Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who Will Win Super Bowl XLVI?

Contributed by Tim Te-bob (our NFL insider!)

The fourth quarter of the NFL Season is upon us, my fellow football fanatics. We’ve had lockout-induced lethargy to start the season, injuries galore to contend with and a “Dream Team” that Vince Young is likely having nightmares about, but have we yet found our Super Bowl champions? I would argue that we have not, sorry Cheeseheads.

The fourth quarter, as any Tim Tebow fan could tell you, is where games, or in this context, championships are won. Right now, the Green Bay Packers are the vogue Super Bowl pick, but I would caution fans to look towards the past to predict the future.

Over the past 15 years, how many Super Bowl winners finished the season with the best overall record throughout the regular season? Only three teams have done it, the 2003 New England Patriots, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1996 Green Bay Packers.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Introduction to Platform Tennis

Platform tennis is a racquet sport that was created in hopes of playing tennis throughout the winter without the need to go indoors. The general rules of tennis still apply, however there are a few key differences that separate platform as its own brand of tennis.

For instance, a tennis court measures 78’x36’ (LxW) and a platform court measures 44’x20’. Secondly, there is only one serve allowed in platform tennis. This is considered the great equalizer for the sport because players still have the option to hit a booming first serve just like in tennis, but must be sure not to squander their opportunities. The next, and probably most glaring difference, is that the ball may be played off of the screens that surround the court. Once a serve is in play, the ball may bounce off of the playing surface and then may hit any of the screens. The ball must be played back over the net before the ball bounces twice, just as in tennis. The last major rule difference is that in platform tennis there are no service lets. If a serve hits the net and lands in the service box it is a live ball.

A great tennis player does not always make a great platform player. Because of these key rule changes, the strategy utilized for platform tennis is very different than tennis. In tennis for example, many of the professional players strive to take control of a point and end the point by hitting a winner. In platform tennis, winners will be few and far between. The best platform players are the ones who minimize their mistakes and instead focus on forcing their opponents to make mistakes

Monday, November 21, 2011

What is Formula 1?

Contributed by Matt Long.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

Recently, New Jersey governor Chris Christie excitingly announced that Formula 1 would stage a race in New Jersey from 2013 onwards. So in a step away from our usual sports, we wanted to explain a little bit about Formula 1 as the build-up begins to the first race in New Jersey.

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of single seater motor racing. The name was created for 2 reasons. Firstly, the word ‘Formula’ signifies the rules participants must follow, and ‘1’ from the organizers’ belief that the sport is the best form of motor racing. The championship runs from March through November and is made up of races called Grand Prix staged in different countries across the world. Traditional locations include Silverstone (England), Monza (Italy) and Suzuka (Japan), and new locations such as Korea and India. There is currently a Grand Prix scheduled for Austin, Texas in 2012 but it remains to be seen whether it will actually take place due to ongoing negotiations between the parties involved.

The cars are the fastest in the world, reaching speeds of 220mph, their engines revving to 18,000 rpm, producing cornering forces of 5g. The sport attracts the best drivers, constructors and engineers, and the biggest car companies, such as Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault. There are currently 12 teams and 24 drivers participating.

In 2010, over 527 million people watched the races throughout the season. The sport attracts a large number of glamorous and wealthy celebrities, and the signature races in Monte Carlo and Abu Dhabi are associated most with Hollywood glitz and glamour.

The Formula 1 racing World Championship started in 1947, with the first race at Silverstone, England. Since then, the sport has boasted many great champions, such as Aryton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and current champion, Sebastien Vettel. Many great teams have emerged, such as Williams, McLaren, Benetton and Red Bull.

The last American to race in Formula 1 was Scott Speed, racing for Toro Rosso in 2007. America has produced 2 World Champions, the last being Mario Andretti in 1978, who also won 4 Indycar Championships and the Indy 500.

2010 & 2011 World Champion Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Holiday Season: Eat, Drink and... Exercise?

Contributed by Abby Thomas.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

The nights are getting longer and the cold weather is setting in. Fall television scheduling is at its best. The last thing on your mind is hitting the gym and banging out 3 sets of 20 TGUs (Turkish Get Ups for those gymphobes) or layering up in Skins and a hoody just so you can hit the road and get a few miles under your belt.

We all know that keeping fit in the off-season is important. It’s hard, but it’s important my intention isn’t to lecture you about why you should do it, more simply some tips as to how you can do it.

All of the above in my opinion are completely acceptable. However, when you return to the field for the first time; be it training, or straight back into the swing of things with a game, you may be wishing that you had played catch up with your fitness instead of with the latest episode of Grey’s.

Recent studies and surveys show that people are more likely to exercise if it’s convenient, so it’s basically a simple case of planning ahead. If you’re one of those people that settles in at home after work, it can be much more of a struggle to go back out again and hit the gym, which I will very much hold my hand up to and admit that I am, then add the gym detour to your way home. This way, you’ve got your daily workout in, you’re pumped from the endorphins and you’re still in the house to socialize with your housemates.

If you’re more into putting your iPod in and pounding the streets kind of training, be on the lookout for freebies. So many local gyms are giving out free gym trials over the holiday period you’d have to be blind to miss them! You get your run in without the cold and wet stealing the ability to press the skip button on your iPod.

Don’t want to go outside? Stay in and exercise! Someone in the family will undoubtedly have a Wii or a Kinect, so dust it off, plug it in and don’t play it sat down on the sofa! You’re inside, you’re warm and you’re working up a sweat, and if one of your more elderly relatives decides to get in on the action it's comedy gold; everyone’s a winner!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Roger Federer: Life After Tennis

Contributed by Jess Callaghan.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

Roger Federer has just recently won his 800th career tennis match, an achievement only matched by 6 other men in the Open era, but how much longer can he keep up this level of success? What options does the ‘Fed Express’ have for the coming years?

Ex-professionals have gone on to many things after their tennis careers have finished; some expected, some unexpected, and some have simply faded into complete obscurity.

Federer could follow the likes of Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf and several others who just can’t shake the tennis bug and have spent years endlessly taking part in exhibition matches, with the occasional charity match thrown in, most likely so they can feel good about themselves. Or, he may choose to use his status and position in the public eye to take charity work a little more seriously just as Andre Agassi has, founding the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, which has raised over $60 million for children in South Nevada who are deemed at risk.

Maybe Roger could try his hand at politics. Marat Safin thinks it’s a good plan and is running for a parliamentary seat in Russia this year; I eagerly await the outcome of the vote in December. Pete Sampras is optimistic about Safin’s chances; he was quoted at the recent ATP Champions Tour in China as saying, “In 20 years, Marat will be the President of Russia! Trust me.” Okay Pete...

If boredom sets in, or Federer misses the tour too much, he could always stage a dramatic return, √† la Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters, who both retired relatively early from the game whilst still in their peak, only to return less than 2 years later. Although in Henin’s case, this wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and she retired again just over a year later.

How about he take the McEnroe/Becker approach, settling for the easy job of commentating whilst also ‘pursuing other projects’, the most ill advised of these must surely be John McEnroe’s attempt at becoming a rock star [insert clich√© "you can not be serious" joke here] forming The Johnny Smyth Band who, surprisingly, never finished their first album. He has also made many movie/television cameos and took charge of the U.S Davis Cup team for 14 months. Becker has had many a side project including online poker, a stint on British TV show They Think It’s All Over and the inception of the very modestly named Boris Becker TV, featuring clips from his career and footage of his daily life, which luckily for us, is broadcast in both German and English.

Finally, if Federer is ever short of a dollar or two, he could always follow in the footsteps of Martina Navratilova. Once the world’s best female tennis player, human and animal rights supporter and ambassador for underprivileged children, Navratilova took the always self-respecting decision to appear on celebrity reality television program I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Subjecting herself to snakes, cockroaches, crocodiles, physical challenges and probably some unpleasant parts of a kangaroo’s anatomy... clearly worth it finishing runner up to a Z list celebrity.

It remains to be seen where the Fed Express stops next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Importance of Hydration

Contributed by Martin Punt.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

The importance of hydration is huge in every day life, let alone during sporting activities where the body is exposed to much higher levels of intensity. Consuming less than adequate fluids before, during and after a sporting activity can lead to what's known as dehydration.

As an athlete sweats, which is the body's cooling system, fluid needs to be replaced in order for the body's heat management system to function correctly. If fluids are not replaced then dehydration will occur, which will include a variety of symptoms.

The most common symptoms of dehydration include thirst, increased fatigue, increased body temperatures and up to 30% loss of performance. The loss of performance is the crucial part of course; this leads to lack of concentration, endurance, muscular strength and general productivity. A 30% loss in a sporting activity could be crucial, as well as dangerous.

As far as dehydration goes, prevention is the key and by following a schedule for hydration by replacing the fluids lost during sporting activities, the chances of becoming dehydrated are greatly reduced. Athletes can become dehydrated for a number of reasons; the event maybe in excess of 45 minutes long, heat maybe intense, or the athlete doesn't become thirsty, the later being the most important.

The most common cause of dehydration is not drinking, due to not feeling thirsty, different health conditions or states of mind during sports activities. It is not viable to rely solely on thirst. So of course, the question is; how do we stay hydrated and maintain our performance levels?

The best way to stay hydrated is to follow a schedule for hydrating your body, which will date back to a few hours before your sporting activity, but needs to be followed;

  • Begin drinking fluids on a regular basis, 2-3 hours before your sporting activity.
  • Drink 250ml 15 minutes before exercise.
  • Drink 250ml every 15 minutes during exercise.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Globe Trotting: European Handball

Contributed by Emma Booth.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

European handball is completely different to the handball that is known throughout the States. The game was first played in 1848 in Denmark, but has spread throughout Europe and around the world. It is a mixture of soccer and basketball, where you have two teams of seven; including one goalkeeper, and you have to throw the ball into a soccer-style net to score points. The team with the most points at the end wins!

After receiving the ball, players can hold the ball for up to three seconds before passing, dribbling (bouncing the ball) or shooting. A player can take 3 steps before dribbling and then an additional three steps if choosing to dribble. A game will usually be 30 minutes a half, and requires a lot of stamina, agility and skill.

Men’s handball was introduced as an Olympic sport in the 1936 Berlin Games but was dropped after that summer until 1972, whereas women’s handball was added to the list of Olympic Sports in 1976. There have been various countries that have won the gold medal since 1972; in the men’s competition, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union dominated the 1970s and 80s, and France, Croatia and Russia were all awarded gold at the last three Olympics. The women’s competition had the same domination of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in the early years, however Denmark and Norway have been ever present in the gold medal list the last few decades.

For more information on European Handball, click here.

The US Sports Institute offers handball as part of their famous multi sport camps. To have a go at the game of handball, please click here and sign up today!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tennis: Technique vs Technology

Contributed by Katy Kuhlwilm.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

Has the technique of tennis players improved over the last 30 years or is it just an improvement in the technology used?

Tennis fans are often divided over who is the greatest tennis player of all time. Is it players such as Borg and McEnroe or are modern players such as Nadal and Federer considered more skilful?

Many changes have taken place in tennis over the years. However, the development of tennis racquets from wood to composite materials may have had the biggest effect on the game since it began in 1875. The composite tennis racquet allows players to generate much more power and enabling the use of top spin, forcing the ball to drop down into the court and therefore allowing players to strike the ball harder. This has resulted in many players hitting from the baseline as coming up to the net can be too risky, resulting in an easy passing shot for the opponent. This has lead to a shift in the style of play. Most modern players choose to play a power game from the baseline instead of the more traditional serve and volley tactics.

Detailed studies into the bio-mechanics of the service motion has lead to a huge increase in the speed of the serve, combined with increasing strength of the players. It has been shown that the composite racquet has not had much of an influence on the serve but that it is mainly due to the strength of the players and the improved technical motion of the serve.

If Nadal was given a wooden racket, would he beat Borg in his prime?

The US Sports Institute are currently offering tennis classes for players aged 3-adult and of all abilities.  Click here for more information.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Importance of a Warm Up and Warm Down When Exercising

Contributed by Rich Punt.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

Most people who are involved in sport or exercise agree that the warm up and warm down portions of a game, session or work out are important. However, although it is agreed that people should warm up and warm down before and after physical exercise, it is not always known why. It is important for coaches, players and participants to understand why warming up and warming down are so important to ensure sufficient time is spent on both, and that relevant exercises are incorporated.

In simple terms, a warm up is important for two main reasons. The first reason is to improve / increase performance levels, and the second is to avoid injury. Whilst these are valid reasons, it is worth noting that a good warm up does far more than this. A common misconception within the sporting world is that a warm up starts with stretching. Cold muscles and tendons do not stretch very easily and therefore are more prone to tearing if they are cold.