Let’s start with a Quiz.
Steak & eggs is a good pre-event meal. True or False?
Drinking water during workouts is a sign of weakness. True or False?
Sharing water with your team mates from a bucket using a single ladle is a proper thing to do. True or False?
Now pretend you are in a time machine, and go back to the early 60’s. What were the correct answers then? I don’t need the time machine, since I remember being there. The answers are true, true and true. Now, let’s consider Moneyball (the book & movie). The big story line is of statistics and revolutionizing baseball (which curiously, might have already been the more statistics driven sport). The second story line is as compelling. It answers the question of why? The answer is tradition, which is reflected in Moneyball as a deeply-held, long-standing institutionalized bias. “They did it, so I do it.” Statistics managed to flip the script, but not without a lot of resistance.
When it comes to science, first consider the source. Avoid the news as an authoritative source. They often get it wrong in the subtlest and simplest ways. There are a number of reasons related to the hit and run nature of news…brief, to the point, catchy, simple. By the time it gets through these filters, it can easily be distorted. There is also bias, which most of the time is unintentional. There is a well-recognized tendency to believe what supports our existing beliefs (called the confirmatory bias). Sometimes bias is intentional. The guy that is selling you that nutritional supplement, sports drink, brace, gear etc. may be more interested in the bottom line than topping out your performance. Where we are well motivated, by money or whatever, we tend to experience a better result. It’s called the placebo effect.
What about lying with statistics? A person who is motivated to lie will use whatever is at their disposal. Given that most people don’t understand statistics, it is an easy lie to make. It is really tough to lie with true science because there are an abundance of checks and balances in place before anything gets the science stamp of approval. Testimonials are a toss-up. If someone was willing to give you $100,000 to say “X-Sport drink is the best”, what would you do? If your script has you saying “scientific research says blah, blah, blah” would you take it as true or would you investigate?
So, if something on the news catches your attention, check it out elsewhere. Go to scientific sources, like professional organizations. They typically have web sites with consumer-oriented materials. You might also consider other sports organizations from grass roots groups, to coaches’ associations, to sport governing bodies. They may provide science information as well. Make sure they have science advisors vetting their content. There are also professionals to consult with in sports medicine and the sciences, like psychology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, nutrition etc. If you are really ambitious you can go to Research Gate, a website that is like Face book for researchers. There is an astounding amount of material there.
If it sounds like gathering knowledge is work, it is. It takes effort. Success at sport takes work; so does understanding the science of success in training and competition. There is a payoff for getting it right. This approach to sport science applies well for all science. Let science be your guide to understanding and responding to the coronavirus. When faced with doubt and uncertainty in the field of pay or in life at large, science is there to differentiate facts from fear.
Dr. John Heil, DA, FAASP, FAPA
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Certified Mental Performance Consultant-Emeritus, CMPC-E