Jan 29, 2015
Bulletin Board

Watch the Face: Hockey Visor Debate

There is a movement in college hockey that may eventually lead to another option in facial protection on helmets. Players are currently required to wear helmets equipped with full face shields, made of either metal or Plexiglas. But in June, officials from College Hockey Inc., the marketing arm for the five NCAA Division I hockey conferences, asked the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee to allow players to wear half shields. The Committee declined to support the proposal, but called for further research on the topic.

Part of the argument for allowing the visors, which professional players wear, is that by reducing facial coverage, skaters will be more likely to play under control. “We’re concerned about the fact that kids at the college level who wear full cages play the game with a certain level of recklessness because they feel invincible,” Paul Kelly, Executive Director of College Hockey Inc., told USCHO.com.

“We actually think that by making the switch from full cages to half visors that you’ll actually make the game safer,” Kelly added. “You’ll change the mindset and the culture of the player and you’ll increase the visibility of the player and his peripheral vision.”

However, there is no current data indicating that players are safer when wearing visors. In a 1999 study conducted by researchers from the University of Calgary, a survey of Canadian Interuniversity Sport players found that wearing a visor did not change the rate of severe injuries such as spine trauma and concussion. Instead, researchers found that wearing half shields led to an increase in injuries to players’ faces.

“For intercollegiate ice hockey players wearing half shields compared with full face shields, we found that the risk of sustaining a head injury (excluding concussions), facial laceration, and dental injury was 2.52, 2.31, and 9.90 times greater, respectively,” the study concluded. “We found no evidence in this study to support the speculation that full face shield use increases players’ risk of sustaining a neck injury or concussion.”

According to Robert Cantu, MD, Chief of Neurosurgery Service and Director of Sports Medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., neither visors nor full shields have much effect on reducing concussions. “If you’re asking [the current helmet] to protect against a stick or something, they do their job,” Cantu told USCHO.com. “But the visor or the mask don’t protect against concussion–if anything, they torque the head more… The cages don’t, though, in any way decrease head trauma. They just give the players a feeling of invincibility and they play a little rougher.”

Because the NCAA rulebook is re-examined every two years, the next time a rule change could go into effect would be prior to the 2012-13 season. The NCAA’s decision to gather more data has Kelly optimistic.

“We will be working together with the NCAA and members of the committee to collect and study additional data, and possibly to use visors in some college exhibition games to obtain feedback from players, coaches, and officials,” he said. “Given the new technology in visors, and the very positive experience and safety data from the USHL and other leagues, I am hopeful that it is only a matter of time that we see visors in NCAA college hockey.”

Caffeine In the Headlines Again

Though research has shown that consuming caffeine could mean a boost in performance, a recent study indicates that it needs to be taken in very high doses to have a noticeable effect. Results from the study, conducted by scientists from Coventry University in England, were presented in June at the Society for Experimental Biology annual meeting.

Using mice, researchers tested the effect of caffeine on both power output and endurance, focusing on the animals’ soleus muscles during both maximal and sub-maximal activities. (Maximal activities are when muscles are pushed to full capacity, such as in sprinting or weight lifting, while sub-maximal covers all other activity.) Researchers found that a caffeine dosage of 70 micromols per liter of blood enhanced power output by approximately six percent during both types of activity. Although the same amount of caffeine was shown to improve endurance during sub-maximal activities, it significantly reduced endurance during maximal activities.

The effect in humans is likely to be very similar, according to the researchers. “Seventy micromols caffeine concentration is the absolute maximum that can normally be achieved in the blood plasma of a human,” Rob James, PhD, the study’s lead researcher and a professor in Coventry’s Department of Biomolecular and Sports Science, told Medical News Today. “However, concentrations of 20 to 50 micromols are not unusual in people with high caffeine intakes.”

To James, the research provides a convincing argument for caffeine as a potential performance enhancer. “A very high dosage of caffeine might prove attractive to a number of athletes wishing to improve their athletic performance.” James said. “A small increase in performance via caffeine could mean the difference between a gold medal in the Olympics and an also-ran.”

To download an abstract of the study, “Physiological Concentrations of Caffeine Cause Muscle Performance During Both High and Low Frequency Activation,” go to: www.sebiology.org/meetings/Past_Meetings/prague/Prague.html.

Lefty Pitchers And Injury Risk

Left-handed pitchers have long been considered a valuable asset in baseball. But beyond their penchant for success against left-handed hitters and exaggerated stereotypes for quirkiness, there is new evidence of differences in throwing motions between southpaws and their right-handed counterparts.

Scientists from the Center for Sport and Motion Analysis at the Texas Metroplex Institute for Sports Performance say the mechanics of left-handed pitchers could actually make them more prone to injury. Published in the August issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine, the study analyzed the pitching motions of 84 collegiate baseball players–both right- and left-handed–by evaluating the shoulder rotation of their pitching arms compared to their non-pitching arms, the angles of their elbows and shoulders during the pitching motion, and their arm speeds.

Researchers also cross-matched 28 left-handed throwers with 28 righties, comparing pitchers with similar ages, sizes, and throwing speeds. The data revealed that left-handed pitchers put more stress on the humerus than right-handers–and too much stress can lead to fractures.

Researcher Sherry Werner, PhD, Director of the Center for Sport and Motion Analysis, told Reuters Health the stress was shown to be highest when the pitcher had his throwing arm extended behind him as he wound up for a pitch, before he accelerated toward the plate. Based on her group’s findings, Werner hopes larger, more in-depth studies of pitching injuries are on the horizon.

“It’s kind of remarkable to me,” she told Reuters. “I never would have expected significant differences… We need to understand the differences and know that if we’re looking at a lefty, we’re not expecting them to look like a right-hander.”

To read an abstract of the study, “Throwing Arm Dominance in Collegiate Baseball Pitching,” go to: ajs.sagepub.com and type “Throwing Arm Dominance” into the search window.

Evaluating Drug Testing’s Effectiveness

As mandatory recreational drug testing continues to make its way into high schools across the country, new research reveals both good and bad news about the effectiveness of testing programs. According to a study from the U.S. Department of Education, mandatory testing is having some short-term success in reducing drug use among high schoolers involved in extracurricular activities, but does not appear to be effective in discouraging future drug use.

Researchers surveyed students at 36 high schools where drug testing programs are funded by federal grants. Of that sample, half of the schools were already testing for marijuana, amphetamines, and other drugs, while the other 18 had not yet begun testing students.

Nearly 22 percent of students at the schools that hadn’t begun testing reported using drugs within 30 days of the survey. Meanwhile, at the schools that did test, 16.5 percent reported using during the same period. Researchers also found that implementing a random drug testing program had no negative effect on participation numbers.

One in three students from both sets of schools said that they would “probably” or “definitely” use drugs in the following year. This news was particularly troubling to Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators, who told USA Today that he’s disappointed testing had no effect on high schoolers’ intentions to use drugs.

“The question is, was anything learned?” he said. “But at the same time, that finding suggests that it’s not necessarily addressing the real issue, which is that we have to change behaviors… The behavior here should be, ‘Whether I’m playing football or not, I shouldn’t be using drugs.'”

To download the study, “The Effectiveness of Mandatory Random Student Drug Testing,” go to: http://bit.ly/DrugTestingStudy.


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