Little known psychological theory could hold key to sporting success

August 31, 2017

An established but little known psychological theory is likely to improve performances across a range of activities, including sport, according to new research published today.

Perceptual Control Theory can be applied to amateurs or skilled performers alike says psychologist Dr Warren Mansell, from The University of Manchester.

The theory argues that when trying to improve performance, teaching people what to do is less effective than teaching them how to picture the outcome. Read more

How to Drastically Improve Your Game from the Bunker

August 24, 2017

If you find yourself in the bunker more than on the fairway, it might be wise to get some practice sessions in on the driving range to better your long game to avoid getting in the bunker in the first place. With that being said, sometimes all it takes is a freak gust of wind while your ball is mid-flight to send you packing into the bunker. If you find it difficult to turn your game around from bunker plays, it could send you five or six shots back and that could spell the end of your round. So, it’s important you better your bunker game and by following the below tips, you’ll be able to just that. 

About Bunker Shots

Before playing a bunker shot, it’s best to understand what is involved and how it should be done. With sand underneath the ball, this means shots need to be carefully considered and they need to be played differently than those hit off the driving range or the fairway. There are different types of sand and lies for a start, so it means different stances and approaches to swinging need to be considered. It also means that determining the right clubs for the job need to be considered carefully, otherwise, your ball could end up in a worse situation than it’s already in. If you have decent clubs, that will also give you a huge advantage in the bunkers so consider investing in the best if you want to considerably improve your bunker game.

Getting Your Stance Right

One of the most important aspects of golf is to get the stance right. Once you have a perfectly working stance, your swing is going to be much smoother and the connection with the ball is going to provide much more power and accuracy. Concentrate on perfecting your stance for different shots just so your swing doesn’t suffer. When it comes to bunker play, a variety of stances are usually used depending on the lie and the type of sand you’re playing from. A good rule of thumb is to have a stance where your swing is going to hit the ball an inch through the sand on harder sand, whereas on softer sand you’ll want to make a close connection with the ball. Practice your stance in the different bunkers to give you an idea of where your arc swing needs to land.

Concentrate on the Left Side of the Ball

One tip that many professionals use to get a better swing is to concentrate on the left-hand side of the ball when it comes to playing out of a bunker. This not only produces a better stance and a better swing, but you’ll also find that a crisper shot takes place. Obviously, this will depend on what hand you use and your overall stance, but this is a good rule of thumb when it comes to lining up a shot – it will also ensure you have to use less power which produces a more accurate shot.

Understand Power Isn’t Everything

Some players will swing high and inaccurate just to get the power they think is going to send the ball exactly where they want it. Golf is all about technique and finesse, and without it, your game is going to suffer. Consider getting your stance and swing right before you think about power, as it’s the connection with the ball that is going to send it where you want it. The problem with introducing power into the game is that your swing is going to be quicker and thus, much more inaccurate. So, it’s important to concentrate on less power and a better stance to begin with – you’ll see a huge improvement in your overall game if you follow this method.

Determining the Type of Sand

First of all, you’ll take a shot differently depending on the type of sand you’re playing off in the bunker. It’s quite hard to test the sand because you’re not allowed to test the sand with your clubs, so the only way you’ll be able to get a feel for it is by standing on it. Try to determine whether the sand is soft or hard so you know what type of stance and club you need to play the shot. Consider walking around the bunker for a couple of minutes just to get a feel for the ground underneath you, and you can be sure your description of the sand will be much more accurate.

Playing from Soft Sand

If you think the sand is soft, you’ll want to approach it with your weight back. If the leading edge of your club strikes the sand, you’re not going to get the higher trajectory you crave to get back into the game from either the green or the fairway. It’s vital you get a nice swing so that the club can glide through the top of the sand to make precise contact with the ball. If it doesn’t, you’re going to be a sitting duck in the middle of an explosion of sand and the ball isn’t going to benefit from the power it needs to flourish.

Playing from Hard Sand

When it comes to much more compact sand, you’ll want to have the leading edge of the club strike the sand first, just so it can dig the ball out. Hard sand is often difficult to judge because of the different links courses and the amount of water that seeps through. However, a good stance and the ability to cut through the sand without the club head bouncing off will improve your game substantially. If your club head bounces off the sand, you’re going to end up blading the ball.

Determining the Different Lies

Various golf courses have different lies within their bunkers which means you’ve got more to consider before choosing the right clubs. Uphill bunkers, depending on how steep they are, can usually be played much like the way you’ll hit off a flat lie. By playing off your front foot, you’ll be able to keep your weight behind, which will give your swing the arc it needs to up the ball over and out. If the uphill bunker is too steep, you’ll need to approach it as if you were chopping wood with an axe, and you’ll need to ensure the club hits at least one inch of the sand before the ball just to give it the trajectory it needs. 

When it comes to downhill bunker shots, you’ll want to try and get a bit of air with the shot, otherwise, your ball is going to come out of the bunker low and fast and you’ll not be able to determine its end destination. You can achieve this with a 60 degree wedge, and with your weight on the front foot to ensure you get a nice swing underneath the ball. The buried bunker shot is where things get more difficult depending on how buried the ball is. With a firm stance over the ball, it’s important to try and get a deep swing and hit the sand an inch before the ball just so that the ball can be released.

Different Bunker Types

Fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers offer yet more choice when it comes to selecting golf clubs. Fairway bunkers will need to be played with a clean hit of the ball, so it’s vital something that isn’t going to touch the sand before hitting should be used. When it comes to the greenside bunkers, it’s inevitable you play a similar shot to a splash shot. Usually, a pitching wedge with a lower angle is the way forward in this instance, especially if the bunker itself has low lips and you can simply hit the ball over for it to roll to where you’d like it to go.

Choosing the Right Clubs

Your next objective is to try and determine the right club for the job. When in the bunker, you’ll usually benefit from differently angled wedges, depending on the size of the lip of the bunker. This is where the type of sand and different bunker shots come into play. If you’re opting for an uphill shot out of a bunker you’ll want to get right underneath it, so something with a higher degree angle would be best suited to gift it air. However, if you’re playing downhill out of a bunker, you’ll also want to go for a similar 60-degree angle to give it some lift, just so that the ball doesn’t roll out of the area.

Of course, none of the above will benefit you if you don’t get your description of the bunkers right. Different bunkers offer different ways of playing and it’s important that the sand and the lie are carefully considered before picking the right clubs. While the above information will considerably improve your game from today, you’ll still need to ensure your swing and stance is perfected to give you the best chance of improving your bunker game.

The science of ‘hitting the wall’ in sports

May 2, 2017

Runners, swimmers, and cyclists are familiar with the phenomenon of “hitting the wall” when the connection between brain and body feels like it’s been lost: You know that you’re still trying to move, but doing it feels more conceptual than physical. In Cell Metabolism on May 2, researchers show in mice the physiological basis for why this phenomenon occurs. Their research also found that training is not the only way to enhance endurance–it can also be achieved using a small molecule to stimulate a pathway that was already known to be activated by training.

“It turns out that ‘hitting the wall’ happens when your brain can no longer get enough glucose. At that point, you’re toast,” says co-corresponding author Ronald Evans, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute. “We previously believed that training improves endurance because it allows the muscles to more effectively burn fat as an energy source.”

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Do weekend warriors reap any health benefits?

January 10, 2017

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise spread out during the week. This could be accomplished by walking 30 minutes five days a week, but for many people even that modest amount of time just isn’t there during the work week. But can people get a health benefit by working up a sweat only on the weekends?

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NFL player health: The potential conflicting role of club doctors

November 22, 2016

How can we ensure that National Football League players receive excellent health care they can trust from providers who are as free from conflicts of interest as realistically possible? The lead article in a new Hastings Center Report special report concludes that conflicts of interest are inherent to the structure of the relationship between players and club doctors and that these conflicts pose a threat to players’ health. The article proposes structural changes to reduce these problems.

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Top-level football refs are better at spotting fouls because of enhanced visual perception

October 31, 2016

Top-level professional football referees have enhanced visual perception, which means that they are better at spotting foul play and issuing the correct disciplinary action than lower-level referees, according to new research published in the journal Cognitive Research.

The researchers, from Belgium and the UK, had 39 football referees from the top and lower leagues in Belgium watch staged videos of fouls being committed from the point-of-view of a referee on the football pitch. Eye-tracking technology was used to assess their visual-search behaviour – that is the location that the referees’ eyes fixated on and for how long. Read more

Better detection of concussion in young football players

November 26, 2015

Researcher Christian Duval, PhD, and his team have developed a new, simple and non-invasive approach to create a biomechanical and cognitive profile of football players and more quickly and accurately detect concussions in these individuals. Christian Duval and his post-doctoral student Hung Nguyen, PhD, work at the Research Centre of the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, which is affiliated with the University of Montreal. They presented their preliminary research findings at the International Congress on Sport Sciences Research and Technology Support, which was held in Lisbon from November 15 to 17.

For their study, Christian Duval’s team performed a dual-task assessment using simultaneous biomechanical and cognitive tests to evaluate the players every week. Thanks to a markerless motion capture system, this approach let them establish a unique profile for each person in just seven minutes and detect signs of concussion in a player before the medical team could. Developing such a fast and effective test is critical, as repeated impact on the young brain over time leaves damage similar to that caused by dementia.

“We had the players walk while avoiding obstacles and while executing cognitive tasks. The combination of these two results established each individual’s personal signature. Our measurements let us quickly detect concussion symptoms that could go unnoticed by health care professionals or by the young athletes themselves. The test we developed also simulates game situations, because in football, players are stimulated both physically and intellectually,” explained Christian Duval.

In a sport in which many concussions go undetected, this approach could help health care professionals to not only better detect these brain injuries but also systematically monitor all players during the season to detect or monitor those who sustain a concussion to determine when they are ready to get back out on the field.

Sochi Winter Olympics ‘cost billions more than estimated’

July 27, 2015

As the International Olympic Committee prepares to choose between Beijing (China) and Almaty (Kazakhstan) as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, a new report shows that the cost of last year’s Games in Sochi, Russia, has been underestimated by billions of dollars.

Ahead of the decision on 31 July, a study by Dr Martin Müller of the University of Birmingham finds that:


  • The Sochi Games cost $16bn in sports-related expenditure alone – more than twice the official figure of $7bn 
  • Total costs, including capital costs, amount to $55bn 
  • Sochi is the most expensive Olympics ever in terms of cost per event and the second most expensive, after London, in terms of sports-related costs 
  • Russia’s goal of developing Sochi into a global resort has failed 
  • $1.2bn per year of follow-up investment is required to maintain the underused infrastructure (including transport networks, sporting venues and hotels) 
  • Public opinion towards the Sochi Games and Russia as host has deteriorated over time

Dr Müller said: ‘The two most striking results from this study are, firstly, that when everything is accounted for, just the sports-related costs of the Sochi Games amount to $16bn – more than twice the official figure – and, secondly, that more than a billion dollars per year is still required to maintain the barely used infrastructure and subsidise the tourist industry.

‘The main legacy of the Games is oversized infrastructure at inflated prices, paid for almost exclusively by the public. While this applies to many mega-events elsewhere – particularly in developing economies – the extent of expenditure and underutilisation in Russia is unparalleled.

‘When counting all the costs associated with the Sochi Winter Olympics – including upgrades of the general infrastructure – we arrive at the stunning figure of $55bn. That’s more than 10% of the annual federal budget of Russia.’

Dr Müller’s study brings together the available information on operational costs, sports-related capital costs, and non-sports-related capital costs relating to the event. It is the first time the Sochi Games have been fully accounted for in this manner. Of the total figure of $55bn, 90% comes from capital costs, including sporting venues, the Olympic village, transport networks, hotels and power supplies.

According to the report, the resort is now hugely overdeveloped for the levels of occupancy it currently experiences, and hotels are struggling to survive. The sporting venues built for the Games are being underused, while the main line of the $10bn railway network sustains just six trains per day in each direction. Additionally, polls show that public opinion towards Russia and the Games declined as the event approached.

Dr Müller, who also has a post at the University of Zurich, said: ‘Russia’s two major goals in hosting the Games were to catapult Sochi into the same league of world-class winter sports resorts as Zermatt, Vail and Whistler, and to present to the outside world a new face of Russia as an open, modern and attractive country.

‘The sobering reality is that they have failed miserably on both counts.

‘In 2018, Russia will host the football World Cup, and despite the intention to reform the planning and management process, costs, cost overruns, and oversized stadia are already a concern.’

Extracurricular sports produce disciplined preteens

July 1, 2015

Regular, structured extracurricular sports seem to help kids develop the discipline they need in order to engage effectively in the classroom, according to a new study led by Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital. “We worked with information provided by parents and teachers to compare kindergarteners’ activities with their classroom engagement as they grew up,” Pagani said. “By time they reached the fourth grade, kids who played structured sports were identifiably better at following instructions and remaining focused in the classroom. There is something specific to the sporting environment – perhaps the unique sense of belonging to a team to a special group with a common goal – that appears to help kids understand the importance of respecting the rules and honoring responsibilities.”

Professor Pagani and her colleagues Geneviève Piché and Caroline Fitzpatrick came to their conclusions after reviewing the data on 2,694 children who were born in Quebec between 1997 and 1998. The information was retrieved from the Quebec Longitudinal Study on Child Development, a public data set coordinated by the province’s statistical institute. “Our goal was to answer two questions: firstly, does participation in extracurricular activities in kindergarten predict fourth grade self-discipline, and secondly, do kindergarten self-discipline characteristics predict fourth-grade participation in sports?” Pagani explained. These characteristics encompass things such as classroom engagement, physical aggression, impulsivity and emotional distress.

At kindergarten, when most children in the study were six, teachers filled in questionnaires about their student behaviour and parents were interviewed by phone or in person about their home life. The exercise was repeated four years later. The researchers then analyzed the data by eliminating pre-existing influences such as child’s physical fitness and cognitive abilities, mother’s education, and how well the family unit functioned (asking families to rate, for example, how well they communicate) which could have influenced the results. “Children who were involved in sports at kindergarten, or in fact who were involved in any kind of structured activity, were likely to be involved in teams sports by age ten. However, involvement in unstructured activities at kindergarten had no bearing on the child’s future. Across the board, we found that children who had better behaviour in the kindergarten class were more likely to be involved in sport by age ten,” Pagani said. “Nonetheless, we found that those children who were specifically involved in team sports at kindergarten scored higher in self-regulation by time they reached fourth-grade.”

The researchers believe that sporting activities and attention skills go hand in hand and can be addressed simultaneously in school planning. Their findings could help schools and public health authorities better reach children at risk of insufficient exercise as a way of addressing both the obesity and school drop-out crises at the same time. “Programs to help parents develop their child’s self-regulation skills and the availability of extracurricular sports programs as early as kindergarten could help decrease the risk of kids being left behind,” Pagani said. “We also hope policy makers consider our findings in order to improve access to parks and playgrounds, where children and their families can engage in sporting activities, to improve access to K12 enrichment programs that target self-regulation skills, and to improve the promotion of active schools and communities generally-speaking.”

Concussion in former NFL players related to brain changes later in life, UTSW study finds

May 19, 2015

In the first study of its kind, former National Football League (NFL) players who lost consciousness due to concussion during their playing days showed key differences in brain structure later in life. The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was found to be smaller in 28 former NFL players as compared with a control group of men of similar age and education.

The findings were reported in today’s edition of JAMA Neurology, and they represent the first study to compare the relationship between hippocampal volume, memory performance, and concussion severity.

The study was conducted by a team of neurologists and neuropsychologists from UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas.

“This is a preliminary study, and there is much more to be learned in the area of concussion and cognitive aging,” said Dr. Munro Cullum, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern, a co-author of the study. “While we found that aging individuals with a history of concussion and loss of consciousness showed smaller hippocampal volumes and lower memory test scores, the good news is that we did not detect a similar relationship among subjects with a history of concussion that did not involve loss of consciousness, which represents the vast majority of concussions,” said Dr. Cullum, who holds the Pam Blumenthal Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Psychology.

Some of the retired NFL players also met criteria for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition that typically affects memory and may lead to dementia. The findings were more pronounced among those who experienced more severe concussions.

The former players ranged from 36 to 79 years old, with a mean age of 58. Twenty-one healthy men of similar age, educational level, and intelligence with no history of concussion or professional football experience served as control subjects.

The results do not explain why the hippocampus was smaller in the athletes who suffered more serious concussions. Some shrinkage is a part of the normal aging process but the reduction is accentuated in MCI and was even more notable in those MCI subjects with a history of concussion accompanied by loss of consciousness. Thus, there appears to be a cumulative effect of concussion history and MCI on hippocampal size and function.

The primary investigator of the study was Dr. John Hart, Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, and Psychiatry at UT Southwestern, and Medical Science Director and a Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas. Dr. Kyle Womack, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, and Psychiatry at UT Southwestern, was a contributing author.

The study was funded by The BrainHealth Institute for Athletes at UT Dallas and UT Southwestern’s Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair (TIBIR). Founded in 2014, TIBIR embodies a comprehensive and transformative approach to how brain injuries are prevented and treated.

TIBIR is a state-funded initiative to promote innovative research and education, with the goals of accelerating translation into better diagnosis and improving care for the millions of people who suffer brain injuries each year.

Relying on UT Southwestern’s strengths in basic and translational research, the Institute includes scientists focused on improving the understanding of brain damage at the molecular and cellular level, as well as those seeking to identify new therapeutic opportunities, which could ultimately be delivered in clinical care settings.

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