, the little guy doesn't have much of a chance."

BMI is a measure of obesity based on a height to weight ratio. Often the apparently risky BMI of large athletes is dismissed because of the percentage of muscle included in their mass. The question becomes whether "big and strong" is any less dangerous than "big and fat."

Last year, Mayo Clinic researchers studied the cardiovascular health of 233 retired NFL players, aged 35-65. They found that in players less than 50 years old, 82 percent had either plaque or carotid narrowing of their arteries greater than the 75th percentile of the population, adjusted for age, sex and race. This condition could lead to a restriction of blood flow causing a heart attack or stroke.

Conflicting results emerged from a University of Texas study later in the year. They compared the health of 201 former NFL players and compared them with the population-based Dallas Heart Study and the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Compared to the control group of men, retired players had a significantly lower prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, sedentary lifestyles and metabolic syndrome.

"Despite their large body size, retired NFL players do not have a greater prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors nor CAC than community controls," Alice Y. Chang, lead author and assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. "Age and high cholesterol levels, not body size, were the most significant predictors of sub-clinical coronary atherosclerosis among retired NFL players."

Does it matter?
Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University, recently released a study focused specifically on players with metabolic syndrome. This condition is characterized by a group of symptoms that include excess fat in the abdominal area, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and elevated levels of triglyceride. Having one or more of these symptoms increases the risk of future heart disease or attacks.

Buell's study measured these factors in 70 current college football linemen. Thirty-four players had at least three risk factors, while eight had four and one had all five risk factors.
"We understand these athletes want to be big, but they can't assume all their weight gain is lean mass just because they're lifting weights and taking protein supplements," Buell said. "The bottom line is we're seeing more and more abdominal obesity. And these findings show that athletes aren't necessarily off the hook when it comes to health risks."

Are the potential health problems worth the risk of garnering a Super Bowl ring?
Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian recently asked that very question to help his NFL draft planning. He compared the winning percentages with the average weight of NFL teams over a recent ten year period. "We found higher weight had no bearing on winning — none," Polian said. "There was a lot of noise about 'big is the answer.' We tested it. It's not valid."

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Why Pro Athletes Attract Trouble

From the "athletes behaving badly" department (in the past month, anyway):
•    NHL bad boy (Sean Avery) was suspended for six games for a crude remark.
•    Six NFL players were suspended for allegedly violating the league's drug policy.
•    Another NFL player (Adam "Pacman" Jones) returned to his team's roster after being suspended, again, for an off-field altercation.
•    Oh, and NFL receiver (Plaxico Burress) accidentally shot himself in a nightclub with a gun he was not licensed to carry. 

Despite the 24/7 media coverage of each of these incidents, sports fans have become accustomed to and somewhat complacent with hearing about athletes and their deviant acts.
In fact, new statistics reveal that bad behavior is clearly evident among high school athletes, particularly in high-contact sports.

It starts young
Besides the highly publicized stories, there are thousands more across the nation involving amateur athletes taking risks both on and off the field. From performance-enhancing supplements to referee/official abuse to fights, guns and recorded crimes, the image of sports as a positive influence on athletes may need a second look.

Granted, in a population of any size there will be a few bad apples. However, these actions have become so prevalent that academic researchers have created a branch of study called "deviance in sports" attached to the sports sociology tree. 

They are asking questions and challenging some assumptions about cause and effect. Is there a connection between sports participation and deviance? Does the intense competition and battle on the field shape a player's off-the-field lifestyle? Since success in sports brings attention and prestige to athletes, does the risk of losing that status cause a need to take risks to maintain their "top dog" positions?

In their new book, "Deviance and Social Control in Sport," researchers Michael Atkinson and Kevin Young emphasize the confusing environment surrounding athletes. They describe two types of deviance: wanted and unwanted.

Owners, players and fans may know that certain behaviors are literally against the rules but are at the same time appreciated as a sign of doing whatever it takes to win.  Performance-enhancing drugs are not allowed in most sports, but athletes assume they will improve their performance, which helps their team win and keeps fans happy. Fights in hockey will be, according to the rule book, penalized, but this deviance is assumed to be wanted by fans and teammates as a sign of loyalty.

However, related bad behavior can quickly turn on a player to being socially unwanted. 

Abuse of drugs that don't contribute to a win, (marijuana, cocaine, alcohol), will transform that same player into a villain with shock and outrage being reported in the media. In the Sean Avery example, a hockey player fighting to defend his teammates on the ice can then be suspended from the team and criticized by those same teammates for an off-color remark.

Real statistics
Most athletes who make it to the professional level have been involved in sports since youth. Sports sociologists and psychologists often look at the early development years of athletes to get a glimpse of patterns, social norms and influences that contribute to later behaviors.

In a recent American Sociological Review article, Derek Kreager, assistant professor of sociology at Penn State University, challenged the long-held belief that youth sports participation is exclusively beneficial to their moral character development. 

With the focus on teaching teamwork, fair play, and self esteem, sports are often cited as the antidote to delinquency. But Kreager notes that other studies have looked at the culture that surrounds high school and college athletes and identified patterns of clichés, privileges and attitudes of superiority. For some athletes, these patterns are used to justify deviant behavior.

In fact, his most recent research attempted to find a cause-and-effect link between deviant behavior and specific sports. Specifically, he asked if high-contact, physical sports like football and wrestling created athletes who were more prone to violent behavior off the field.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, more than 6,000 male students from across 120 schools were included. The data set included a wide collection of socioeconomic information, including school activities, risk behaviors and at-home influences. Kreager's study analyzed the effects of three team sports (football, basketball, and baseball) and two individual sports (wrestling and tennis) on the likelihood of violent off-field behavior, specifically, fighting.

To isolate the effect of each sport, the study included control groups of non-athletes and those that had a history of physical violence prior to playing sports. 

For team sports, football players were 40 percent more likely to be in a confrontation than non-athletes. In individual sports, wrestlers were in fights 45 percent more often, while tennis players were 35 percent less likely to be in an altercation. Basketball and baseball players showed no significant bias either way.

"Sports such as football, basketball, and baseball provide players with a certain status in society," Kreager said. "But football and wrestling are associated with violent behavior because both sports involve some physical domination of the opponent, which is rewarded by the fans, coaches and other players. Players are encouraged to be violent outside the sport because they are rewarded for being violent inside it."

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Inside The BCS Computer Ranking Black Box

As the new President-elect, Barack Obama faces one of this country's most vexing problems.

Obama has promised the American public that he will bring change to a stagnant system that is controlled by a few wealthy men that control the millions of dollars at stake.  Last month, during his first "60 Minutes" interview, Obama elaborated on his plans: “Eight teams. That would be three rounds to determine a national champion. I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it’s the right thing to do.” That’s right, fixing the college football post-season is on the national agenda.

Prior to 1998, the collective wisdom of football coaches and sportswriters decided the fate of college teams by ranking them in two weekly polls, with the final lists deciding the season's champion. This led to problems when the media poll did not agree with the coaches poll, and dual champions would have to be named.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created to finally provide a national championship game so that at least the No. 1 and the No. 2 ranked teams could play each other at the end of the season.

Of course, working backwards, how are we sure that the two teams selected are indeed the No. 1 and No. 2 teams? Should we fall back on the polls or should we use the other four BCS bowl games to provide an eight team playoff, as our next president suggests?

Since the playoff system seems to be an uphill battle, let's focus on the current BCS polling solution and why it has so many doubters.

The weekly BCS rankings consist of three components: the Harris Interactive poll (114 writers); the USA Today coaches poll (60 coaches); and the infamous "computer" rankings (6 independent systems averaged together). Each component counts for one third of the total, with the average point value of all three determining the rankings from 1 to 25.

The human polls are self-explanatory but come with an opportunity for bias among writers and coaches, as well as varying methods of ranking. This uncertainty and frequent lack of logic helped support the use of automated ranking models. Just feed in the data from previous games and have the rankings derived according to the embedded algorithm. Human emotion and bias are eliminated, but the focus is now on the correctness of the model.

Unfortunately, of the six models used by the BCS, only one, by astrophysicist Wesley Colley, provides all of the mathematical details, while the other five claim proprietary rights and keep their methods shrouded.

In a Nov. 19 interview with the Birmingham News, BCS administrator Bill Hancock admitted, "We don't have the formulas and that's by design. The commissioners are not in the computer business and don't want to be. But on the other hand, they want to know that the computer rankings they hire are the best they can be. Because we're hiring the service, we don't have any control over the math."
Even the coaches are in the dark. "I don't know how the computer thing works," USC coach Pete Carroll said earlier this month.

Typically in science, a hypothesis is proposed and then checked against observations to find out if it’s valid. However, in college football or any sport there are no definitive observations, as each team does not play every other team. So, the best we can do is compare a model's results with other human polls or other computer-based rankings. Since there is no final "right" answer, any system's output is going to be open for disagreement.

Wins and losses seem to be the simplest statistic to use to compare teams. Within conferences, teams typically play every other team so a winning percentage (wins divided by games played) provides a reasonable ranking. However, comparing teams across conferences becomes the challenge, as we can't assume that each conference has equally strong teams.

So, a "strength of schedule" (SOS) variable is added to each model. The algebra fun begins in knowing how deep to take this SOS factor. If Team A beats Team B, we need to know how good Team B is by analyzing its previous opponents. But, how good are Team B's previous opponents? This backward chain needs to stop somewhere.
Thankfully, when trying to rank only the top 25 teams, the iterations can stop when there is only a negligible change in ratings. A team that plays weaker teams in their non-conference schedule not only runs the risk of an upset, but also lowers their SOS. The NCAA has also prohibited the use of margin of victory as a factor to prevent unsportsmanlike run-ups in the score.

Its not a perfect system, but that's OK with the BCS' Hancock. "We know that there's no one computer ranking that can adequately tell you who's going to win it on Saturday," he said. "We just need something to add a little science and that's what we have."

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Rotate It Like Ronaldo?

"Rotate it like Ronaldo" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "Bend it like Beckham", but the curving free kick is still one of the most exciting plays in soccer/football. Starting with Rivelino in the 1970 World Cup and on to the specialists of today, more players know how to do it and understand the basic physics behind it, but very few can perfect it. But, when it does happen, by chance or skill, it is the highlight of the game.

But let's take a look at this from the other side, through the eyes of the goalkeeper. Obviously, its their job to anticipate where the free kick is going and get to the spot before the ball crosses the line. He sets up his wall to, hopefully, narrow the width of the target, but he knows some players are capable of bending the ball around or over the wall towards the near post. If you watch highlights of free kick goals, you often see keepers flat-footed, just watching the ball go into the top corner. Did they guess wrong and then were not able to react? Did they guess right but misjudged the flight trajectory of the ball. How much did the sidespin or "bend" affect their perception of the exact spot where the ball will cross the line? To get an idea of the effect of spin, here's a compilation of Beckham's best free kick goals (there's a 15 second intro, then the highlights) :

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast and the University of the Mediterranean in France tried to figure this out in this paper. They wanted to compare the abilities of expert field players and expert goalkeepers to accurately predict if a free kick would result in an on-target goal or off-target non-goal. First, a bit about why the ball "bends". We can thank what's called the "Magnus Force" named after the 19th-century German physicist Gustav Magnus. As seen in the diagram below, as the ball spins counter clockwise (for a right-footed player using his instep and kicking the ball on the right side), the air pressure on the left side of the ball is lower as the spin is in the same direction as the oncoming air flow. On the right side of the ball, the spin is in the opposite direction of the air flow, building higher pressure. The ball will follow the path of least resistance, or pressure, and "bend" or curve from right to left. The speed of the spin and the velocity of the shot will determine the amount of bend. For a clockwise spin, the ball bends from left to right.

The researchers showed the players three different types of simulated kicks, a kick bent to the right, a kick bent to the left and a kick with no spin at all. They showed the players these simulations with virtual reality headsets and computer controlled "kicks" and "balls" which they could vary in flight with different programming. The balls would disappear from view at distances of 10 and 12.5 meters from the goal. The reasoning is that this cutoff would correspond with the deadline for reaction time to make a save on the ball. In other words, if the keeper does not correctly guess the final trajectory and position of the ball by this point, he most likely will not be able to physically get to the ball and make the save.

The results showed that both the players and the keepers, (all 20 were expert players from elite clubs like AC Milan, Marseille, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04), were able to correctly predict the result of the kicks with no spin added. However, as 600 RPM spin, either clockwise or counter-clockwise, was added to the ball, the players success declined significantly. Interestingly, the keepers did no better, statistically, then the field players. The researchers conclusion was that the players used the "current heading direction" of the ball to predict the final result, rather than factoring the future affect of the acceleration and change in trajectory caused by the spin.

Just as we saw in the Baseball Hitting post, our human perception skill in tracking flying objects, especially those that are spinning and changing direction, are not perfect. If we understand the physics of the spinning ball, we can better guess at its path, but the pitcher or the free kick taker doesn't usually offer this information beforehand!

Craig, C.M., Berton, E., Rao, G., Fernandez, L., Bootsma, R.J. (2006). Judging where a ball will go: the case of curved free kicks in football. Naturwissenschaften, 93(2), 97-101. DOI: 10.1007/s00114-005-0071-0

Retirement Rebound - The Return of Torres, Favre and Armstrong

Maybe its the fear of turning 40. Maybe its the feeling of unfinished business. Maybe its the fire in the belly that has not quite extinguished. For retired elite athletes, the itch is always there to make a return after experiencing "life after sport". For some, it becomes too strong to ignore. 

This year has seen the return of at least three champions, Dara Torres, Lance Armstrong and Brett Favre. As they explain their individual reasons for coming back, some similarities emerge that have more to do with psychological needs than practical needs. In a recent Miami Herald article, Torres explained her comeback to competitive swimming at age 41, "For me, it's not like I sat around and watched swimming on TV and thought, `Oh, I wish I was still competing'. It was more gradual. But all of a sudden, something goes off inside you and you start seriously thinking about a comeback. You'd think the competitive fire would die down with maturity, but I've actually gotten worse. I wasn't satisfied with silver medals. I hate to lose now more than I did in my 20s. I'm still trying to figure out why.''

Drawing inspiration from Torres, Lance Armstrong has decided to make a comeback at age 37 with a declared goal to win his eighth Tour de France. In a recent Vanity Fair article, he described his rationale, “Look at the Olympics. You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50-meter event [freestyle], the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it. The woman who won the marathon [Constantina Tomescu-Dita, of Romania] was 38. Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale. Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32."

Is it the 40 factor? Brett Favre, who turns 39 in October, made his well-publicized return to the NFL last month wanting to return so badly that he accepted a trade to the New York Jets so that he could play. His public and emotional decision to retire in March, only to begin hinting at a comeback in early summer showed the internal struggle he had with stepping away from sports. 

You could hear the indecision in his retirement press conference, "I've given everything I possibly can give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give, and that's it.", Favre said. "I know I can play, but I don't think I want to. And that's really what it comes down to. Fishing for different answers and what ifs and will he come back and things like that, what matters is it's been a great career for me, and it's over. As hard as that is for me to say, it's over. There's only one way for me to play the game, and that's 100 percent. Mike and I had that conversation the other night, and I will wonder if I made the wrong decision. I'm sure on Sundays, I will say I could be doing that, I should be doing that. I'm not going to sit here like other players maybe have said in the past that I won't miss it, because I will. But I just don't think I can give anything else, aside from the three hours on Sundays, and in football you can't do that. It's a total commitment, and up to this point I have been totally committed." 

Some observers point to the end of the Packers' 2007-2008 season with a heart-wrenching Favre interception in overtime that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl instead of Green Bay. Being that close to the pinnacle of his sport must have been confidence that his skills had not diminished and once the fatigue of the past season had passed (by about June), that he was not ready to just ride the tractor in Mississippi for the next 40 years.

So, what do the sport psychologists make of these second thoughts? These three athletes are world famous, but what about the hundreds of professional athletes that have had to make the same decision without all of the front page stories and fanfare? Why does Chris Chelios, all-star and future Hall of Famer in the NHL, continue to avoid the retirement decision at age 45? 

Coaches aren't immune either. Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Joe Paterno of Penn State have refused to retire to the point of becoming an awkward story for their schools and fans. ''After all the adulation and excitement wear off and elite athletes come face to face with retirement and a more mundane life, they suffer a sense of loss, almost like a death,'' said sport psychologist John F. Murray. "If you're Lance Armstrong, you realize that what you are is a cyclist, that is your identity, and if you feel you have one or two more titles in you, why let it go? Why not tackle unresolved challenges? Competing at that level provides a high that is hard to match. How can you not be addicted to that?''

Beyond the professional ranks, thousands of college and Olympic athletes are left with the realization that they face similar decisions of when to "give up the dream" and move into the more practical world of finishing their education and finding a job. Their emotional attachment to their sport has developed over years of building an identity linked to their success on the field. 

Despite the statistics showing the "funnel effect" of the diminishing number of athletes getting to the "next level", younger athletes continue to believe they are the ones that will make it to the top. There is also the more emotional issue of unwillingly leaving a sport because of injury or simply not making the team due to diminished skills. Dr. Murray adds, "When your whole life has been geared toward athletic excellence, the prospects of retirement can be dreadful! This is commonplace at collegiate level where 99 per cent of the athletes do not go on to play their sport professionally. Counseling is a way to prepare athletes for the inevitable loss that occurs after the glory is over and only memories remain. As with any loss, people need effective ways to cope. Going at it all on your own might work for some, but I’ll submit that the vast majority of athletes benefit from early discussion and planning for retirement. There is definitely life after sport."

Some colleges and universities, as well as some professional teams, have started to offer formal "retirement planning" for athletes as their formal sport careers wind down. Life After Sports, a counseling firm started by Adrian McBride, a former college and NFL player, provides services to retiring college athletes to help them emotionally and practically adjust to a post-sports life. The University of North Carolina has set-up the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes to offer a home for academic research into these issues.

Additional academic research is also coming out on athlete retirement including two articles this year (see citations below) from the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. First, Katie Warriner and David Lavallee of the University of Wales interviewed former elite gymnasts regarding their retirement at a relatively young age from competitive sport. They found the loss of identity to be the biggest adjustment. Second, Patricia Lally and Gretchen Kerr looked at how parents cope with their children's "retirement" from sport, as they also go through withdrawl symptoms when the "end of the dream" finally comes and the lifelong ambition for their child's athletic success is over.

Who's next up for a retirement rebound? Just as Lance got inspiration from Torres and maybe Favre, the trend may continue. The Bulls could use Jordan or Pippen and Roger Clemens is never far away from a phone. Stay tuned!

Katie Warriner, David Lavallee (2008). The Retirement Experiences of Elite Female Gymnasts: Self Identity and the Physical Self Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (3), 301-317 DOI: 10.1080/10413200801998564

Patricia Lally, Gretchen Kerr (2008). The Effects of Athlete Retirement on Parents Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (1), 42-56 DOI: 10.1080/10413200701788172

Video Games Move From The Family Room To The Locker Room

It sounds like a sales job from a 12 year old; "Actually, Dad, this is not just another video game. Its a virtual, scenario-based microcosm of real world experiences that will enhance my decision-making abilities and my cognitive perceptions of the challenges of the sport's environment."  You respond with, "So, how much is Madden 09?"  

With over 5 million copies of Madden 08 sold, the release of the latest version two weeks ago is rocketing up the charts.  Days and late nights are being spent all over the world creating rosters, customizing plays and playing entire seasons, all for pure entertainment purposes.  Can all of those hours spent with controller in hands actually be beneficial to young athletes?  Shouldn't they be outside in the fresh air and sunshine playing real sports?  Well, yes, to both questions.

Playing video games, (aka "gaming"), as a form of learning has been receiving increased recent attention from educational psychology researchers.  At this month's American Psychological Association annual convention, several groups of researchers presented studies of the added benefits of playing video games, from problem-solving and critical thinking to better scientific reasoning.  

In one of the studies by Fordham University psychologist Fran C. Blumberg, PhD, and Sabrina S. Ismailer, MSED, 122 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders' problem-solving behavior was observed while playing a video game that they had never seen before.  As the children played the game, they were asked to think aloud for 20 minutes. Researchers assessed their problem-solving ability by listening to the statements they were making while playing.   

The results showed that playing video games can improve cognitive and perceptual skills.  "Younger children seem more interested in setting short-term goals for their learning in the game compared to older children who are more interested in simply playing and the actions of playing," said Blumberg. "Thus, younger children may show a greater need for focusing on small aspects of a given problem than older children, even in a leisure-based situation such as playing video games."

Also, in a recent article on video game learning, David Williamson Shaffer, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madision and author of the book "How Computer Games Help Children Learn", argues that if a game is realistically based on real-world scenarios and rules, it can help the child learn.  “The question though is," Shaffer said, "is what they are doing a good simulation of what is happening in the real world?"  Shaffer explains the research happening on this topic at his UW lab, named Epistemic Games:

Support for this new era of learning tools is coming from other interesting people, as well.  George Lucas of Star Wars fame has an educational foundation, Edutopia, which has shown recent interest in simulation learning.  Here is their introductory overview and accompanying video:

There are some words of caution out there.  In a recent article, educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, author of "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect our Children's Minds and What We Can Do About It," urges educators to proceed carefully.  "The main question is whether the activity, whatever it is, is educationally valid and contributes significantly to whatever is being studied," she says.  "The point is not whether kids are 'playing' with learning, or what medium they are playing in — a ball field or a Wii setup or a physics lab or art studio — but rather why they are doing it.  Just because it is electronic does not make it any better, and it may turn out not to be as valuable."

If we accept that there is some validity to teaching/learning with video game simulations, how can we move this to the sports arena?  Obviously, there is no substitute for playing the real game with real players, opponents, pressure, etc., but more teams and coaches are turning to simulation games for greater efficiency in the learning process.  If the objective is to expose players to plays, tactics, field vision and critical thinking, then a gaming session can begin to introduce these concepts that will be validated later on the field during "real" practice.  

This homework can also be done at home, not requiring teammates, fields, equipment, etc.  As mentioned in the videos above, another driving factor in the use of games is to reach this young, Web 2.0 audience through a medium that they already know, understand and enjoy.  The motivation to learn is inherent with the use of games.  The "don't tell them its good for them" secret is key to seeing progress with this type of training.

One of the best examples of video game adaptation for sports learning is from XOS Technologies and their modified version of the Madden NFL game.  In 2007, they licensed the core development engine from EA Sports and created a football simulation, called SportMotion, that can be used for individual training.  

With the familiar Madden user interface, coaches can first load their playbook into the game, as well as their opponent's expected plays.  Then, the athlete can "play" the game but will now see their own team's plays being run by the virtual players.  Imagine the difference in learning style for a new quarterback.  Instead of studying static X's and O's on a two-dimensional piece of paper, they can now watch and then play a virtual simulation of the same play in motion against a variety of different defenses.  With a "first-person" view of the play unfolding, they will see the options available in a "real-time" mode which will force faster reaction and decision-making skills.  

To take the simulation one step further, XOS has added a virtual reality option that takes the game controller out of the player's hands and replaces it with a VR suit and goggles allowing him to physically play the game, throw the ball, etc. through his virtual eyes.  Take a look at this promotional video from XOS:

XOS is winning some high praise for its system, including none other than Phillip Fulmer, Head Coach of the University of Tennesee football team.  “We’re leading the nation by taking advantage of this cutting-edge technology and we couldn’t be more pumped about it,” Fulmer said. “UT football has a long and storied tradition of success and because we look to pioneer groundbreaking concepts before anyone else, we’ll proudly continue that history. The XOS PlayAction Simulator begins a new chapter for UT and we’re pleased to add it to our football training regiment.” 

Albert Tsai, vice president of advanced research at XOS Technologies, says, “We’ve basically added functionality to popular EA video games such as customizable playbooks, diagrams and testing sequences to better prepare athletes for specific opponents.  Additionally, the software includes built-in teaching and reporting tools so that coaches Fulmer, Cutcliffe and Cooter can analyze and track the tactical-skill development of the team. At the same time, the Volunteers can experience immediate benefits because the familiarity with the EA SPORTS brand requires little to no learning curve for their players.”

So, the next time your son (or daughter!) is begging for 10 more minutes on the Xbox to make sure the Packers destroy the Vikings once again (sorry, a little Wisconsin bias), you may want to reconsider pulling the plug.  Then, send them outside for that fresh air.