Editor’s Note: Gatorade and MusclePharm would like you to believe that American sport science exists. But when John Weatherly told us that American sport science was largely a myth, we were surprised. Consider the source – John helped with conditioning programs and research at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. But even former NSCA president Michael Stone argues that American sport science is a myth. If American sport science doesn’t exist, what exactly are the National Strength and Conditioning Association and American College of Sports Medicine doing?
Part 1 of this series defined sport science. We quoted slide 2 of Dr. Michael Stone’s presentation as stating,
From the outset it is essential to understand that most scientists believing that they are sport scientists are really not.
I’ll keep the same procedure as the first article and put the slide number from Dr. Stone’s presentation in parentheses when referencing his presentation in this article.
Does the NSCA Live Up to Its Mission Statement?
In a previous article, I pointed out that three prominent NSCA figures didn’t support the NSCA’s Education Recognition Program (ERP) at their own universities.
What about sport science? How do these prominent NSCA figures support the athletes and coaches in the major American sports of football, basketball, and baseball? Recall the NSCA’s mission statement,
As the worldwide authority on strength and conditioning, we support and disseminate research-based knowledge and its practical application to improve athletic performance and fitness.
The Big 3 American Sports
Drs. Steven Fleck, Thomas Baechle, and William Kraemer are three of the most prominent figures in the NSCA. But are they sport scientists? Have they worked regularly with athletes and coaches in football, basketball, and baseball? Let’s take a look at the studies they’ve done over their long careers on the major American sports. To view the studies all you have to do is go to scholar.google.com and type in their names and degrees.
For example, I’ve included a link to Dr. Fleck’s research below, but all you need to do is go to scholar.google.com and type in “Steven J. Fleck, PhD.” You can do the same for “Thomas R. Baechle, EdD” and “William J. Kraemer, PhD.” It can be as boring as watching paint dry but if you are so inclined, be my guest.
Steven J. Fleck, PhD
Examining current NSCA President Dr. Steve Fleck‘s research publications you’ll note he has worked on sports such as tennis. And he’s the last author listed on one study examining changes in creatine kinase over a college football season.
However, most of Dr. Fleck’s research has not looked at specific sports or athletes. And he has hardly done any research on football, basketball, or baseball players.
Thomas R. Baechle, EdD
Dr. Baechle has been at Creighton a long time and is the current Department Head. (Note on the site above for Dr. Baechle they still have not corrected that he is an Ed.D not a Ph.D, an error I pointed out in a prior article).
Looking at Dr. Baechle’s research publications, he’s been involved in a couple of surveys and such on basketball. That’s about it for sports. You would think, if Baechle was a sport scientist, that he would have a huge database on the training of athletes at Creighton. Dr. Baechle has worked at Creighton since the late 70’s.
Since Dr. Baechle has barely done any research on athletes himself, this may explain why he still is writing about one of the old Matveyev models of periodization in the latest edition of the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Dr. Lon Kilgore’s excellent series on this topic.
Is Dr. William Kraemer a Sport Scientist?
On January 3, 2004 Dr. Kraemer gave a presentation on football training at the NSCA Sport-Specific Conference in Orlando, Florida. I attended that conference. As a side note, the NSCA has since dropped the words “sport-specific” from the title. They now call it the Coaches’ Conference. Perhaps the NSCA changed the name because the conference featured very little sport-specific research done on football, basketball and baseball?
I still have Dr. Kraemer’s outline from that football presentation. On page 200 of the conference program, Dr. Kraemer said:
“While more money is spent on equipment, the physical demands of the game are relatively unknown due to a lack of research”
Again, Dr. Kraemer was speaking about American Football!
So, what has Dr. Kraemer done over his long career? What research has he published on athletes in the huge American sports of football, basketball, and baseball? Dr. Kraemer is a publishing monster. He has allegedly worked on 855 published articles.
Out of a total of 855 publications, I counted one on a baseball pitcher, three on basketball and fifteen on football. The one article on elbow pain in a youth pitcher lists Kraemer as the last of four authors. So, it appears he wasn’t the primary investigator. On the three basketball publications, two of the articles list Kraemer as the last author and the remaining basketball study lists him second-to-last. With the football studies, Dr. Kraemer is the last or next-to-last investigator on eight out of fifteen.
Thus, out of Dr. Kraemer’s 855 publications, I counted only nineteen that were directly involved with baseball, basketball, or football. Of these nineteen, Dr. Kraemer was the primary or a main investigator on only around eight publications. This would hardly qualify as becoming a part of the sport or a monitoring program for athletes (Slide 2, Slide 4).
Dr. Kraemer would definitely seem to fit Dr. Stone’s definition of a “part-time sport scientist” at best or a scientist that does an occasional sport science project. Kraemer couldn’t be called a sport scientist according to Dr. Stone. And this is the man after whom the NSCA named it’s “Outstanding Sport Scientist Award.”
Of course, neither Fleck nor Baechle qualify as sport scientists, either (Slide 2, Slide 4).
Absence of Sport Science at U.S. Universities
One may wonder why there’s such a paucity of work at American universities on the major American sports of football, basketball and baseball? We just examined three prominent NSCA figures in the US and they have hardly done anything in their entire careers on the three major American sports. In fact, in Editor-in-Chief Dr. Kraemer’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) you’ll find a lot more studies done in other countries on sports such as soccer and rugby than you ever will on the classic American sports of baseball, basketball and football.
Why is Sport Science a Myth at U.S. Universities?
Why is the sport science program of Dr. Mike Stone et al. at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) the only one of its kind in the US?
There are several possible explanations for this. Staying with our theme of the big three American sports, let’s start by taking a peek at America’s pastime.
Almost twenty years ago, I published an article with the NSCA titled “Concepts for Baseball Conditioning.” In that article, I even had a section on directions for future research.
NSCA researchers have accomplished very little work in this field since I published the article almost 20 years ago. Baseball is a sport with many questions about injuries – especially for pitchers.
Sandy Alderson, General Manager of the New York Mets, recently said: “We collaborate with anybody that’s looking into these topics.” It seems the NSCA and NSCA researchers would rather study supplements with funding from shady supplement companies than help baseball pitchers.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has relied on an extensive minor league system to develop and produce MLB players. It is very rare for a baseball player to jump from college or high school to MLB without playing in the minor leagues first. This is not true for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL).
While the NBA has started a developmental league in recent years (D-League), it is common for college players (and in some unusual instances high school players) to go straight to the NBA. In recent years, many talented players will attend college for just one year before declaring for the NBA Draft (one and done phenomenon). In football, it is extremely rare for a player to go to the NFL without a college football career. Thus universities are essentially the NBA and NFL’s minor leagues for player development.
On the surface, this would seem to be nearly an ideal situation for implementing sport science at universities. These universities recruit all over for players, so major university athletic programs get subjects that Shawn Myszka described as having “hit the sperm lottery.”
These players are housed, fed and trained at universities where there are scientists to study them. So, why is the study Myszka reviewed the only longitudinal training study I’ve ever seen published on a major Division 1 football program?
I believe there are several plausible reasons:
1) Many scientists don’t care about sports or working with athletes (Slide 59, Slide 65).
2) Major universities hire research scientists to obtain grants and publish research. The largest grant for an exercise study ($2.52 million) I’ve heard of is the one Dr. Katie Heinrich et al. are doing looking at CrossFit training in the military.
3) Sport science-type grants really don’t exist in the U.S. (Slide 69).
4) There are “strings” attached when companies fund so-called sport science studies (Slide 69). As we all know by now, the NSCA seems to like funding from supplement companies and sports drinks.
5) Last but not least, academic fraud and other corruption with athletes.
Is there Hope for Sport Science in the U.S.?
We have one university in the U.S. that integrates its academic and athletic departments. That university is a smaller D1 program that recently decided to revive its football program: East Tennessee State University (ETSU).
ETSU integrates academic and athletic departments and provides sport science for most sports (football is an exception). It also serves as a U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Training Site for several Olympic sports including Weightlifting, Bobsled and Luge, and Canoe/Kayak. This is the ONLY program like this in the entire U.S. If you want to work at a university with the top sport scientists in the country, you have to go to ETSU. There is no other option I’m aware of that integrates academic sport scientists with athletic departments and provides a formal degree program specializing in sport science (including Ph.D).
By now, you would think other schools would have replicated ETSU’s model or created a similar model if they were actually interested in integrating sport science into the U.S. university system. Since universities have shown little or no interest in integrating sport science (with the ETSU exception), let’s look at other areas for sport science.
The Land Down Under
NSCA President-Elect Dr. Greg Haff, who like me is a proud part of Dr. Mike Stone’s Sport Science tree, moved from the U.S. to Australia. One of the main reasons seemed to be to do strength and sport science work. The Australian government funds sport science work.
Unlike the U.S., where even the USOC receives no government support, the Australian government funds sports research. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is highly regarded and perhaps the leading center for sport science in the world.The Philadelpha 76ers recently named Dr. David Martin from the AIS as their Head of Sport Science after a worldwide search.
This is the same David Martin who was a research assistant with the USOC while I was a USOC intern many years ago. As the story linked above states, Dr. Martin and his family moved to Australia in the 90s to work with “the trailblazers” in sport science (the AIS). Now, over twenty years later, he’s coming back to the US to lead the 76ers’ sport science.
Sport scientists working with professional teams in the U.S. are a recent phenomenon, but it’s been common in Australia and Europe for some time. Dr. Ben Peterson (a scientist/manager with Catapult Sports in the U.S.), mentioned to me on the phone last fall that the U.S. is 5-6 years behind on using Catapult data compared to Australia and Europe. Catapult is an interesting company that, not surprisingly, was basically born out of the AIS.
Catapult now has many pro and college teams as clients in the U.S. Technology allows the tracking and interpretation (the most important human part) of athletes’ data. Many other companies are getting involved with the growing area of sports analytics.
I started communicating with Dr. Wagner (from the above video) many years ago. He started Sparta from scratch and is a leading thinker. Another scientist, whom I believe was actually the first person in the US to hold the title of Sport Scientist with a pro team (Mariners) is Dr. Marcus Elliott and his company P3.
Tracking practices/games, weight room performances, and recovery (i.e., sleep, nutrition) creates a need for people to make sense of all the information. You would think U.S. universities would be interested in the growing area of sports analytics. Here’s an interview with Patrick Ward whom the Seattle Seahawks hired as a Sports Science Analyst last summer. I think Patrick does a great job describing what he does in a non-technical manner.
The Dolphins recently hired Dr. Wayne Diesel from South Africa as a sport scientist. Similarly, last year the 49ers hired Dr. Fergus Connolly from Ireland as a sport scientist.
Many teams that hire sport scientists look abroad for the expertise. They almost have to because nobody trains sport scientists in the US except Dr. Stone et al. at ETSU!
Chip Kelly seemed to start this at Oregon when he hired James Hanisch from Australia. Kelly moved to the Eagles and brought in Shaun Huls as Sport Science Coordinator, Josh Hingst as Head Strength & Conditioning Coach and recently brought in James Hanisch in from Oregon as a Sport Science Load/Data Analyst. Russells’ Blog guest poster and CrossFit Hyponatremia Conference organizer and presenter Dr. Sandra Godek also consults for the Eagles.
Hingst and I spoke at universities and at Spain’s Olympic Training Center in 2004. After Hingst and I each presented on training and nutrition, a university Department Head and another professor invited me and Hingst into a meeting room. The Spanish professors explained they received some money from their government for sport science. They wanted to pursue an exchange program with U.S. universities in sport science. Hingst was the Head Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Florida State at that time. I don’t think either Hingst or I had the heart to tell them that we didn’t do any sport science at universities in the U.S. The academic and athletic departments at U.S. universities do not work in cooperation.
With the success of the integrated academic and athletic sport science program at ETSU and the growing area of sports analytics why don’t more U.S. universities implement sport science programs? Who is better equipped to interpret analytical data on athletes, a computer nerd or somebody highly-trained in sport science? You may need the computer folks to set up a database, but you also need practical expertise to sort through all the information and give meaningful advice quickly to coaches and other team personnel. Why don’t the NSCA’s ERP schools do anything in sport science?
In the final part of this series, I’ll focus on the need to look at anything coming out of a company-funded so-called “Sports Science Institute” with a skeptical eye. As you may guess, company-funded research often comes with conflicts of interest and “strings” attached (Slide 69).
About the Author: John T. Weatherly has undergraduate and graduate degrees in exercise science. He was a research assistant to the former Head of Sports Physiology for the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and has helped with conditioning programs for athletes in Olympic sports as well as professional baseball, college football and an NBA player. In the 90’s, John published and reviewed articles for the NSCA and was an NSCA media contact on the sport of baseball. He helped initiate the first study on a rotary inertia exercise device at the University of Southern California (USC) and has consulted with the exercise industry on various topics, including vibration.