Monday, May 30, 2011

The Great Mask Debate

It doesn’t take much to see the public’s increased awareness about the dangers and long-term effects of concussions in sport. Just read the paper or search the web and you’ll see where a state legislature or local school district has passed a law or approved a new rule regarding testing and return to play guidelines following a mild traumatic brain injury.

Likewise, the sport of baseball has also updated with the times. This season, Major League Baseball implemented the 7-Day Disabled List to be used exclusively with those players diagnosed with a concussion. MLB has also tightened its diagnosis and return to play guidelines. Both a physical exam and neuro-psychological testing that must be submitted to the league’s medical director prior to a player’s clearance to return to play.

With all the increased awareness, one of the first lines of defense in the prevention of these injuries is still the protective equipment. The catcher in baseball is perhaps the most susceptible to repetitive trauma both from foul tips and the hitter’s backswing. There are typically two types of masks that that a catcher uses: the traditional cage and helmet, and the hockey-style.

Currently, there is no published study that distinguishes one mask as better than the other. Students in an Experimental Mechanics Class at Kettering University have been working to find an answer. After testing both mask styles for frontal impact (simulating a foul tip) and side impact (representing a backswing impact), the students concluded “Overall, the testing would support the theory that a traditional style catcher’s mask would protect better against a foul-tip and a hockey style catcher’s mask would protect better against a hitter’s backswing.”

As a sports medicine provider who works with the baseball athlete, it has been my experience that far more foul tips are experienced than backswings. Although the engineering students suggest that the traditional mask system needs to be improved in the area of the helmet, I would still recommend the traditional cage system over the hockey-style mask for the prevention of repetitive trauma to catchers and umpires.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gaining Early Professional Experience

In any field of work there is a progression that takes place from learning the trade to operating independently. As strength and conditioning coaches we are very familiar with this process, having navigated our early careers as volunteer and interns before earning any compensation for our work with athletes. I have been very fortunate this season to have an intern working with me and my team for the first time. My goal in taking on an intern has been to make the experience beneficial for both of us. I can accomplish more with an assistant than I can alone. He can learn the duties and responsibilities of the field and gain experience working with high-level athletes. In becoming a mentor, I have realized quickly that mentorship is just as important a part of my career as were the times when I was volunteering to gain early professional experience. Looking back on some of the key points taken from my mentors has helped me in providing further perspective to my intern this season.

Professionalism- First and foremost, professionalism is a given requirement of any coaching position. The media is filled with examples of coaches who have overstepped their bounds or have acted inappropriately and have lost their jobs. However, the basis of professionalism is presentation. As an intern, present yourself as clean, organized, and on-time and you will be viewed as reliable. Your co-workers and athletes will assume you know the plan for the day and that you can assist them. The majority of internships in strength and conditioning will require you to tuck your shirt in. This can be a little strange at first when your work attire is shorts and a t-shirt. Get used to it. You will be the best looking one in the room!

Drills and Skills- Young coaches rely on their education to implement the drills they know, while veteran coaches rely on their experience to determine which drills work best for the team. As an intern, having an open mind is key in the progression from the text book to the field. Remember that not all drills work well in a team setting or are possible (or safe) due to equipment limitations. When given a choice of what drill to implement, ask first, “What skill am I aiming to improve?” and second, “How does this drill fit in the overall training plan?” Transition time and set-up are primary factors in determining which drill fits when.

General Career Advising- I first learned about what it took to become a strength and conditioning coach by searching for job postings in the field that I was interested in. Ultimately, this searching led me towards obtaining CSCS and USA Weightlifting credentials and a graduate degree. As a mentor, I try to look back on my educational experience and remember why I made the decisions I did. The process would seem black and white ‒ I was taking the next step towards my career with each college class, certification, personal training position, internship, and coaching position. At the time, however, there was definitely some grey. I took my first fitness position during my college summers, so that I would get a free gym membership to train for my upcoming football season. I took my first anatomy class because I thought I wanted to go to medical school. I performed an internship in cardiac rehabilitation before I decided that I wanted to work with athletes. Sometimes the professional choices we make are not on a career track, but rather a life track. As I have gotten older this has become more and more true. Focusing on your interests and skills is the best place to begin any career.

Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Monday, May 16, 2011

Statistically Speaking...

I am going to go out on a limb and say that there is something wrong with your shoulder. You probably throw a baseball more than 100 times a day for 9 or 10 months out of the year. You have probably been throwing a baseball since you were 5 or six years old.

Check these out if you get a chance – just read the abstracts:

Wright, RW, Steger-May, K, Klein, SE. Radiographic findings in the shoulder and elbow of Major League Baseball pitchers. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007 Nov; 35(11):1893-43.

Fredericson M, Ho C, Waite B, Jennings F, Peterson J, Williams C, Mathesonn GO. Magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities in the shoulder and wrist joints of asymptomatic elite athletes. PM R 2009 Feb;1(2): 107-16.

Miniaci A, Mascia AT, Salonen DC, Becker EJ. Magnetic resonance imaging of the shoulder in asymptomatic professional baseball pitchers. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2002 Jan-Feb;30(1):66-73

The same thing can be said about the knees and backs. It would probably take about one google medical search that takes .000005 seconds to find articles saying the same thing about the knee and back.

I say this because the majority of you have had shoulder trouble at some point in time. If it persists, you need to go talk to an educated individual. When it comes to an overhead athlete – you need to talk to the right kind of physician. Your family physician is really smart – don’t get me wrong. However, he might panic when he sees damage to the rotator cuff and some fraying of the labrum. I would highly recommend talking to a physician that has some experience with the overhead athlete - an orthopeadic/sports medicine physician.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Are you coo-coo for coconut water?

Coconut water is all the rage right now and everyone, including Hollywood stars and some athletes, are going coo-coo over it. What’s the big draw? After tasting the Zico brand last week while on a road trip in California, I can honestly say it may not be the taste or the mouth feel. I truly am a coconut lover, but the slippery liquid with the off-coconut flavor isn’t something I could enjoy drinking—for pleasure, thirst or during exercise for hydration.

The health and nutrition claims certainly draw you in. The Zico brand label states Zico pure premium coconut water is, “A miracle of hydration and replenishment with 5 essential electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus) and more potassium than a banana (Ok, true: 569mg vs. 560mg---but, really?) Zico assures rapid hydration and replenishment and has zero fat and cholesterol.” Not sure where the fat and cholesterol content factors in to its importance as a drink, other than to tell us that it does not contain any coconut oil.

Coconut water is the liquid inside young coconuts and for the first time, about 10 years ago, it was given the patent to bottle it in a way that preserves its nutrients—although they do vary among the fruit. That said, the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium are in very small amounts (30 mg calcium vs. 300 mg in 8oz of skim milk) and the potassium contained is about the same as in an equivalent amount of skim milk, as well. The high potassium content can lead to diarrhea and other GI issues, so not a great choice for athletes in intensive or endurance sports especially.
Zico is one coconut water that is enriched with sodium so it’s sodium content is about the same as an equivalent amount of skim milk or even Gatorade. From a rehydration standpoint, that is the biggest plus about the the Zico Coconut Water for use during or after exercise. Many of the other coconut waters on the market have too little sodium for them to be an effective rehydrator. Its sugar content is about the same as Gatorade so it’s low in sugar and in the right concentration for use during exercise.

There are no scientific published studies to back up the claims that it is a good sports drink. So don’t believe all you see or hear from Hollywood movie stars about a new drink or food..….it could be someone just going coo-coo for no reason at all.

Kim Larson, RD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

Monday, May 2, 2011

Use Video for Performance Skills

Coaches have been using video for many years to help players work on their skill development, things like hitting and pitching, but what about other skills like squatting, stealing, and agility. Using video to evaluate any skill can help the coach or trainer increase production from the player. The video can also be saved and re-evaluated when needed, and used to demonstrate progress.

In the last 10 years functional movement assessments have moved to the fore front and many trainers and strength coaches have been using these types of evaluations to judge the starting point of some athletes programs. These are great tools for evaluating an athlete’s movement skills and great information for the performance staff, but can the athlete or coach understand what we are looking for in the terms we use as professionals? Video in many instances can bridge the gap in understanding for the athlete and coach. Showing an athlete how he or she moves can help them understand what they are doing in space. This understanding can have great impact on the progression an athlete has. I know that nearly every trainer has been frustrated when correcting an athlete’s form and they reply by saying that’s what I was doing, the video doesn’t lie.

We have been recently using video in all of our new functional assessments and have had great successes with understanding from both coaches and players. In our evaluation procedures we use movements like the deep overhead squat, lunging, broad jump, vertical jump, pro agility, and sprinting just to name and few. In all these evaluations we use video to not only give us another eye, but to demonstrate to the athlete things that we see as potential problems or skills we need to work on.

Using video is not just for specific skills like hitting and pitching, but can be very helpful in helping athletes and coaches understand what an athlete is doing and how we can change it. Get that camera out and see how this tool can help you as a performance staff member as well.

Brian Niswender, MA