Advancements in Concussion Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Submitted by Gregory B. Bonds, William W. Edwards and Brandon D. Spradley


Concussions continue to be a mainstay topic of conversation among the media, health professionals, and the general public.  In 2013, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) released a position statement that estimated as many as 3.8 million concussions occur within sports annually with up to 50% of concussion injuries unreported.  Advancements in the areas of diagnosis, treatment, playing rules, equipment, education, and technology have heightened the awareness on the dangers of concussion injuries and the need to provide better protection for sports participants.  The current (2014) position statement from the National Athletic Trainers Association recommends a thorough neurologic assessment for a “history of concussion, seizure disorder, cervical spine stenosis, or spinal cord injury”.  In 2014, prominent organizations such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Football League (NFL) have taken a proactive approach to commission research projects to study the short term and long-term effects of concussion injuries.  Results of these research efforts should enhance the welfare and protection of participants.  The purpose of this paper is to review and explore advancements in concussion prevention, diagnosis, treatment, playing rules, equipment, education, and technology.

2016-10-12T15:08:40-05:00April 11th, 2014|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Exercise Science|Comments Off on Advancements in Concussion Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The Impact of Hip Rotator Strength Training on Agility in Male High School Soccer Players

Submitted by Jesse Obed Nelson and Mark DeBeliso

The strength of the muscles surrounding a joint contributes to the stability of the joint. The stability of a joint provides the foundation for large muscle groups to perform high speed forceful actions. The purpose of this study was to examine if strengthening of the hip rotator muscles could improve measures of agility. Twenty-nine male high school soccer players were recruited to participate in a 9-week matched pair study. The control and the experimental group participated in regular weight training and soccer practice. Additionally, the experimental group performed three sets of the hip rotator exercises using latex chords (medial and lateral rotation) twice per week with both legs. The dependent variables were the T-Test, the Hexagon Test, and the 20-Yard Shuttle Run. All athletes were pre- and post-tested on each of the agility drills. A gain score was then calculated as the difference between pre- and post-test agility scores. An independent t-test was used to determine if there were any differences (p < 0.05) between the experimental and control groups. Statistical analysis showed no significant difference between the two groups for T-test (p=0.12), Hexagon test (p=0.35), and 20-yard shuttle run (p=0.18). The research hypothesis, which stated that adding hip strengthening exercises for the experimental group would produce faster times on the agility tests, was rejected. Possibly the volume of training, which often included three hours of exercise and practice per day, rendered the additional hip strengthening exercises insignificant. Repeating the experiment in the off-season with lower training volume might produce different results. INTRODUCTION
In sport and physical therapy there is not much time spent in training the medial and lateral rotators of the hip, while medial and lateral rotators of the arm (rotator cuff) are regularly exercised (15, 17). The deep inner muscles of the hip are often neglected and overlooked in the development of training programs for all types of sport.

Field sports which might benefit from strengthening of the hip rotators are those which require movements of agility (e.g. soccer, football, lacrosse, rugby, and basketball). Agility requires rapid change of direction. This is where stronger hip rotator muscles may help athletes. An increase in performance might be experienced as a result of stronger hip rotator muscles.

Injury rate reduction might also be a benefit of improving the strength of the hip rotator muscles. Sports that include running, dancing, and hockey are at increased risk of hip injuries (2, 7). Recent investigations suggest that 23% of athletes (e.g. divers, weightlifters, wrestlers, orienteers and ice-hockey players) have experienced a hip injury in the previous year (12). Muscle weakness is an intrinsic risk factor to joint injuries in sport (18). Strengthening of the hip rotator muscles is prehabilitative in nature, much the same as training the internal and external rotator cuff muscles (17). Prehabilitation is a concept where muscle groups are exposed to various exercise protocols with the hope of reducing the occurrence and severity of sport injuries (16, 17). A prehabilitative program for Rugby Union players identified the lower body including the hip as a specific target, however, isolated training of the hip rotator muscles was not included (16).

Internal and external hip rotator muscles include the adductor longus, adductor magnus, biceps femoris, gemellus inferior, gemellus superior, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, gracillis, illiacus, obturator externus, obturator internus, piriformus, psoas, quadratus femoris, sartorius, semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and tensor fascia latae (11). There is a paucity of research examining the role of the hip rotator muscles in sport and prehabilitation. As such, this research effort focused on the impact of incorporating exercises that target the hip rotator muscles on sport-specific agility tests.

The research hypothesis is that, after training, the experimental group will show significant improvements versus the control group on the T-test, Hexagon test, and the 20-yd shuttle run. These tests are indicators of speed and agility (23), and are considered sport performance characteristics of the “best soccer” players (23). Hence, the purpose of adding the hip rotation exercises was to determine if there would be a positive influence on speed and agility. Conversely, the null hypothesis was that the addition of hip rotation exercises to the training program for the experimental group would not yield better performance on the agility drills than the control group.

If the research hypothesis is supported, coaches and athletes might incorporate hip rotator exercises to strength and conditioning regimens leading to improved agility. This research could also provide the foundation for future experiments regarding medial and lateral hip rotator muscles and the relation to sport performance.

A convenience sample of male high school soccer players (n=29) was recruited to participate in a 9-week matched pair study. The participants were experienced in weight training, and trained and experienced at the competitive level in the sport of soccer. As such, participant fitness levels were likely above average for those of the same age and gender.

Age, weight, and height were recorded at the pretest. For the experimental group, the average age was 16.3±0.9 years with a range of 15-18 years. The average body mass was 68.1±9.9 kg, with a range of 57-89 kg. The average height was 173.3±8.9 cm, with a range of 165-193 cm. For the control group the average age was 16.6±0.7 years, with a range of 16-18 years. The average body mass was 66.3±8.7 kg, with a range of 54-86 kg. The average height was 173.0±7.7 cm, with a range of 163-188 cm.
Previous exercise history included calisthenics, stretching, running sprints, and weight training (all performed under the supervision of the strength and conditioning coach). The players also played a friendly game (against each other) two times per week before school. The participants were all varsity and junior varsity players, and most had played soccer since elementary school. No players were classified at the beginner level. All had been active and in good physical condition for years before the beginning of the experiment.

Human Subjects Approval was required and obtained. Informed Consent and Parental Consent was also required and obtained before subjects were allowed to participate in the study. Participants were allowed to withdraw at any time. The Informed Consent Document was approved by the University Institutional Review Board.
In order to conduct this study an experimental and control group were formed using a matched pair design (5). All of the participants performed the agility T-test, and then ranked from fastest to slowest. The first two highest scoring participants were matched and randomly assigned to either the experimental or control group. This process was repeated until the experimental (n=14) and control (n=15) groups were completed. This matched pair design assured that the two groups were essentially equal based on initial T-test scores.

Equipment for the strength and conditioning program was that traditionally found in many high school weight rooms. Iron plates were loaded onto weight bars for the squat, the deadlift, and other exercises. All of the athletes in both the experimental and control groups performed the same weight training exercises with the strength and conditioning coach. The training volume was the same for the experimental and control groups with the exception of the additional volume incurred by the experimental group as a result of performing the supplemental internal and external hip rotation exercises.

Weekly workouts during the intervention included 2-3 strength and conditioning sessions per week. The school had a rotating block class schedule, alternating successive weeks with two and three strength and conditioning classes respectively. The soccer team had practice for 1.5 hours every weekday after school unless there was a “friendly game” in the morning. All team members focused on stretching and recovery, but the experimental group still performed the hip rotator exercises.
Strength and conditioning sessions began in the wrestling room with calisthenics including bear crawls, planks, sit-ups, wall sits, push-ups, and some simple jumping drills. The team would then stretch with a focus on the legs. After stretching, half of the team would work with the track coach in the hall, while the other half would work with the strength and conditioning coach to the weight room. The group in the hall performed dynamic stretching and simple footwork drills such as butt-kicks, high knees, grapevines, 10 yard sprints, and skips. The group in the weight room did differing exercises depending on the day, mostly rotating with upper body, lower body, and total body exercises. The total body exercises included dot drills, deadlifts, hang cleans, and power cleans. The dot drills, hang cleans, and power cleans were exercises where members of both groups were encouraged to move as explosively as possible during the execution of the exercises while maintaining proper technique. Upper body exercises included the flat, incline, and decline bench press, push press, military press, dumbbell shoulder press, dumbbell row, dumbbell biceps curl, dumbbell triceps press, and pull-ups. Leg exercises started with the squat, and included leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises. The protocol for all weight room exercises was three sets of 8-12 repetitions, and three sets of five repetitions on the total body exercises. Both groups performed the same baseline training regime with the experimental group augmenting the training with hip rotator exercises.

The experimental group completed the hip rotation exercises with the elastic chords during class time. The hip rotation exercises took 5-10 minutes to complete. The athletes began by doing three sets of 5-10 repetitions in each of the four directions (right leg internal and external rotation, left leg internal and external rotation). Each set was performed to exhaustion. The athletes gradually began to perform a greater number of repetitions per set as strength levels increased. Towards the end of the 9-week period, all of the athletes were completing three sets of 20-30 repetitions in each of the four directions.

Workout chords of latex bands were fastened to an inanimate object, such as a weight stack, or to the base of a handrail, with the opposite end looped around the ankle. The participants were seated on a chair with the hip and knee both at 90 degrees of flexion. The chairs used were high enough for the participant to find 90 degrees of flexion at the hip and at the knee. The participant then swung the foot inward or outward, depending on the position relative to the attachment site of the chord. The instruction was to hold the knee joint stationary at a 90-degree angle, and the hip joint at a 90-degree angle while swinging the foot inward. The speed of the movement was set at one second moving inward, followed by a one second return to the starting position for the internal hip rotation sets (with just the opposite for the external hip rotation sets). This was the speed of movement for both inner and outer directions. The movement speed was selected in order to strike a balance between improving the strength and stability of the joint, versus the possibility of injury to the hip rotator muscles from ballistically performing the limits of the range of motion with the hip and knee joints in fixed positions. Range of motion was considered and the players were encouraged to perform the movement “as far as possible, while avoiding any sharp pain”. The exercise movement patterns for the hip rotation exercises were consistent during the study.

Workout chords (UltrafitTM Lateral Toner -Heavy) were acquired through Gopher Sports, Owatonna, MN. The product is a 23 cm long latex chord attached to a 36 cm Velcro ankle wrap (17 kg elastic tension force rating). Similar resistance chords (elastic tubing) have been demonstrated to elicit similar EMG and indicators of muscle damage as that experienced with isotonic training equipment (1, 10). The chords allowed for near ideal positioning of the hip and knee angles in order to isolate the hip rotator muscles for medial and lateral rotation.

For the pre- and post-tests the “stopwatch” application was used on the iPhone (Apple, Inc.) to time the T-test, Hexagon test, and the 20-yard (65.6 m) shuttle run (also known as the pro-agility test). Handheld timing devices are considered acceptable for tests of speed and agility (23). The “notes” iPhone application was used to record the names, height, weight, and scores for each of the participants. Three scorers were used, one for each of the tests, each scorer having an iPhone. When the testing was completed, the scorers emailed the information directly to the researcher using the iPhone. This procedure protected the data against any type of hand transfer error, by keeping the scoring and transfer of data completely electronic. After the data was collected and emailed to the researcher, the other two scorers deleted all information. The same three scorers were used for both the pre-test and post-test, to ensure reliability (23). A meeting was held before each test battery (pre and post-tests). The researcher instructed the scorers how to correctly administer the tests. The researcher and the three scorers practiced setting up the tests and conducted trial runs with each other as a rehearsal.

Three scorers (including the researcher) set up the three agility drills. The reliability of the T-test (r=0.98) (19), the Hexagon test (“excellent reliability”) (6) and the 20-Yard Shuttle Run (r=.96) (21) have been previously reported. Exact procedures for these drills were obtained at Participants were allowed one practice trial for each test. Following the practice trials, each test was repeated twice. All data was collected by the scorers and emailed directly to the researcher. The pre- and post-tests took place in the high school hallway. The post-tests took place the Monday following the last training session (72-96 hours).

The entire 9-week study was conducted during the soccer pre-season. Adherence to the program was monitored by the coach and the researcher by taking attendance. Absences were noted by the coach. Absences were rare, and there were no adherence problems.

After the 9 weeks were completed, the post-tests were administered in the same manner as the pre-tests. Scores were recorded in the same manner, using the same recorders. The data was then compared and analyzed, using Microsoft Excel ™. A gain score was calculated for each dependent variable that was equal to the difference between the post and pretest score. The gain score for each dependent variable was then compared between groups via an independent t-test with the significance level at < 0.05.. RESULTS
Two scores were collected at the pre-test and at the post-test for each dependent variable (T-Test, Hexagon Test, and 20-yard Shuttle Run). The “better” of the two scores was considered indicative of the maximum effort performance, and hence were used for analysis. Each dependent variable was measured in seconds.

The experimental group scores were (mean±sd) pre=9.8±0.4, post=9.7±0.6, gain=-0.1±0.2. The control group scores were pre=10.0±0.6, post=9.7±0.4, gain=-0.3±0.2. The range of pre to post scores for both the experimental and control group compare favorably with and slightly faster than previously published T-Test scores for Elite U-16 soccer players (23). There was not a significant difference in gain scores between groups (p=0.12). Table 1 provides the details of the pre and posttest measures of the T-Test.

Table 1. T-Test Results
Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 1.56.24 PM

Hexagon Test
The experimental group scores were (mean±sd) pre=12.1±1.2, post=10.9±1.1, gain=-1.2±1.2. The control group scores were pre=12.0±1.4, post=11.0±1.6, gain=-1.0±1.0. The range of pre to post scores for both the experimental and control group compare favorably with and slightly faster than previously published Hexagon test scores for male recreational college athletes (4). There was not a significant difference in gain scores between groups (p=0.35). Table 2 provides the details of the pre and post measures of the Hexagon Test.

Table 2. Hexagon Test Results
Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 1.57.04 PM

20 Yard Shuttle Run
The experimental group scores were (mean±sd) pre=5.0±0.3, post=5.0±0.3, gain=0.0±0.4. The control group scores were pre=5.0±0.4, post=5.1±0.2, gain=0.1±0.3. The range of pre to post scores for both the experimental and control group compare favorably with and slightly slower than previously published 20 yard Shuttle Run Test scores for male NCAA Division III soccer athletes (23). There was not a significant difference in gain scores between groups (p=0.18). Table 3 provides the details of the pre and post measures of the 20-yard shuttle run.

Table 3. 20-Yard Shuttle Run Results
Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 1.58.00 PM

The results from all three tests indicated that there was not a significant difference at the 0.05 level in performance between the experimental and the control group. The researchers failed to reject the null hypothesis. The addition of hip rotation exercises to the training program for the experimental group did not improve performance on the agility drills versus control.

Previous research exploring means to improve agility in soccer players has focused on strength training, plyometrics, plyometrics combined with strength training, stretching modalities, and acute exercise protocols (3, 8, 9, 13, 14, 20, 22). Plyometrics, strength training, and plyometrics combined with strength training have been demonstrated to improve performance on agility tests in soccer players (9, 14, 20, 22). However, studies regarding stretching modalities (PNF, static, dynamic) and acute exercise protocols are inconclusive with respect to improving performance on agility tests (3, 8, 13). There are no other published studies investigating training of the hip rotator muscles. This study was a pioneering research experiment to determine if strengthening hip rotator muscles using latex bands could lead to improved athletic performance on agility tests. The importance of this concept brings training of hip rotator muscles into sport performance. These hip rotational exercises could be readily added to a regular strength and conditioning program.

This study introduces the concept of training hip rotator muscles into practice. By using latex chords, soccer players were able to train hip rotator musculature. In retrospect some of the players expressed feeling a difference while doing these exercises over the weeks of time. After the posttests were completed, the elastic chords were given to the Coach. The general sense from the participants was that training the hip rotator muscles was beneficial and could make a positive difference. Hence, the team continued training the hip rotator muscles with the elastic chords following the conclusion of the study. One possible reason that improvements in agility were not observed with augmented training of the hip rotator muscles was due to the large overall volume of training for both groups. The experiment was performed during the preseason transition into the regular season where training volume is high.

The researchers were unable to establish a measurable benefit from the intervention. Possibly, relative effort was related to degree of gain. Those exhibiting the greatest effort during training (from either group) experienced the greatest improvements. Some subjects may have been more motivated to work hard and win a championship, particularly the older players. Possibly, some may have trained or performed harder when influenced by a friend. The level of motivation and social acceptance may relate to work ethic. Although the research hypothesis had to be rejected, hip rotation exercises may have value in strength training programs. There may be other training programs with hip rotation exercises in favor of the research hypothesis.

The preseason workload was formidable. The beneficial expression of hip rotator supplemental exercises was possibly limited due to the large volume of other weekly exercises. If the experiment is to be repeated, one might consider the off-season when many of the variables (including total workload) can be better controlled. For example, the team could weight-train for an hour, three times per week, without the limitations of a class period (summer break). Additionally, a specific time for the experimental group to do the hip rotation exercises could be scheduled after both groups have completed the common portions of the strength training protocols together. For example, half of the players could stay after the hour-long training session for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to perform the hip rotation exercises.

A criticism of this study might focus on the repetitions and intensity in the study protocol for the hip rotator exercises. Strength protocols require higher intensity resistance with fewer repetitions whereas endurance prescribes higher repetitions with lower resistance. Arguably, the wording of the title of the study could be changed to “endurance” or “prehabilitation”. There is a relationship between muscular strength and endurance, and the small rotator muscles of the hip were isolated and exposed to focused resistance training. Nerves command muscles to pull on bones to stabilize and generate movement about joints. In theory, the nerves and motor units commanding these actions should have become stronger in response to the resistance-training stimulus. Considering the lengths, origins, and insertions, these small muscles do not create enormous amounts of torque, however, these muscles do stabilize the joint socket. The larger muscles of the legs and core move the body. The concept is to improve the stability of the joint, in turn, allowing the larger muscles to have a more stable frame to pull on. Providing the larger muscles with a more stable frame should allow for the generation of faster, more powerful movements. Further, as with the rotator cuff muscles, resistance training with high intensity and lower repetitions could be potentially hazardous to the hip rotator muscles.

Both the experimental and control groups performed total body exercises including dot drills, hang cleans, and power cleans. The dot drills, hang cleans, and power cleans were exercises where members of both groups were encouraged to move as explosively and fast as possible during the execution of the exercises while maintaining proper technique. Conversely, the tempo of the execution of the hip rotator exercises was 1:1 (seconds), with one second moving inward, followed by a one second return to the starting position for the internal hip rotation sets (with just the opposite for the external hip rotation sets). The movement speed was selected in order to strike a balance between improving the strength and stability of the joint, versus the possibility of inducing an injury to the hip rotator muscles. Ballistic movements into the limits of the range of motion may affect short or long-term risk of injury while the hip and knee are in fixed positions.

The research hypothesis was that the speed of movement and power developed as a result of performing dot drills, hang cleans, and power cleans would be better exhibited by the experimental group due to the introduction of the hip rotator exercises. The addition of hip rotator exercises was hypothesized to develop speed and power to a greater degree while performing other exercises (dot drills, hang cleans, and power cleans). Future studies might focus on the tempo of performing the hip rotator exercises. From a specificity standpoint, hip rotator exercises may need to be performed at a faster pace in order to better transfer the speed and power developed for agility performance.

In conclusion, although the research hypothesis was rejected, hip rotation exercises may still prove to be a valuable part of a strength-training program. With additional sport-related studies, the importance of hip rotation exercises augmenting a training program may prove beneficial for the enhancement of sport agility performance. These exercises may help athletes to be stronger, more agile, and less prone to injury.

Prehabilitation is a concept where muscle groups are exposed to various exercise protocols with the hope of reducing the occurrence and severity of sport injuries (10, 11). This study could be considered prehabilitative in nature. Isolated training of the hip rotator muscles may improve the strength of the exercised muscles and enhance the long-term stability of the hip joint. Joint laxity and muscle weakness are both intrinsic risk factors for joint injury (12). A possible benefit of this study was a subsequent reduction of hip joint injuries and severity. However, the study did not include a follow up period where injury occurrences were monitored.


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2014-03-05T14:03:28-06:00March 5th, 2014|Contemporary Sports Issues, General, Sports Exercise Science|Comments Off on The Impact of Hip Rotator Strength Training on Agility in Male High School Soccer Players

Correlates of Performance at the USRowing Youth National Championships: A Case Study of 152 Junior Rowers

Submitted by Alex Wolff & Pavle Mikulic

This study was designed to assess the extent of the relationship between a number of variables (2000 m rowing ergometer score, weight adjusted 2000 m rowing ergometer score, height, weight, and years of experience) and placement at the USRowing Youth National Championships, in order to highlight areas for college recruiters and aspiring junior rowers to focus on. Data for 152 athletes competing in 18 events was collected. Data collection was accomplished through a site search of “” for the keywords “youth nationals” “nationals” and “rowing”; athletes reported placement was then verified against the official race results. Athletes were subdivided into categories based on boat size, event type, weight class, and gender. In almost all categories (with the exception of men’s open weight sweep and lightweight sculls) a significant (p<0.05) correlation between rowing ergometer score and placement was established. The highest correlation between rowing ergometer score and placement was observed in women’s lightweight sculls (r=0.76). Weight adjustment provided notable improvements in only two categories over unadjusted ergometer score: men’s open weight sculls (r=0.79 vs. r=0.72) and men’s lightweight sculls (r=0.49 vs. r=0.42). Weight independent of ergometer score and experience did not correlate with final rankings. Height independent of ergometer score correlated with final rankings in only one category - men’s open sculls (r=0.38). While it is possible that the small sample sizes in some categories may have impacted the results, a clear trend emerges emphasizing the importance of unadjusted rowing ergometer score over other factors in evaluating junior rowers at the national level.

Rowing is a strength-endurance activity that requires both aerobic and anaerobic capability for successful performance (Maestu, Jurimae, & Jurimae, 2005; Secher, 2000). A typical rowing race takes place over a 2000 m course and, depending on the boat category and weather conditions, is characterized by 5.5 – 7.5 minutes of exhaustive physical effort. Rowing comprises two distinct, but closely related disciplines: sculling and sweep rowing. The main distinction between the two is that sculling involves the use of two oars per rower, one in each hand, versus only one slightly larger oar for sweep rowers. Of the two, sculling is considered more technically demanding, and sweep is more popular, particularly at the collegiate level where major sculling regattas are largely nonexistent. All rowing boats can also be divided into two additional categories: small boats (boats with one or two crew members, i.e. single sculls, double sculls and pairs) and large boats (boats with four or eight rowers, i.e. quadruple sculls, coxed and coxless fours and eights). Typically, the larger the boat is, the more stable it becomes because of the additional hull width and length. Because of this, a single can be a much different boat to row than an eight. Additionally, larger boats increase the importance of synchronization of crew members’ strokes to achieve increased speed (Baudouin & Hawkins, 2002). A more recent addition to the world of competitive rowing has been the advent of lightweight events. USRowing defines lightweight junior rowers as weighing no more than 160 or 130 pounds for men and women, respectively. Lightweight events at Youth National Championships are lightweight double, lightweight four, and lightweight eight.

Besides its international popularity as a competitive sport and its continuous presence on Olympic Games from the very first modern Olympic Games held in 1896 in Athens, Greece, rowing is also a major collegiate sport in various countries, including the United States. With this in mind, it may be of particular interest for college recruiters to gain a better understanding of the factors that contribute to rowing performance in junior rowers competing at the most important event at the national level: the USRowing Youth National Championships. Likewise, it may be important for prospective junior rowers and their coaches to be able to focus on those factors which contribute to greater on-water performance.

College recruiters are continuously striving to improve the selection process for their rowing teams and, when assessing a junior rower’s ability, they can be presented with a wide array of factors to consider. With this in mind, we designed this study to assess the strength of association between a number of objective variables and race placement at the USRowing Youth National Championships. The variables we examined include years of experience, body height, body weight, 2000 m rowing ergometer score and 2000 m weight adjusted rowing ergometer score. Based on our two earlier studies (Mikulic et al. 2009a,b) in which we observed a strong correlation between 2000 m rowing ergometer performance scores and final rankings at both World Rowing Championships and World Junior Rowing Championships, we hypothesized that 2000 m rowing ergometer score (an “all-out” effort over a distance of 2000 m) would be the strongest correlate to placement at the USRowing Youth National Championships. However, the extent to which this is true and the relation of other variables to rowing performance in junior rowers competing at the USRowing Youth National Championships has yet to be determined.

The data for this study was collected by performing a site search of athlete’s profiles on the “” web site. This site allows athletes to upload their information such as personal best 2000 m ergometer score along with other facts such as their height, weight, and notable race results, all in an effort to increase their visibility to college recruiters. We performed the search using the keywords “youth nationals” “nationals” and “rowing”. Those profiles which listed a 2012 or 2013 Youth Nationals result were then matched to the official race results from their respective year to verify that athletes reported placement. Once verified, that athlete’s information and placement was included in the data set. The variables recorded were: 2000 m rowing ergometer score (personal best), height, weight, years of experience, and weight adjusted 2000 m ergometer score based on the following formula (6):

Adjusted ergometer score = (rower weight/270)^0.22* ergometer score in seconds

The data was then divided into a number of sub categories which were as follows: open weight overall, open category scull and open category sweep. Rowers were further classified as open category men, open category women, lightweight men, and lightweight women. The correlation between each factor and placement was established for each category using the Pearson product moment correlation coefficient. The significance of correlation coefficients was tested to a confidence of p=0.05. In addition, we performed a series of independent samples t-tests to examine the differences in rowing ergometer scores between selected groups of rowers.

Tables 1 and 2 indicate that 2000 m ergometer scores, both in absolute values and adjusted to a rower’s weight, demonstrate the most consistent association with final rankings at the USRowing Youth Championships. This is especially evident in women’s events in which the correlations between the ergometer scores and final rankings were evident in all of the observed categories (i.e. scull and sweep, open category and lightweight rowers).

Table 1. Correlation coefficients between final rankings at the USRowing Youth Championships and five observed variables in groups of male junior rowers
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Table 2. Correlation coefficients between final rankings at the USRowing Youth Championships and five observed variables in groups of female junior rowers
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T-tests were utilized to test for differences in ergometer scores between sweep oar rowers and scullers (Table 3). The only category in which a significant difference was observed between scullers and sweep oar rowers was the men’s lightweight category. There was no significant difference between women’s lightweight sweep oar rowers and scullers, women’s open category sweep oar rowers and scullers, or men’s open category sweep oar rowers and scullers. Similarly, when ergometer scores of big vs. small boat rowers were compared, no significant differences were observed across the categories except for the men’s lightweight category (Table 4).

Table 3. 2000-m Rowing ergometer scores (in seconds) for various categories of rowers and independent samples t-test results for differences between sweep oar rowers vs. scullers
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Table 4. 2000 m Rowing ergometer scores (in seconds) for various categories of rowers and independent samples t-test results for differences between rowers in small vs. big boats
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In this study we aimed to identify the variables that showed the strongest association with the final rankings at the most important competition for junior rowers in the US – the USRowing Youth Championships. The results (Tables 1 and 2) indicate that 2000 m rowing ergometer scores, both in absolute values and adjusted to body weight, displayed the strongest correlations across categories, both for junior men and women. In junior men, the strongest correlations were observed for open category sculling events (r=0.72 for ergometer score; r=0.79 for weight adjusted ergometer score) while in junior women the strongest correlation were observed for lightweight category sculling events (r=0.76 for both ergometer score and weight adjusted ergometer score). These findings largely corroborate findings from our earlier study (Mikulic et al. 2009a) in which we observed moderate to high correlation coefficients between 2000 m rowing ergometer score and final rankings at the World Rowing Junior Championships. In that study, rowing ergometer scores of junior rowers correlated with their final rankings in all 13 events in which the junior rowers competed at the 2007 World Rowing Junior Championships with the correlation coefficient ranging from r=0.31 to r=0.92.

Weight adjusted rowing ergometer scores are ergometer scores normalized to that specific rowers speed in an eight boat. Since heavier rowers sink the boat further into the water, thus creating more wetted surface and drag, they must be capable of producing greater power to achieve the same speed as a lighter rower. This should, in theory, improve upon the correlation produced by non-weight-adjusted scores which we failed to observe on a consistent basis in the present study (Tables 1 and 2). The categories for which weight adjustment provided the largest improvement (men’s open and lightweight sculls) had comparatively small standard deviations versus other groups. It is possible that weight adjustment thus becomes more of a factor since the difference in “raw power” (represented by the ergometer score) between rowers was not as exaggerated as other categories for which weight adjustment provided no improvement.

Experience, height and weight of junior rowers did not generally correlate with final rankings at the USRowing Youth Championships, with the exception of height which correlated with the final rankings in junior men’s open category sculling events (r=-0.38), and experience which correlated with final rankings in junior women’s open category sculling events (r=-0.52). This general lack of association between the body size variables (i.e. height and weight) and final rankings at the Championships is somewhat surprising given the well documented importance of body size for rowing performance (for a review, see Shephard, 1998) including rowing performance at the junior level (Burgois 2000; 2001). It is possible that since Youth Nationals is a lower level of competition than junior worlds, the regatta analyzed in the studies cited, the larger variance in skill and general fitness (and, by extension, the ergometer score) would outweigh the importance of body size.

There appear to be no differences in 2000 m rowing ergometer scores of junior male and female rowers who compete in sculling vs. sweep rowing events (Table 3). The exception are junior men’s lightweight categories in which scullers are about 10 seconds faster than their counterparts from sweep rowing boats. Similarly, 2000 m rowing ergometer scores of junior men and women do not appear to differ for those competing in big vs. the small boats. Again, the only exception are junior lightweight categories in which rowers competing in a small boat are about 10 seconds faster than their counterparts competing in a big boat. Apparently, 2000 m ergometer score does not appear to be a factor for selecting a junior rower to a sculling vs. the sweep boat or the big vs. the small boat. In our earlier study (Mikulic et al., 2009a) we also observed no differences between 2000 m ergometer scores of scullers and sweep rowers competing at the 2007 World Junior Championship, either for male or female rowers (no rowers compete in lightweight categories at World Junior Championships). However, in that study, we also observed that better 2000 m ergometer performers tended to be selected to large boats. We must, however, mention a limitation of comparing 2000 m ergometer scores of various groups of junior rowers in this study as the numbers of rowers in comparing groups differed substantially thus reducing the accuracy of t-test analyses.

In conclusion, the most important factor to consider in the recruitment of junior rowers is rowing ergometer score over 2000 meters. This finding largely confirmed our original hypothesis. In certain categories (particularly men’s open weight categories), weight adjusting provided some improvements and may be useful in distinguishing between candidates with similar ergometer scores. Years of experience, height, and weight independent of ergometer score were shown to have very little correlation with actual boat speed.

When evaluating junior rowers as potential candidates for recruitment, the most important factor appears to be the 2000 m rowing ergometer score. While weight adjustment can in certain scenarios aid in evaluation, it is only marginally effective at best. Experience, height, and weight should be largely ignored as these factors have very little impact on boat speed. Junior rowers looking to perform well at Youth National Championships should focus their efforts on improving their 2000 m rowing ergometer scores.


1. Baudouin, A., & D. Hawkins. (2002). A biomechanical review of factors affecting rowing performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(6), 396-402.

2. Maestu, J., Jurimae, J., & Jurimae, T. (2005). Monitoring of performance and training in rowing. Sports Medicine, 35, 597–617.

3. Secher, N. H. (2000). Rowing. In R. J. Shephard & P. O. A°strand (Eds.), Endurance in sport (pp. 836–843). Oxford: Blackwell Science.

4. Mikulic, P., Smoljanovic, T., Bojanic, I., Hannafin, J., Pedisic, Z. (2009a). Does 2000-m rowing ergometer performance time correlate with final rankings at the World Junior Rowing Championship? A case study of 398 elite junior rowers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(4), 361–366.

5. Mikulic, P., Smoljanovic, T., Bojanic, I., Hannafin, J.A., Matkovic, B.R. (2009b). Relationship between 2000-m rowing ergometer performance times and World Rowing Championships rankings in elite-standard rowers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(9), 907–913.

6. Weight Adjustment Calculator. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved November 23, 2013, from

7. Bourgois, J., Claessens, A.L., Vrijens, J., Philippaerts, R., Van Renterghem, B., Thomis, M. et al. (2000). Anthropometric characteristics of elite male junior rowers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34, 213-216.

8. Bourgois J, Claessens AL, Janssens M, Van Renterghem B, Loos R, Thomis M, Philippaerts R, Lefevre J, Vrijens J. (2001). Anthropometric characteristics of elite female junior rowers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 19(3), 195-202.

9. Shephard, R.J. (1998). Science and medicine of rowing: a review. Journal of Sports Sciences, 16, 603-620.

2016-04-01T09:27:20-05:00March 3rd, 2014|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Exercise Science, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Correlates of Performance at the USRowing Youth National Championships: A Case Study of 152 Junior Rowers

Analysis of Didactic Approaches to Teaching Young Children to Swim

Submitted by Anja Pečaver, Maja Pungeršek, Mateja Videmšek, Damir Karpljuk, Jože Štihec and Maja Meško.

Purpose: The study deals with an analysis of teaching swimming to children aged between four and eleven.

Methods: The study involved swimming instructors, teachers and coaches from different swimming schools in Slovenia. Data were acquired for 90 providers of swimming courses. The data were then analysed using descriptive statistic methods. The hypotheses were verified using Pearson’s χ² test and the Mann-Whitney test. Statistical significance was established at a 5% risk level.

Results: It was established that the differences between some parts of the exercise unit in terms of the frequency of use of a didactic movement game were related to gender and the acquired professional title. The didactic tools most frequently used during the swimming classes include kickboards, floating noodles and pool dive toys.

Conslusion: Children become more enthusiastic about learning to swim if information communication technology and didactic devices are used; it is easier to motivate them and attract their attention.

Applications in Sports: Swimming teachers should more often use didactic flotation devices whitch will fullfil children’s interest for swimming.

It is extremely important for children to engage in a sport activity. Already at an early age they should be offered a variety of motor activities so as to broaden their horizons (16). In recent times, the age limit at which a child is expected to swim and have good swimming knowledge has decreased considerably. These days we expect children to swim already at the start of primary school whereas in the past children developed this ability at the end of primary school (17). Many reasons speak in favour of teaching children to swim as early as possible, with one of them clearly being to protect them from drowning. This is one reason that the new physical education curriculum for primary schools (10) includes a compulsory 20-hour swimming course in the second or third grade (at the age of 7–9 years). According to British experts, the most appropriate time to learn to swim is the three-year period from the age of eight to eleven because the learning process is fast and relaxed, children are motivated and few pupils skip classes (6). Relying on the results of her study, Škafar Novak (18) states it is reasonable to teach swimming at two age levels, namely getting children accustomed to water in the first primary school grade (6–7 years) and teaching them to swim in the third primary school grade (8–9 years). Great progress in swimming “literacy” is seen already with the youngest generations who explore water and its environment. Today about 10% of babies at the age of six months and older (17) can swim. Moreover, an analysis of reports on the running of annual sport programmes in local communities reveals that 249 swimming courses were conducted in 2008 (186 in primary schools, 63 in kindergartens) involving a total of 8,972 children (9).

When learning to swim it is important that the programme underpinning the learning process is well structured and suitable for the specific age group and the previous knowledge of the learners, and that it is organised flawlessly (4, 14). Incorrect steps taken during a child’s first contact with water can considerably extend the process of learning to swim and result in a negative experience which could linger throughout their life (12, 19). We should be aware that children’s safety is crucial in all types of sport activities, and just as important as maintaining their positive attitude to sport. All of the above depend more or less on the teacher who must be acquainted with the various contents, methods and types of learning to be able to attain the set goals. Working with young age groups is particularly demanding as it requires special approaches, gradual work and reasonable planning of the entire training process.

When one thinks about water activities for children, images of joy, fun, pleasure and laughter come to mind. To maintain such positive feelings during exercise and also afterwards, the swimming instructor/teacher/coach must not only have good knowledge of swimming techniques and good demonstration skills but also master appropriate swimming teaching methods which, for young children, must be based on didactic play. Jurak and Kovač (6) emphasise that the number of lessons making up the swimming “literacy” campaign has been decreasing which is why the teacher must make the best of the time that is dedicated to learning swimming. This can be achieved by using a modern learning programme which also includes the use of an appropriate didactic movement game and a variety of didactic tools (12, 25).

Given the obstacles that commonly appear on the way to the set goal, swimming professionals must cope with different situations, some of which may be very stressful for both the learners and teachers alike. It is up to the teacher which method they will choose to solve the problems, and their choice depends on their education, work experience and mainly their gift for working with children. Kovač (10) established that children up to nine years of age are most often taught by professionals with the title “swimming instructor” who generally have 3 to 5 years of work experience. They use a variety of didactic tools in their work which is positively reflected in the high motivation of children and, consequently, the high percentage of children who have become completely accustomed to water by the end of the course.

The purpose of the study was to analyse the teaching of swimming to children aged between four and eleven. We aimed to establish which difficulties swimming instructors/teachers/coaches encounter in individual exercise units, to what extent they use different didactic tools and a didactic movement game. Another aim was to establish whether there were any statistically significant gender differences in terms of the selection of the group of learners, the frequency of use of a didactic movement game and the frequency of coping with problems related to the learner’s personality. Another aim was to establish any statistically significant differences in the frequency of use of a didactic movement game depending on the professional title acquired by the instructor/teacher/coach.

Study subjects

The study encompassed a sample of 90 professionals (71 swimming instructors, 16 swimming teachers and 3 swimming coaches) who conduct swimming courses in different places in Slovenia. The sample of subjects included 57.8% of women aged between 20 and 50 and 42.2% of men aged between 19 and 55 years. The survey questionnaires were handed out during a licensing seminar for swimming instructors.

Swimming aids
The study was underpinned by a survey questionnaire which was completed by instructors, teachers and coaches from different swimming schools in Slovenia. The survey questionnaire included 15 questions of which some were closed-ended while others involved a combination of open-ended and closed-ended questions. Absolute anonymity of the subjects was ensured.

Verification of the questionnaire’s reliability
Cronbach’s alpha is a coefficient of reliability or consistency. Its purpose is to establish how effectively a group of variables or items measures an individual one-dimensional latent composition. With a multidimensional structure the alpha coefficient is low (13).

The value of Cronbach’s alpha rises with an increase in the number of items in the questionnaire. When correlations between the items are low, the value of alpha is also low: the higher the correlation, the higher the alpha value. High correlations among the items prove that the latter are measuring the same basic problem or subject. In that case, we can conclude that their reliability is good, i.e. high. It has been assessed in theory that alpha values around 0.60 are still acceptable (13).

It was concluded that the questionnaire’s reliability is high ranging from 0.72 to a very high value of 0.816.

The 90 swimming instructors, teachers and coaches who attended the licensing seminar for swimming instructors at the Faculty of Sport in Ljubljana received the survey questionnaires. The data were processed with the SPSS 19.0 (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) software application. The Mann-Whitney test and Hi² test were conducted. Statistical significance was established at a 5% risk level.

Limitations of the study
The study was conducted among swimming teachers in Slovenian primary schools. The study is thus limited to Slovenia in geographical terms. It does not encompass any teachers of children with special needs and does not investigate the characteristics and problems of the didactical teaching of children with special needs.

The results of the survey questionnaire served as a basis for analysing the system of work in different swimming schools in Slovenia.

The analysis of work experience revealed that professionals with 3 to 4 years of experience (31.1%) were in the majority, followed by those with 1 to 2 years (26.6%) and those with 5 to 6 years (23.3%) of experience. The smallest share was that of professionals with 7 years of experience or more (18.9%).

More than three-quarters of the surveyed professionals attend expert seminars once every two years to refresh their previous knowledge and acquire new knowledge. This result was expected since most of the surveyed professionals hold the swimming instructor licence which must be ratified every two years by attending expert seminars. Ten percent of the subjects attend seminars once a year and 3.3% twice a year. Surprisingly, 11.1% of those surveyed answered that they never attend any seminars.

We were also interested in which children they would prefer to select for their group (Figure 1) and whether there were any statistically significant differences in terms of the professionals’ genders (Table 1).

Figure 1. Selection of a group depending on a professional’s gender
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Only 18.9% of the surveyed professionals answered that it was irrelevant which group they teach, whereas others chose a group based on the learners’ age and knowledge. The results show that women prefer to teach the youngest children who are not yet accustomed to water or are unfamiliar with the swimming techniques, whereas men prefer learners who are accustomed to water and can swim 25 metres or more using one of the swimming techniques (Figure 1).

Table 1. Selection of a group depending on a professional’s gender
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It can be asserted at a 5% risk level that there are statistically significant differences in the selection of a group in terms of the gender of the swimming instructor/teacher/coach (Table 1).

Given the importance of playing for the overall development of a child, the surveyed professionals were asked how frequently they used didactic movement games when teaching children to swim (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Use of a didactic game in the teaching of swimming
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Using a 5-point Likert scale (with 1 meaning never and 5 always) the surveyed professionals assessed that they use a didactic movement game most often when getting children accustomed to putting their head under water (4.19), followed by the preparatory part of the exercise unit (4.12) and getting children accustomed to seeing under water (4.09). These are followed by getting children accustomed to exhaling in water (3.96), while sliding and in the main part of the exercise (both 3.5). The professionals use a didactic movement game the least in the actual teaching of swimming techniques (3.07) (Figure 2).

We were interested in whether any statistically significant differences in the frequency of using a didactic movement game when teaching swimming depend on a professional’s gender (Table 2).

Table 2. Use of a didactic motor game in specific parts of the exercise unit, with different contents, depending on a professional’s gender

It can be asserted at a 5% risk level that there are statistically significant differences in the frequency of use of a didactic movement game in the preparatory part of the exercise unit, when getting children accustomed to water resistance, putting their head under water, seeing under water and exhaling in water (Table 2). The female professionals use didactic movement games more frequently when teaching the abovementioned activities (Figure 2).

We were interested in whether any statistically significant differences in the frequency of use of a didactic movement game in the teaching of swimming depend on a teacher’s gender (Table 3).

Table 3. Use of a didactic movement game in the exercise unit depending on the acquired professional title

It can be asserted at a 5% risk level that there are statistically significant differences in getting children accustomed to water resistance, putting their head under water and exhaling in water (Table 3). The swimming professionals with lower titles (swimming instructors) more frequently use a didactic movement game in the abovementioned activities than the professionals who hold higher titles (swimming teachers).

Table 4. Use of a didactic movement game in specific parts of the exercise unit depending on the professional title

The frequency of the use of different didactic tools during the teaching process was also analysed (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Use of swimming aids
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Analysis of the results shows (Figure 3) that in swimming schools the three most frequently used didactic tools include a kickboard (4.24), a floating noodle (4.11) and pool dive toys (3.60). Of all the above mentioned swimming aids the professionals only occasionally use pull buoys, swim hats/floating toys and rings/frames and only rarely mats and slides, whereas swimming balls and swimming belts are almost never used.

We were interested in how the swimming instructors/teachers/coaches acquaint children with the rules that must be observed in the swimming pool (Figure 4).

Figure 4. The method of acquainting children with the rules
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The professionals most often employ the discussion method (85.6%). Less than 14% of the answers to this question fit into the categories: by setting an example, using a stimulation game, with picture materials and by using all of the methods mentioned (Figure 4).

The respondents were asked how they impart new swimming contents to children. They had to mark the listed learning methods from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning never and 5 always (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Method of imparting new contents
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Figure 5 shows that a personal demonstration in the water is the method professionals use in almost every exercise unit to impart new contents to children (4.64). Personal demonstration on land ranks second (4.5). The professionals often use the explanation and discussion methods (4.19 and 4.13, respectively). Sometimes they use metaphors, comparisons (e.g. leap like a dolphin) and conceptions (3.24). It is surprising that they almost never use picture materials and video recordings (1.37).

In the study, we enquired into the problems the instructors/teachers/coaches deal with during the pedagogical process (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The frequency of problems related to a child’s personality the professionals deal with
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Figure 6 shows that the professionals most frequently deal with fear (3.46) during swimming lessons. In terms of the frequency of occurrence, that is followed by motor abilities (3.19), stubbornness and audacity or mischief (3.13). Disobedience (2.99) is also in the middle of the range. The sixth place in terms of frequency is held by lack of persistence (2.62) and the penultimate one to apathy (2.46). The least frequent is aggressiveness (1.93).

We were also interested in whether any statistically significant differences in the frequency of dealing with problems related to a child’s personality depend on a professional’s gender (Table 5).

Table 5. Frequency of dealing with problems depending on a professional’s gender
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It can be asserted at a 5% risk level that there are no statistically significant differences in the frequency of dealing with problems related to a child’s personality that depend on a professional’s gender (Table 5).

A prerequisite for the high-quality implementation of swimming courses is a swimming facility which complies with basic health, safety and pedagogical standards. The surveyed professionals were asked how frequently they encounter poor working conditions (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Frequency of encountering poor working conditions
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Figure 7 shows that the surveyed professionals most often deal with cold water – it was graded with 2.37 points, which means they encounter it sometimes. The next two are excessive noise in the swimming pool (2.33) and not enough space for exercise (2.31). Only rarely do the professionals deal with a damaged area surrounding the pool (2.09), a lack of swimming aids (2.04), too shallow/deep water (1.91), too many learners in the group (1.77) and the last-ranking dirty water (1.61).

At the end the swimming instructors/teachers/coaches were asked to explain how they choose the method for resolving problems encountered during the pedagogical process (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Demonstration of the frequency of problem-solving methods
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The surveyed professionals most often choose the problem solving methods they became acquainted with during additional trainings such as seminars and courses; these methods were assessed with 3.60. Slightly fewer professionals use methods stemming from their own experience acquired during training sessions in clubs or sport societies (3.27). In third place is knowledge acquired in school and/or at a faculty (3.21). Professionals help themselves the least with the experience they have acquired in their home environment based on behavioural patterns in the family and the examples set by parents. This was assessed with 3.14.

Teaching young children to swim requires the use of methodical procedures, good knowledge of different games and the handling of swimming aids as well as a lot of patience, dedication and energy (14). The study established that women prefer to teach the youngest children, especially those who are not yet accustomed to water or are unfamiliar with the swimming techniques, whereas men prefer to teach children who are already accustomed to water and can swim 25 metres or more using one of the swimming techniques.

Emotional learning takes place as long as there is an emotional link with the subject of learning; when the link is broken, children become weary and they turn their attention to other things and no longer accept information. If the games are carefully chosen they will engage the child’s emotions sufficiently (2, 11, 21). The study shows that swimming professionals only occasionally use a didactic movement game in the actual teaching of swimming techniques. This is of great concern because it shows that swimming professionals are not aware that children, even when they are already accustomed to water, are still children whose basic desire, need and right is to play and to enjoy playing. The results show that professionals with lower titles (swimming instructors) and who are female use didactic games in some swimming course activities considerably more than men. Playfulness is the prerequisite for a game and should combine freedom, relaxedness and an absence of fear. We believe that too many instructors/teachers/coaches refuse to rediscover the child within themselves and to descend to the child’s level, or are incapable of doing this. In their analysis of skiing teaching methods for the youngest, Dobida and Videmšek (5) also established that didactic games were much too rarely used in practice and that their use declines with the increasing skiing knowledge of a child.

The use of appropriate didactic tools adds to the quality of the exercise, while also making it more lively (8). The analysis of the results shows that in swimming schools the three most frequently used didactic tools included kickboards, floating noodles and pool dive toys. In fact, these are very commonly used swimming aids and can be used to get a learner accustomed to water and to teach them the basics of the swimming technique. Of all the above mentioned aids, swimming professionals occasionally use pull buoys, swimming hats/floating toys and rings/frames and only rarely mats and slides, whereas swimming balls and swimming belts are almost never used. The abovementioned aids break the monotony of the exercise, enable the learner to gain some independence in the water and provide for diversity in the learning process, and so they are an important motivational tool for learners. It is important that the aids are suitable (made of safe materials), in vivid colours, of the appropriate size etc. (22). Sometimes, the use of didactic tools for teaching non-swimmers was limited solely to a kickboard and balls or, in many cases, there were no tools at all (6, 15). Today, swimming instructors/teachers/coaches have many didactic tools available that enable the transfer of information in the psychomotor cognitive process; they facilitate the demonstration of a specific movement as well as the transfer and acceptance of different pieces of information which influence the final knowledge of the swimming course participant. It is difficult to imagine any sport activity without appropriate tools. An exercise becomes dull and is difficult to implement, especially with the youngest children. Didactic tools should be selected based on the set goals and children’s level of development. The availability of tools most often depends on financial resources; however, with a little resourcefulness one can make tools by themselves or borrow them.

In all sport exercises specific rules and regulations apply that must be followed by those implementing activities and the learners. Also in a pool or a swimming facility one must observe the rules and, most importantly, respect oneself and other people. The purpose of the signs set up around pools and swimming facilities is to inform swimmers about the water depth, prohibitions and types of danger (14). Therefore, we were interested in studying how the swimming instructors/teachers/coaches acquaint children with the rules that must be observed in the swimming pool. The swimming professionals most often only employ the discussion method. Only a few professionals set their own example, use a stimulation game and picture materials even though these are the methods that attract a child’s attention the most.

The surveyed professionals were asked how they impart new swimming contents to children. The demonstration method plays a particularly important role in the implementation of a physical education process for the youngest. It allows children to obtain a clear idea of the movement they are expected to perform. The analysis of the answers to the abovementioned survey questions shows that the professionals are aware of the above, as personal demonstration in the water and personal demonstration on land were ranked first and second, respectively. The professionals often use the explanation and discussion methods. Learning strategies are quite rarely used, namely, comparisons, metaphors and conceptions functioning as cognitive aids in the process of learning new contents and systematically supporting cognitive processes related to knowledge and the acquiring of new knowledge (1, 23). Those who run swimming courses know too little about the learning strategies which help learners achieve the set goals faster and easier. The swimming professionals almost never use picture material and video recordings. Children become more enthusiastic about learning to swim if information communication technology is used; it is easier to motivate them and attract their attention.

As a group consists of children with different behavioural characteristics and peculiarities, many things can happen while teaching them to swim (11). We enquired about the problems instructors/teachers/coaches deal with during the pedagogical process. The surveyed professionals noted that the greatest burden is a child’s fear of water which is a consequence of their negative experience with water. This fear is often unintentionally created by parents and the heads of swimming courses if they incessantly warn children about the dangers of water. As expected, the second place was occupied by poorly developed motor abilities of children which represent a great problem of modern times. Namely, children spend most of their leisure time at home, watching TV or sitting in front of a computer. Fear and poor motor abilities are followed by stubbornness, audacity and disobedience. We established no statistically significant differences in the frequency of dealing with problems related to the child’s personality depending on a swimming professional’s gender. All of the abovementioned problems are a consequence of the fast pace of living since these days parents do not spend enough time with their children. The latter learn many things from TV shows and computer games. The last three places among all problems were taken by a lack of persistence, apathy and aggressiveness. In one of their studies, Štihec, Bežek, Videmšek, and Karpljuk (20) found that physical education teachers often have to cope with a lack of discipline, excessive boisterousness, a failure to follow instructions, unauthorised absences, pupils’ lack of motivation, potentially dangerous situations/activities for pupils etc. during their work which can lead to a conflict situation.

The prerequisite for the high-quality implementation of a swimming course is appropriate working conditions. The swimming facility must meet basic health, safety and pedagogical standards (3). The surveyed professionals were asked how frequently they encounter poor working conditions and they ranked contact with cold water at the top of the problem list. Therefore, it is very important that children do not stand still during the swimming course but perform different motor tasks all the time. The surveyed professionals also reported that excessive noise in the swimming pool and insufficient space for exercise were quite annoying. Only rarely do the professionals deal with a damaged area surrounding the pool, a lack of swimming aids, too shallow/deep water, too many learners in the group and dirty water.

If the swimming instructors/teachers/coaches encounter problems during the pedagogical process they most often choose problem-solving methods they have learned about during additional trainings such as seminars and courses. In second place is the method stemming from their own experience which was acquired during trainings in clubs or sport societies. This is followed by knowledge acquired at school or a faculty, whereas the method the instructors/teachers/coaches use the least is their experience they have acquired in their home environment (examples set by parents and other members of the family).

The swimming learning model has been developed in Slovenia for already 50 years. The Slovenian theoretical design and practical implementation have thus approached the models of some of the most developed European countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands (7). In slightly less than a decade, swimming knowledge in Slovenia has improved by almost 20% due to the systematic approach to individual levels of the teaching of swimming, monitoring of an individual’s progress after each level, the intertwining of compulsory and elective school programmes as well as the projects within the National Sport Programme, a number of systemic measures throughout all these years and public co-financing (9).

The quality of the teacher’s expert work primarily depends on their professional qualifications or knowledge, personality, abilities, creativity and authority (8, 24). When teaching the youngest, one should be aware that children are not just a miniature copy of adults but are specific learners with their own needs, requirements and last but not least desires. One has to be familiar with the different paths to the goal that must be adjusted to children. Therefore, when teaching these age categories swimming instructors/teachers/coaches must consider a child’s developmental characteristics, adjust the didactic approaches and include different didactic tools in the process. Finally, it is very important that learning to swim becomes a pleasant and interesting experience for the child, that it awakens positive feelings in them so that they will continue to engage in recreational swimming later in life.

We have to be aware that a didactic game is a fundamental method of work and approach to working with children, but the study shows that swimming professionals only occasionally use a didactic movement game in the actual teaching of swimming techniques. Therefore didactic motor game is still underused in practice; its use decreasing with the increasing level of child’s swimming skills. Children need and right is to play and to enjoy playing, so swimming teachers should more often use didactic flotation devices.

Authors agree that this research has non-financial conflicts or interest. This includes all monetary reimbursement, salary, stocks or shares in any company.

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2014-02-14T11:39:43-06:00February 14th, 2014|Contemporary Sports Issues, General, Sports Exercise Science, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Analysis of Didactic Approaches to Teaching Young Children to Swim

‘The Personal Journey’: A Study of the Individual Race Stories of Desert Marathon Runners

Submitted by Richard Cheetham MSc, University of Winchester

The research recounted the personal journeys and experiences of individuals who had undertaken and completed a Desert Marathon race, with specific focus on the reasons behind their participation, their race experiences and how the race had subsequently impacted upon their lives. The lack of a comparative analysis of these individual personal race accounts formed the rationale behind this research. The objective was to achieve a greater appreciation of what drives those to challenge themselves in such harsh and high risk environments. The eight runners interviewed all sought a challenge beyond that of the normal marathon distance and one that would require very diligent training ‘rituals’… The very personal reasons ranged from using the race to seek adventure, to grieve, to “make people sit up and take notice” and to experience and conquer an event of such magnitude. The recollection of the race and the months that have since passed, highlighted the impact on each of the runners. This impact showed changes in their outlook on life, a greater self-belief, and a “greater respect for humanity.” They had become invigorated by the experience and in some cases, there was a continued pursuit of the next ‘arena’ in which to test themselves as well as making enduring friendships with those they met along the way.

In the words of Dean Karnazes, Desert and Ultra Marathon runner who once completed 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days, and author of Ultra Marathon man: Confessions of an all-night runner.

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few people to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go. (Karnazes, 2005, p.276)

The ‘culture’ of ultra-distance running has inspired a number of autobiographies from those who have found that they have a story to share of their adventures, heartache, drive and conquest of distances and terrains beyond ‘normal’ recognised running / endurance events. Dean Karnazes is one of those runners. Individuals’ life changing circumstances have led some to immerse themselves in the raw beauty of the long distance trails and the open road. They have entered a previously unknown world of suffering, unchartered territory of heightened physical and mental demands, and yet also one that embraces obstacles set along the way. It was these stories and the author’s own experience from the 2010 Atacama Desert Marathon that inspired this narrative research into this specific aspect of ultra-marathon running among those who set their goal to triumph in completing of one of life’s most difficult endurance challenges.

Extreme Running
The emergence of ‘extreme’ running as a new sports genre has seen races on all five continents run across deserts, along mountain ranges, and through dense jungle. What qualifies these as extreme are the length, terrain, and altitude; as well as extremities of heat, cold, isolation and remoteness. They demand physical and psychological strength from the participants and “extend them beyond the norm of running experiences” (McConnell & Horsley, 2007, p.10). The standard format for desert ultra-marathons is to require the individual to complete six marathons in 6 days, carrying all their equipment and food. It is only water, tents and medical support that is provided.

The locations for the races include the Sahara, Gobi, and Atacama deserts, as well as Antarctica (often referred to as the ‘last wilderness’). Runner and author, Robin Harvie, refers to these as the “theatre of the wild” (p.38) in his book Why we run? The challenge of long distance running goes beyond a simple calculation of mileage and often into a psychological territory unknown to most. It is therefore an event that takes the runner to “the extreme frontiers of the environment and their own physical capacity for endurance” (McConnell & Horsley, 2007, p.10).

An early insight into the appeal and demands of these extreme environments is given by Polar explorer Richard Byrd who wrote in 1938 of the appeal, the dangers and the challenge in his book ‘Alone’ long before they were used for endurance running events.

After gazing at the sky for some time, I came to the conclusion that such beauty had been reserved for remote and dangerous places, and that nature has good reasons for demanding special sacrifices from those who dare to contemplate it.

These sacrifices would require the runners to show thorough preparation and discipline, little room for error in an event that has claimed lives through dehydration and sheer physical fatigue.

And so it is from these desert cauldrons that emerge the individual race stories, their untold personal journeys that often begin beyond the start line and continue past the finish. It is the recollections which give an insight into the appeal of the challenge, the one that lures them into the desert, to endure such hardship and to be rewarded by such an achievement. With this article the author hopes to not only learn from the runner’s narratives, but to convey a sense of appreciation for the participants’ personal motives, barriers and doubt that were overcome in pursuing their goal of running across, in this case, the Sahara and Atacama deserts.

Author and runner, Billy Isherwood, provided perhaps one of the only detailed personal accounts of such a race when he completed the 2006 Atacama Desert race. It begins with an account of his battles with alcoholism, drug abuse, and the domestic violence he experienced during his childhood. Yet at the age of 54 he crossed the finish line after 250 kilometres of running through the unforgiving terrain and climatic conditions. This autobiographical account of his life, and how he arrived at the start line of the 2006 Atacama Desert Marathon, provided a story that was to partially influence the rationale behind this narrative study, as it detailed his journey to the race, his race account and the transformation since. Karnazes (2012) and Zahab (2007) have described their desert race accounts, but in among a collection of other races. The aim of this study is to collate and compare narratives from those competing for the first time, to achieve a greater appreciation of what drives those to challenge themselves in such harsh and high risk environments.

This research began with a review of a number of autobiographies and selected texts surrounding ultra-marathon runners and endurance running. This was coupled with the autobiographies of triathletes, Richard Roll and Chrissie Wellington. The experiences from this variety of ultra-endurance athletes helped to form a backdrop to the work and a basis for the direction of the interviews.

Ultra marathon runner, Robin Harvie (Harvie, 2012) produces an insight into his running motives and explains that the only way to truly understand ‘the why and your own why’ is to take part in these events. He states that the race changes an individual beyond their initial motivation and that “to really know where the road leads, is to take that road yourself” (p.4).

Robinson (2011) provides a starting point for the research in terms of accomplishment and for some, the need for self-actualisation. Many people “never connect” with their true talents and subsequently “never know what they are really capable of achieving” (p.xi). For Marshall Ulrich, who ran across America at the age of 57, it was the accomplishment, not the pursuit of “high prize money or stadiums of adoring fans” (p.17). For Scott Jurek, a world renowned ultra-marathon champion it was wanting to “pry myself open going beyond the body beyond the mind” (Jurek, 2012, p.224). Krissy Moehl, twice winner of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (a 100 mile race in the Alps), also speaks of the accomplishment of “pushing your physical limits” (Moehl, cited in Powell, 2011, p.2). She refers specifically to the emotional responses that such challenges evoke aside from those physical boundaries that are realised. Multiple Ironman Triathlete, Chrissie Wellington (2012), refers to a “contest against the race itself” (p.1) regardless of fellow competitors.

Dean Karnazes identified that time spent running allowed him space for “finding peace” (p.276). Dietz (2011) recognises that in ultra-marathons the time out running and away from work, family, and finances rarely happens and therefore allows “a holiday for the mind” (p.42). Trail runner, Boff Whalley states that “We all of us run … To give our bodies a general sense of purpose – creating, in this hurly-burly world, space to think, space to breath” (Whalley, 2012, p.5). He refers to a connection with the environment – the relationship between “the earth and our feet” (p.3). His focus was on running away from normal chosen routes and exploring challenging paths with harsh terrain, unpredictable weather and undulating, demanding wilderness.

Andrew Murray who ran from the far north of Scotland to the Sahara desert (Murray, 2011) was driven by the endeavour, for a charitable cause but also the appeal of the locations he would visit along the way. The desert marathons are organised in places rarely visited but, it could be argued, in some of the most extraordinary destinations on earth. Dietz (2011) also highlighted that the running became an excuse to travel to places around the world. Karnazes (2005) was also led by the appeal, the freedom to explore and to experience the environment for real.

Some people may have fear of living in a comfort zone of neither risk nor adventure and a fear of living from “meal to meal” which Jim Schekhdar (Schekdhar, 2002) saw as his inspiration to break out from ‘normality’ and row across the Pacific in 2001. Or as Reid (cited in Austin, 2007) comments that there is a real need to achieve and challenge ourselves, to “do something with our lives” (p.120) and that this can be achieved through running. Maybe it could be the fear of simply “walking along the corridors leading to the lives of our parents” (Harvie, 2010, p.74) and therefore exist with the confines of ‘normal life.’

An analysis might reveal it as simple as runners looking for the next step, the further distance as they draw from their previous accomplishments (Dietz, 2011). One marathon may not be enough to provide some with the satisfaction after completion and that coupled with a new inner belief that there is more ‘in the tank’ which leads inevitably onto higher stakes. For some however, their very existence is defined by running (Harvie, 2010). Described by Karnazes (2005) as a very simple “primitive act” (Karnazes, 2005, p.276).

Selected comments from these autobiographies and ultra-endurance focussed literature show some of the deeply felt emotions and motivations. These are mere ‘snapshots’ of their stories.

Alongside these individual perspectives from endurance racers, a specific contextualised series of narratives from desert runners will add to and enhance the breadth of studies. This research was therefore designed to be an innovative research project within a developing specific area of athletic performance. To accomplish it I use narrative enquiry where “people’s lives are storied” (Savin-Boden & Major, 2013, p.227). Hopefully this will not only enable a more sophisticated academic understanding of the extremes of human sport, but it will provide a resource for those wishing to compete in such events, beyond what training manuals offer. As Parker (1978) sought to understand in the novel ‘Once a Runner’ there too was a desire to “capture some of the bittersweet beauty and heartbreak of the only all-consuming quest for physical excellence” (p.274).

This research used a narrative research methodology which, through a study of research suitability, has been regarded as the most relevant and effective for understanding the individual race motives and race recollections (Savin-Boden & Howell Major, 2013, Jones, Brown, & Holloway, 2012). The study aimed to recount the experiences of individuals and therefore “focus on people’s perceptions and experiences of the world they live in – and what it means to them” (Jones et al. 2012, p.113) and to show an understanding of that experience (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Schultz (1964) emphasises that this is the world as viewed by the individual and not constructed by the researcher who should act to safeguard any misinterpretation of data. The study aimed to truly reflect first-person accounts of life experiences, which is essential in the use of narrative research and allows the individuals voices to be heard (Cresswell, 2007). The research sought to provide a richness of data that eight individual accounts of desert races can achieve. It was a description of what they underwent and how they lived through it – “the essence of the experience” (Cresswell, 2006, p.58).

Essential to this study, was the ability to recognise themes that may emerge, commonalities of the runners backgrounds and the race impact for example, and also to identify and highlight the very personal nature for undertaking their journey and encounters along the way. The runners developed a trust with the author that was built on ensuring they were represented honestly and accurately throughout.

A selection was made of eight runners (n=8), from 28 to 52 years of age, who all agreed to an interview, four female and four male. They were chosen through convenience from a number who had competed with the researcher in the Atacama Desert marathon in 2010 or from contacts of those participants and who had raced in other locations. Some of these have completed desert ultra-marathons since 2010 in the Sahara, Atacama, Antarctica, and Gobi Deserts.

The relatively small sample size is consistent with narrative research of this kind as Holloway and Wheeler (2010) suggest homogeneous groups can require only 6 to 8 participants. The selection of participants is also consistent with sampling recommendations by Morse (1986, 1991b) who encourages the choice of interviewees to be based upon their experience, knowledge and ability to articulate (in this case, their race journey). This form of purposive sampling was supported by the shared and “specific phenomenon” (Jones et al, 2012, p.35; Mayhut & Morehouse, 1994) that is recommended in qualitative study.

The interview procedure
All participants were interviewed individually at work or home in locations chosen by them. Four were interviewed via Skype, as they lived in the United States, Hong Kong and Australia. By their nature qualitative interviews are often unstructured (Jones et al, 2012). They use open-ended questions which is a primary consideration within qualitative research (Mayhut & Morehouse, 1994; Gratton & Jones, 2004). The aim was to allow the participants to describe their race experience in as much detail as possible and interviews lasted between 45 minutes and an hour but there was no time restriction placed on them. It was essential that the interviewee described their experience in as much detail as possible and felt they were encouraged in some way to lead and control the interview, recognizing that they were the expert of this very particular journey.

In this case, however, the interviewer has also completed a desert Ultra-marathon and this proved to be an advantage in the interview process as the interviewer was able to further explore their encounters with greater empathy. This may be a question of guidance as opposed to direction.

Interviews of this nature have been described as a “conversation with a purpose” (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994, p.88). As a result the questions designed and selected were guided by the subject content and also by Patton (1990) who used six types of questions. Selected from these, were themes based around experience, behaviour, feelings, background, sensory and opinion. The recounting of the race story from a personal perspective focussed on pre-race, race, and post -race experiences within the context of a personal journey.’ Their feelings, thoughts and motivations, as well as the impact that the race completion has subsequently had on them, shaped the interview process.

Data Analysis
The gathering of the stories from the interviews followed the approach recommended by Maykut and Morehouse (1994) in which what is meaningful to the participants guides the analysis, and not that which is pre-determined by the researcher. Therefore data collected aimed to represent those participants in a “coherent and meaningful way” (Hunter, 2010, p.44) by ensuring that the information was given order and structure in the analysis stage. Following each interview the audio tapes were transcribed and coded using thematic analysis (Gratton & Jones, 2010). Thematic analysis led to the selection of significant emerging themes that the participants identified, not those deemed worthy by the researcher; while not losing the reconstruction of the desert race journey. These emergent themes were identified in the results section. The analysis of the interview transcripts enabled a more meaningful presentation of the interviews and was considered in such a way that when read by the participants they would feel that they still ‘owned the story.’

Discussion of Results

Individual running history
The initial question aimed to gather a running history of each interviewee. This showed that they were not ‘well versed’ in the demands of endurance running in such harsh conditions and would have to acclimatise and adapt to the sheer volume of training and preparation required. It proved to be far in excess of that required for anything experienced before. Lucy confessed that before the Sahara Desert Marathon, “I’d never been a serious runner.” All the participants had completed a marathon before the race began, in some cases as part of their training and in others something that had been part of their running history.

It was felt important that, in initially focussing on this aspect of their stories, that the reader would be made aware of the running history of the group in order to put the accomplishment into a better context. The findings showed variety in their pre-desert race running accounts.

David who had competed in two Marathons and adopted an increasingly more serious approach to his training to the point where he wanted to find an event that allowed him to “incorporate all the training.” His father had completed “11 or 12 London Marathons” and he had grown up within an environment where “he’d (his father) go out on Christmas day or whenever…we just accepted it. Ross, who had “accidentally done a full marathon” three years before Atacama, played rugby and kept general fitness as it was “something I have always worked on.” He also confessed to not enjoying running and felt “I don’t think I’ve got the right body type.” Ricky who had played professional baseball where running formed part of the training programme and except for several shorter distance events including five and ten kilometre races “I had never really done anything formally and no marathons.”

Andrea had “sporadically” done some running at High School and College including cross-country but her father had “been a life-time runner and has done like I think around fifty marathons.” Andrea recalled a moment when “I gave him a call and said if I do a half-marathon will you come and do it with me?” This had come when she had taken up running again after a period in her twenties she had been “a really heavy smoker.”

Sam indicated that while she was always “an active person” despite taking part in several half-marathons stated “I definitely haven’t been a very good runner.” Marilena had completed six full marathons including Hong Kong, London, and one in Uruguay. She had a great deal of running experience; as a result the training application alone would, in itself, help her with the preparation for the Atacama Desert race.

Tremaine referred to the military CFT (Combat Fitness Test) as the only real specific running he had done while in the British Army but had no real interest in it outside of this form of ‘compulsory’ training.

It is this analysis that gave a starting point for the research. This showed that these successful desert marathon runners had no experience of extreme endurance events prior to that first day on the start line. A race start that would see them carry up to 12kgs each day of food, basic medical resources and other essential supplies to survive the extremes of heat (daytime temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius) and cold ( temperatures fell to near freezing at night). And so it seemed inevitable to begin the questioning with – why choose something so extreme?

Reasons why the participants chose to race across a desert.
The discussion then moved onto ‘the why’, the why something so extreme? And it was this question that unearthed some common themes. The level of extremity should not be underplayed. This was highlighted in the 2011 Gobi Desert race where one runner died. The need for thorough preparation was essential and that every aspect of the race had to be considered. Sam described “taking off those rose coloured glasses.” The desert was to be an uncompromising and unforgiving environment. Tremaine said he wanted to find something that was simply on the “borderline of lunacy!” For many this may be regarded as ‘lunacy’ but what transpired were the deeply personal accounts of ‘their why.’ Goals (such as this one) give a sense of purpose – “a real sense of being” (Pink, 2009, p.137). Ricky said “there always has to be a purpose…. a really strong why.” For him one of the reasons was on his way to work, “it was walking the tube (London Underground) and being out of breath…..its’ like I am gonna make a change.” The other answers to this question were “as individual as the runners themselves (Ulrich, 2011, p.44). Andrea had been “enthralled” by the feats of Dean Karnazes, ultramarathon and desert runner. She initially wanted to volunteer on a desert race but was encouraged by a race organiser that she could complete one and recounted, “he was like listen, I can tell when people are ready and it’s not about how far you can run, its’ really about your mind-set.” Andrea had reached a point in her life when she wanted to see that “I could really do something” to test herself.

The challenge itself – extending boundaries and beyond a marathon
Initially what became evident was the runners reference to ‘the challenge’ itself, the test of oneself against the elements and to find the next step from the marathon. It seemed that they were all looking for the next step. Ultramarathon runner Ray Zahab (cited in Ulrich, 2011) believes that if you can run twenty six miles then your body can carry you further, “the only question is can your mind go the distance” (p.144).

All of those interviewed were drawn by the need to see what was within their grasp, physically and mentally and that the desert race offered up a chance to demand of them to reach a limit never previously realised. David had read about the race as he had been actively looking for “the next thing” and had sought out an extreme race event. For him it was “something ….you make a commitment to …and that means you make sacrifices.” Wellington (2012) refers to what the intensity of Ironman taught her, “our limits may not be where we think they are” (p.274) and this was echoed. The need to push their boundaries, to apply themselves, unaided (Tremaine, “it’s just you and the desert,” Marilena, “just the thought of being in the open, self-supported”) to take on something dramatic and this captured their imagination.

Ross, who had experienced physical hardship due to altitude sickness when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007, had a philosophy of “not if but how” when he was presented with the details of the race by David via an e-mail in early September 2009. He exhibited a clear determination that in order to succeed one had to embrace the sheer scale of the challenge and reach “that boundary of probably pushing yourself to the limit.” He went on to say “it’s not how fast you run but how much guts you have.” Murakimi (2009) believes it is the pain (and the inevitability of it) which is accepted and that it can give us a greater sense of being alive. Others agreed that there was something alluring about the pain.

Having watched previous desert race videos, Marilena was aware of the likely suffering and was not in any way deterred but drawn in even more to choose the desert as her ‘arena’. “I saw suffering, going up and down hills and I thought that hmm that’s a challenge, I can do that. So I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it.” She also had a connection with her first race as her youngest daughter had been born in Chile and the “beauty” of Atacama had been the deciding factor on the choice of race and location.

It was important that the choice of extreme running took Ricky away from normal marathon events because for him, “What makes people sit up and listen is something more extreme,” “everyone’s done a marathon…for me “its’ kind of lost a bit of its’ shine.” He believed the attraction of this next level was “….discipline….commitment ….. Accomplishment, that’s what captures people’s spirit.” This was echoed by Harvie (2010) who felt that with the marathon distance (26.2 miles) “anyone can run a marathon given enough time” (p.269). Powell (2011) and Ulrich (2011) recognise the attempt to accomplish something so few have done as a motivational aspect in ultramarathon races. It is the thrill and excitement of taking on such a “mission” (McConnell & Horsley, 2007, p.11).

For loved ones
Lucy and Tremaine provided extremely emotive reasons for entering such an event. They had both experienced the loss of family through cancer, Lucy’s father had passed away in 2007 and Tremaine’s partner, Carla, had lost her battle to the illness at the age of only 31 in 2009. Lucy wanted to find a race that was something slightly different in order to generate interest for those wishing to donate to the charity she was running for (“raising money was my drive”) and also the race would help her to “put everything into perspective” since her bereavement. Tremaine had wanted to give something back to those who had cared for Carla, to do something “dramatic” and subsequently raise sponsorship in order to support a palliative care centre. He regarded the people who worked there and had cared for her as “saints” and not only did he wish to raise money but that the race would be his way of grieving. “You know in the middle of the desert, you’ve got no-one to talk to.” Both had been clearly deeply affected by their tragedies and it was evident the races (Lucy and Tremaine were to compete in four desert marathons in the same year along with Sam and Ricky) would allow them to deal with this part of their life. Scott Jurek, one of the most renowned ultramarathon runners said, “I ran because overcoming the difficulties of ultramarathon reminded me that I could overcome the difficulties of life, that overcoming difficulties was life” (Jurek, 2012, p.6).

For Tremaine, after all the anguish following Carla’s death “everyone fell to pieces” the desert race became a place that allowed him the chance to sort out “my own affairs.” It was “the best time to sort out my issues is when I am demoralised and broken down.”

Experience of the run
The journey offered each runner a starting point, as highlighted, from their first step along the route to the race and now that same journey moved to the next phase. The race itself was the next area for questioning. It is where initial fears, an almost inevitable suffering, emotions and individual coping mechanisms would all be unearthed.

Beyond the chance to endure this feat of endurance the races provide times of isolation and solitude. There were times when runners experienced this and the interview sought to question what feelings this provoked among them. It aimed to garner greater details from the runners as to their race experience in terms of greater connection with their thoughts and to any appreciation of the environment they found themselves in. Heather Reid, Professor of Philosophy at Morningside College in Iowa, speaks of running allowing freedom, escape from the norm of daily living and away from “the herd” (Reid, cited in Austin, 2007, p.119). It offers a freedom and a removal of obstacles that limit the chance to ‘escape’ into a world “free of briefcase, cell phone and car keys” (p.118). When these freedoms are experienced how do individuals respond? Austin (2007) believes it is here that one can reflect on our lives and what is important to us. The questioning aimed to find how that freedom was recognised, appreciated and articulated. It was here that the ‘escapism’ enabled them to recollect feelings that show a greater connection with what they were doing and where they were. This was an uninterrupted space, away from outside distractions and ones that are part of or ‘plague’ our lives. The escapism that is “near impossible when modern life is defined by interaction” (Harvie, 2011, p.211). In this case the runners referred to the technology of contemporary life that does not afford us enough moments of ‘silence’.

Sam, Lucy, David, and Andrea referred to the “escapism” offered by the race. This referred to being away from normal work routines and into a challenge without phones and computers that would lead Lucy to show how much this meant to her, “I loved turning my phone off that was just a joy”… Andrea, “it’s been the only time in the last decade I don’t obsessively check my phone,” and “I don’t think I understood how disconnected from the rest of the world I would really be.” Sam reflected on similar experiences, “I put myself in high paced environments…….my phone is with me 24/7 and I am constantly checking e-mails.” With this hectic lifestyle came the “reward” of the marathon challenges, away from a world where in work her life was “crazy.” The final reflection came from David, who enjoyed being away from a life which appeared sometimes one of being ‘bombarded’ with e-mails, the internet”

Coping strategies
Endurance races provide an undulating ‘emotional terrain’ for runners. Zahab (2007) developed a “tunnel vision” (p.173) when trying to ignore the pain in his feet in the Amazon jungle marathon and allowed the “pure adrenaline” (p.174) to carry him through. Fry (cited in Austin, 2007) believes that running for the dedicated “is form of ritual suffering” (p.67). Harvie (2012) describes the suffering that is experienced and throws many into a pain “beyond comprehension” (p.73). And yet they also experience feelings that put this pain into some kind of perspective and deal with it in their own unique way. “I would live entirely in the moment………There was only one mission of putting one foot in front of the other” (Karnazes, 2011). Often there is the acknowledgement of its short-lived nature.

In her interview, Marilena described just how ‘dark’ things could get, “my feet were horrible…….I lost nine toenails” but “at least my suffering will be temporary……..that kept me going for sure.” Almost as inevitable partners inextricably linked are the moments here described as ‘moments of light and dark’ where the pain can give way to a time when the runner experiences a vivid moment of excitement that encapsulates all that is the adventure, the race, the encounter. They press on towards the light, towards that end goal lifted by what they could become and what they could realise. Ultramarathon runner Francesca Conte notes that at the Arkansas 100 mile race, “I always want, in every race to take the time to look up at the sky at night, because remembering how lucky I am matters more than winning” (cited in Jameson, 2003, p.152).

Ricky had suffered with horrendous blisters on both feet and had been vomiting during one of the stages. “We (a fellow runner who was with him on day 3) were in a horrible shape – that was a bad day.” A day that would find him out on the course for over 6 hours as he battled to cross the line for the end of a stage of the race. So how do you overcome these factors that could leave a runner struggling to carry on? Ricky continued, “You pushed through it, the pride, the elation of getting through and finishing that stage” and his drive to prove to others he could do it. One of those was his former Baseball coach at University who was always critical of him and doubted his abilities and to whom Ricky directed his anger: “I keep him in the back of my head…..and I imagined him watching me run this race. I’m going to prove you wrong because he’s a bastard. I wish he was listening to this.”

It was clear that each of the interviewees had their own strategy for these dark moments. Andrea had a key word, one that she would use when she was “hitting my lows.” She would “super-charge it with good thoughts…….charge it with good memories” and when those low points were experienced “I’ll say it (the word) to myself.” It was a case of “shifting” her thought process and it helped her through moments as on the third day when she had run out of water with five kilometres still to go. Water on the race was rationed each day. As Dean Karnazes pointed out when he participated in his first desert race, “Why ration water? I guess the organisers wanted to make it as authentic as possible. This is a race across the desert after all” (Karnazes, 2011, p.156). But this too could be a danger and Andrea was frustrated and angry but had turned this anger into “fuel, like it’s something that can move you on.”

David appeared very clear about his ability to cope with the times when he felt low either through fatigue or the pain of his worsening blisters. “I was never really that negative because I knew that everybody has their ups and downs.” He was able to break down the day’s route into sections where his aims would be to use the checkpoints as progress markers and goals. “I know that this is gonna hurt for the next 10k, but you can split that down.” Ulrich (2011) similarly learned to “compartmentalise my physical anguish…….how to strategize my races” (p.19 & 20).

Sam had injured her ankle even before the race had started and still travelled to the race. She had raised money for charity and was sponsored by a University in Australia. It had been a goal, “an absolute dream” and yet this initially appeared to be one that would stay as just that due to her injury in training just before the race. Her ability to turn potential disaster into achieving that goal was one that was built on reviewing how she could best complete each day.

So I decided to just walk it. I’m just going to do whatever I can to walk and even if I can only walk for the first one day, two days, I’m just going to make the most of it. I’ve never been to South America, so that’s what’s important to me, to really make the most of every moment I think that moment’s been the reason why I’m still running today.

It was almost as though her ‘dark moments’ had occurred before the race had begun and it enabled Sam to completely rethink her approach to the event. The walking of each stage for the first few days allowed her to take in her surroundings, to see things others may have missed as they pressed on across the terrain. “I found it a beautiful race.”

I was just wanting to make the most of it…….I had committed so much financially and …. mentally to get to the start line that I wasn’t going to throw that away by holding onto this idea that I would be able to run the whole thing.

Ross reflected on the charity he was running for although to help fend off the difficult times he was experiencing he spoke of “a bit of bravado” where there is a bit of it that you can’t go home and say I didn’t finish…..unless your leg was hanging off!” However he had been “so focussed, personally…..just progressing and putting your energy into that, otherwise I think I’d fall over and not get up.” He was also able to recall a time when the race became for him a moment of humour.

We were going across the salt flats where it was really rough, and it was a hazy heat, three sixty degrees and I just started cracking up. And I was just like this is …… bonkers like could not get further from reality, not reality, because it was reality, but from your day-to-day reality, and yeah I thought it was brilliant. Like couldn’t see another person and it was just like you know, that’s what you do it for.

Tremaine and Lucy had other emotions that influenced their coping strategy. Their recollections took on a very different slant. After her father’s death, Lucy and her sister, Camilla, entered the Sahara Desert Marathon and they had to split up midway as only Lucy was able to continue. At a checkpoint, one of the race doctors handed her a note passed to him earlier by Camilla. It had been written a while ago by their father, “I remember sitting quietly at the side of the camp…..bawling my eyes out because I was so tired.” The emotion, “the tears, the tiredness, I mean the whole thing was horrendous.” But this also enabled her to reflect upon why she was there and to change her thoughts “don’t be ridiculous, you’re raising money for people who are a lot worse off than you and that’s what kept me going.”

Tremaine experienced a great deal of reflection in the times of isolation in the race when “who do you talk to……your mind and soul has to dig up some serious questions.” The questions of regret related to being away from home when he was in Iraq and spending more time with his family surfaced when he was given that time to think “have a word with yourself.” And yet also occupying his thoughts were “you know she would be proud of me and what I’m doing you know.”

The impact of the race.
After all the miles, all the previously untapped thoughts and feelings, the physical peaks and troughs, the terrain and the temperature extremes it was all over but had it changed them? For the participants in the study at least this was the end of one journey and the start of another.

One of the most significant changes for the participants was new and some enduring friendships, the connection with other runners from around the world and in one case, friendships that helped to change opinions. For Marilena, “I loved the way you mixed with so many nationalities, there were beautiful people; never seen them before and maybe you will never see again, but that week they were your closest friends and there was that rapport.” Tremaine had changed his views on those he had met away from his life in the military and from one that he felt instilled stereotypes of those in civilian life. He had experienced so much and identified so many things that had changed for him. Twenty two years serving in the military had left him ‘disconnected’ to civilians and now “I wasn’t a hate civvies kind of soldier that I used to be.” He highlighted what others identified as a camaraderie and respect among his fellow competitors: “No one judges you, the fit ones respect the slower ones, the slower ones respect the fit ones. It’s just like an aura around people.

Ross acknowledged it was “…..the friends that you make and the memories that you create there…..I don’t think it changed my life, but it’s certainly made it a lot richer.” With all the wealth of memories that arose Sam highlighted “what I take away from it (the race), from the journey of running, particularly in those early day races, were just the friendships I made”. Andrea found “one of the unexpected treasures of the experience” was “that you had to like earnestly connect with people in a way that you don’t get to in your life.” Murakami (2009) commented that one of the real pleasures of running has been the people he has met and who have encouraged him along the way.

New self-belief and new challenges
Six of the eight ventured back into other deserts to race and run across – these were Ricky, Lucy, Sam, Marilena, David, and Tremaine. For them the challenge had given them a change in their self-belief through this first accomplishment in an extreme endurance event. Lucy, “I do take on challenges slightly head-on now, because I, you know I‘ve put my body through some extreme situations.” The interview had taken place two weeks after she had summited Aconcagua in Argentina, which is just less than 7,000m high. “I think, I know I can, I know I can do with, like physically I can do more.” She continued to reflect on her thoughts to what lay ahead.

I’d never thought of running a hundred miles around Mont Blanc or round Mount Fuji…….now it’s perfectly normal that I am doing that at the end of April. It’s just ….you live in a tent and you get used to….a sleeping bag for three and a half weeks on a mountain or a week in the desert with ten other people, and that’s perfectly normal and you don’t bat an eyelid.

Jurek (2012) believes that runners are transformed by these challenges and that they can “illuminate the path leading to something larger than ourselves” (p.227). It was evident that the race had a transformational and profound effect on all the interviewees both during and after the race. Marilena had “always tried to challenge (herself)” and now

So when I crossed the line, ah, it’s just amazing, you look back and think wow, I did that 250 kilometres, six days and you did that. It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it.

David has since completed the Sahara Desert Marathon in 2012 and one where he felt this experience helped him in his approach. He finished tenth overall in his second desert race, in Atacama he placed outside the top fifty. “I think you definitely come back with a different mind-set, just on your own ability to take on a challenge and achieve it I think.” He has actively “sought out more” events like this because “your outlook changes.” Since 2010 Ross has continued to seek out running challenges and in 2012 completed the 100 mile footrace called the Centurion in just over 24 hours. Sam had reached a new “physical barrier” in terms of how hard she was able to push herself. This was one aspect identified by many of the runners before the race. “We’d never at home, would have considered doing a third marathon (of an eventual six)……that’s quite amazing.”

Sir Steve Redgrave, five time Olympic Gold medallist, asked himself the question upon retirement if he would go through all the sacrifices and training again; he felt he would.

“It was a privilege, a quest. It was a challenge and I have always been inspired by a challenge” (Redgrave, 2009, p.300). For those who did not draw a line at the end of their first extreme challenge, these words seemed to reflect what subsequently happened as they chose to confront another test of human endurance.

A chance to reflect
For all the runners the race had changed their thoughts about how they viewed life as well as themselves. For Andrea “it just made me think, well you might as well try more things” and was “less afraid to fail.” Since the Atacama she had been able to take more risks in her life and had moved to Tahoe from San Francisco “I would have probably never have made that decision if I wasn’t there (in the desert).” Ricky, who has since become a motivational speaker, working with charities and young children as a direct result of his completion of four desert marathons in the same year believed that “Nothing ever happens to you by saying no…..the world has just opened up by saying yeah I’m gonna do that race and its changed my life and (with it) from many different….perspectives.” There was a greater appreciation of certain aspects of life from both David, “I don’t think you worry so much about the bits and pieces, the things that can sort of clog up and take up your time, don’t actually matter or mean anything!” And Marilena, who was able to take a step back and appreciate her surroundings, her environment, “I see every beauty, I see a tree and I see the colours of the tree that maybe other people don’t see.”

Tremaine had come to terms with the loss of his partner Carla and was looking to the future. “I’ve come out the other end.” He was thankful for the race experiences in many ways and that “it’s finding my footing, and I would have never achieved that because I could have quite easily have been bitter.” Despite injury forcing him to abandon the Sahara Desert marathon he was able to complete two further races in the Gobi and Antarctica. “What I did discover on that first desert race was my respect for humanity and I really found some people that you know actually give a damn about everyone else apart from themselves.”

Work can deprive people of challenging experiences which give “effort a greater meaning to life” (p.120) and ones that provide a greater personal engagement (Pink, 2009) If this is to be achieved then it was through something providing a very different form of accomplishment. For Andrea, “I did it for nothing but the sheer aspect of seeing like that my life was really monotonous at the time. I‘d wanted to see if I have almost nothing for a week. Really what’s it gonna feel like for me and how I am, what does that actually change about me.” With Ross, the experience and “the adventure more than the race” was very different from his life as a graphic designer in London, “I sit in a studio looking at a screen for sixteen, eighteen hours, you know some days.” Sam’s achievements gained through running have led her to share those experiences in her role as an inspirational speaker. With future races she now tries to; “Align them with charitable causes, which is what I am most passionate about to be honest, probably even more than the running itself. …the capacity for it to you know really affect others and influence change.”

Final thoughts
The interviews concluded and an opportunity for the eight runners to describe what they would say to those contemplating taking part in, what has been described as. One of the toughest endurance races on earth. Words that they felt would help to prepare someone for the ‘experience’ they had all shared.

For Ross “just know that anything is achievable…’ve got two feet, heart, and lungs and off you go.” Lucy felt similarly that “go for it one hundred percent……it’s an incredible experience.” David wanted to highlight that this was not an exclusive challenge for elite runners. The race contained “people from all walks of life…….you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Ricky enthused “the race was epic man that was absolutely epic.” Andrea considered the experience of challenging herself and realising her potential to “see how far I could really push it” had made her feel the race “was very special, very special to have done that.”

Marilena recalled an “amazing journey….the whole journey was an amazing experience, you don’t need much in life……being with yourself sometimes and (with) nature.” Sam was able to put thoughts into a context of the ‘challenge’ by reflecting on her family background to put it into more perspective. Her father had polio as a child and her mother had “never run in her life” and so she wanted to recognise that “I had done an incredibly physical challenge….I succeeded more because of my mental capacities than my physical capacities.” The immediate impact for Sam when she finished her first desert race was evident, “I was just so happy, I felt so blessed to have finished it. “I was elated….it’s like my body was healed.” This absolute optimism and positivity……feeling fortunate to be there, I was definitely a stronger person when I finished the race.”
The final words were from Tremaine who wanted to ensure that people knew the risks and not to do it “off a whim/” The real question is “…what’s your fundamental reason? You know if it’s for fame and glory, don’t bother. The only race you have is to challenge yourself.”

The race journey showed from starting out on this adventure the ‘line in the sand’ at the finish was merely a part of a tapestry of riches and rewards for each of the desert runners. Austin (2007) refers to runners experiencing self-discovery, a time where solitude allows reflection and that “we learn something about ourselves” (p.xii). Their learning was something that they all identified in the conversations and each was as individual and personal as the reasons they had set out on the path to adventure in the first place. The path they followed was transformational not only after but at points along the 250 kilometres of desert trail. Their stories highlighted what can be achieved when mind and body act in unison to surpass what has gone before in our lives in one of the most demanding of arenas.

There was a changed belief about themselves and having such a purpose in the race provided them with a fulfilling activity that gave them their own reward. Pink (2009) discusses a relationship between a challenge that is neither too easy and yet too difficult. With that step being beyond one’s current capability which “stretched the body and mind in a way that made the effort itself the most delicious reward” (p.115). The effort in each of their stories, proved worthwhile in many ways from the charities that they ran for to the people they met and the places they saw. Their ability to recall such vivid moments even when time had passed (nearly three years) since they finished the race, highlighted the impact of the race. These vivid recollections showed such detail that, one could argue, the journey had a deep and profound effect. Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University believes “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life, your mind-set” (Dweck, 2006). It is clear the race affected each of the runners in terms of how differently they viewed themselves, if not openly in the interview but by the directions their lives took after leaving the desert.

If running is to be a metaphor for life as Whalley (2012) comments, then in this case the desert was to provide that stage. Running in “straight lines along city streets bears little resemblance to life” but venture away from these and the trails will reflect the “life twists and turns” (p.266, 267). When one takes the leap of faith away from the confinement those streets impose into the unpredictable twisting and tortuous routes that desert running is, then this truly reflects what living is really about. Roll (2012) believed that when deciding to test ourselves there is a “new path waiting for (us)” and dare to “take that first step and then (it will) show us who we really are” (p.125).

Some have continued to run, others have found a peace in the accomplishment and so the desert was hardly to be a desert at all. It was to be a treasure trove of memories, of new and life-long friendships and greater self-belief. “Our past makes us” (Jurek, 2012, p.264) and for these runners the past has shaped their future.

Applications in Sport
The heightened interest in extreme endurance events over recent years has made it possible for many people to achieve success in events they otherwise thought impossible. An insight into the experiences of a few of these who chose to venture into such unknowns can create an awareness of the impact such events can have on individuals. This study aimed to explore outside physiological and psychological research parameters and provide those considering embarking on a similar journey with simple narratives that could inspire them to realise what is possible and what can be realised.

I should like to thank the eight participants who willingly shared their stories with me so openly and honestly. They not only provided me with their experiences but also proved inspirational. I should also like to thank colleagues for their interest and encouragement throughout this research process as well as the University of Winchester for the financial support with this project. Finally, I should like to thank my patient family who recognised how important this research was for me.

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2014-02-04T13:47:58-06:00February 4th, 2014|Contemporary Sports Issues, General, Sports Exercise Science, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on ‘The Personal Journey’: A Study of the Individual Race Stories of Desert Marathon Runners
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