Friday, 9 June 2017

4 years in the desert

It is amazing how time goes so fast. Today I celebrate my fourth anniversary living in the desert and working at Aspire Academy in Doha. It is as hot as I found it getting out of the airport (40 degrees C today!) when I arrived from a much colder London. While it seems like yesterday, four years have gone by quickly and a lot has happened professionally and personally. This blog article is a bit of a mix. A reflection on my work here but also on my life here with my family.

So what has happened in the last 4 years?
Quite a lot actually. I have seen four graduations of Aspire athletes with some of our graduates progressing their sporting careers to international stardom and some continuing a healthy lifestyle and  careers in education/army/business. I have worked with the rest of the coaching and sports science team to support the development of many young athletes over the last four years in Doha and abroad.

Getting ready for the Gymasiade 2013 in Brasilia with Coach Carlos Cavalheiro (now head coach of Brazil Athletics), Abubaker Hayder (who won Gold in that even and competed in Rio 2016 last summer) and training partner Adam Mousab (which we hope to see in London this summer)

It is great to see these young men grow in our facilities with the mentoring and support of teachers, parents, coaches and support staff to reach their potential on the international stage. I have written previously about our graduates in Rio Olympics. But it is not all about athletics in Aspire. We have had some great results with the squash programme, with our graduate Abdulla Al-Tamimi climbing the World Ranking in the seniors in the top 40 and reaching the first senior semifinal at the Pittsburgh Open in March this year and the younger boys have reached the podium in international competitions very often.


Table Tennis has also produced some good results with our young athletes Mohamed Abdulwahab and Nawaf Al-Malki and Abdulaziz Mohd winning medals in international competitions.


Finally, we have a new programme in Fencing, and the first few months with the new coaching team in place have been quite exciting.


My department has been providing relentless support to all the athletes in the programme and some senior athletes from national federations on a daily basis with training monitoring, testing, project-based support and many other activities required to make sure each individual athletes has the best chance to get better. Over the last four years, thousands of hours of services have been provided and  gigabytes of data have been analysed, turned into reports and into interventions. The team has also produced 36 articles on peer reviewed journals, which is an incredible accomplishment, considering that we are not an academic institution and all staff has limited time to produce research papers. For me, it is important to apply scientific principles to the activities we conduct and also communicate via peer review publications our work to share knowledge and engage with peer review. Two of my team members joined us and then moved on to more senior opportunities and are doing very well in their new roles. Andrew Murray as a Director of Performance and Sports Science at the University of Oregon and and Thomas Jones as a senior lecturer in Northumbria University have contributed enormously to the activities and culture of the sports physiology unit in Aspire and are now making an impact in sport and research in other cultures/environments. Seeing former staff move to bigger responsibilities and succeed always makes me proud as I always try to support and develop keen and motivated individuals. New staff will join us soon and I am already looking forward to next season for some exciting new projects and activities to support Aspire's mission to become the World reference.

I have been fortunate to work with colleagues in other departments to organise 3 conferences. Two youth athletics coaching conferences (the last one is available here) and the #trainingload2016 conference (all talks available here and special issue of International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance here) which will be for sure a major milestone in this scientific field for years to come. I was also involved in a big project during the Handball World Championships in Qatar 2015, developing a new analytical solution with Prozone for Handball and conducting a comprehensive study on the demands of elite men's handball with the scientific and medical commission of the World Championships. This was thanks to the vision of the organising committee, Aspetar hospital, and a fellow former handball player (albeit more successful than me with his Olympic Gold medal) Dr. Nebojsa Popovic, showing how great it is to work in a large campus (Aspire Zone) with amazing expertise and passion for learning and developing new knowledge.

Tracking camera ready before game 1 of Qatar 2015.


On a personal front it has been quite exciting too. I have taken on few new sports and I am enjoying a more active lifestyle since moving here.







I have managed to visit some pretty cool places here in Doha and in nearby countries and taken some nice pictures.














So, it's been a great 4 years after all.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

2016 is gone, looking forward to a great 2017

I realised I have not written much on the blog for ages now and this is a good time to analyse the year just finished as well as looking a bit into 2017.
First of all, thanks to the 13,134 users who read the blog. It feels like a small town was curious about my writing and I want to thank everyone for the more than 72,000 page views.

Despite the fact that I am not terribly active on the Blog, "old" articles still seem to be of interest and hopefully in 2017 I will be able to write more.

This has been an incredibly positive year (oh well, a part from my knee injury). At work many things happened which were incredibly rewarding.

In February 2016, we held the first scientific conference dedicated to Training Load monitoring in Aspire. The conference was a big success also echoed by the #trainingload2016 and the twitter trending. All the talks are now available for free online and in the first few months of 2017 a special issue of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance will be made available online (again for free) with all the papers and reviews from the conference.

Dr. Marco Cardinale (QAT) - Monitoring Athlete Training Loads - The Hows and Whys from Aspire Academy on Vimeo.


Training activities and at Aspire were in full swing and summer camps saw few of our young athletes get medals in Regional and Continental championships as well as qualifications to World Juniors in many sports.

In July our student/athlete Mohamed Ibrahim Moaaz coached by Ivica Jakeljic became World Junior Champion throwing his discus 63.63 meters. An incredible result considering his young age and a testament to the excellent coaching and support received at Aspire Academy since he joined.


In August, we had four former students qualified in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics and they all did very well with Mutaz Barshim coming back to Qatar with an historical silver medal.







These were incredible results for a small country like Qatar and something to be really proud of. furthermore, these are very young athletes with great potential for the "home" World Championships in Doha 2019. For the first time in years I was away from the Olympic environment and I have to say I missed it, but it was great to support Qatar and also see how well my former colleagues did with Team GB and Team Italia.

The Olympics always give us incredible stories of athletes, coaches and support staff capable of doing amazing things. However, sadly, they also remind us of the dark side of sport with many doping stories, in particular the McLaren reports (1 and 2) from WADA.

In October I was invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of the Italian School of Sport at the Olympic Committee and it was great to see again so many familiar faces, but also remember former colleagues like the late Marcello Faina and my mentor Carmelo Bosco. I left Italy many years ago to pursue my career in sports science, and it is always special to be able to come back and hopefully inspire the younger generation of Italian Sports Scientists.

Thanks to work within my unit and collaborative efforts with other scientists, this has been a productive year from a scientific standpoint. First we published this work on Citrulline Malate conducted before the London 2012 games. Then this paper on Ischaemic Preconditioning, part of a series of studies conducted with colleagues in UCL before I left for Qatar. Work conducted in the lead up to London 2012 with Boxing and in the lead up to Sochi 2014 with Skeleton was also published. The first of the papers related to the Handball study conducted during a World Championship in Qatar was also published as well as the mini review from the talk I gave at the Training Load conference. In the last few weeks, we also received acceptance for a study conducted understanding practices and attitudes towards recovery in adolescent athletes in Asian and UK cohorts, and this work from Dr Pujari's PhD in Aberdeen on a novel vibration exercise device. Few papers are still under review or just accepted but not available online yet, so overall it has been a very productive year.

2017 looks already interesting. We have athletes competing in international competitions and trying to qualify for World Youth and Junior events in various sports. Some interesting scientific efforts are continued to understand more how to support better young athletes and I am due to speak to a super interesting conference on young athletes in Montreaux in September 2017. If you want to know more about this event just go on http://yaf2017.org, it is going to be a very interesting conference and I am looking forward to learn from many international colleagues as well as give my views.

So, au revoir 2016 and welcome 2017.



Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Olympic Results Visualization

In recent months I have been using Microsoft Power BI to develop dashboards to present data in graphical format and analyse data gathered during the day to day activities in my workplace. This product is absolutely amazing (also because it is free!) and it has really facilitated the way I can put together dynamic reports and share data with my staff as well as other colleagues and coaches.

If you want to know more about Power BI you can go to this weblink and also you can have a look at the demo video to understand the capabilities.


I am following the Olympics from a distance and I am very interested in the results just like anybody involved in Olympic Sports. Most of all, I like to track the medal table and understand more about who is winning what medal and how countries are doing in various sports. Considering the fact that there are many data repositories on the internet to have such information, I have developed a Power BI dashboard which collects live data and can visualise them in a simple way. I would like to share this dashboard with the readers and will continue to develop it in order to conduct a detailed analysis of the medal table once the Olympics are over.

The dashboard is interactive and you can click and expand graphs as well as change the visualisations. I hope you will like it.

Here is the dashboard:



Alternatively, if you cannot access it via this blog, just click on THIS link and you should be able to view it.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Tributo ad una atleta che smette di giocare oggi

Non ho mai scritto un articolo in Italiano sul mio blog, per scelta. Perché' l'obiettivo del blog e' quello di raggiungere la maggior parte delle persone possibili per scambiare esperienze e condividere vari pensieri/osservazioni che sono parte del mio lavoro quotidiano nel mondo della scienza dello sport.

Grazie a questo mezzo ho raccolto e condiviso con moltissime persone in varie parti del mondo le mie esperienze e i miei punti di vista e in molti casi questa condivisione ha generato ulteriori discussioni e approfondimenti e in alcuni casi forme di collaborazione. Scrivere un blog prende tempo, ma e' un modo per riflettere ad alta voce in una piazza virtuale ed é forse anche un modo per mettere su carta in maniera organizzata pensieri e osservazioni che altrimenti rimarrebbero nella testa.

Oggi ho deciso di scrivere in Italiano, per essere sicuro che quello che sto per scrivere venga letto e possa essere condiviso nella nazione dove sono nato e magari possa essere di stimolo e riflessioni per tanti giovani che si avvicinano allo sport e meno giovani che ci sono gia' dentro.

Nella mia carriera sono stato veramente fortunato ad incontrare atleti, allenatori e colleghi fantastici che hanno contribuito non solo ad arricchire il mio bagaglio culturale e di esperienze, ma hanno anche lasciato insegnamenti di vita ed esempi che hanno contributo al mio "crescere" non solo dal punto di vista professionale. Nominarli e ringraziarli tutti per nome sarebbe un rischio grosso, perché sicuramente ne dimenticherei qualcuno e quindi evito i lunghi elenchi spero che nessuno si senta "meno importante" dopo aver letto quest'articolo.

L'articolo in Italiano e' stato determinato dal fatto che oggi alle Olimpiadi di Rio una atleta con la quale ho avuto il piacere di lavorare ha appena finito di giocare la sua ultima partita e da domani si dedicherà' alla sua nuova vita lontano dai campi giocati. L'atleta in questione e' la mia amica (mi permetto di chiamarla amica dopo molte ore passate in palestra e qualcuna sulla sabbia) Antonella del Core. 

(Photo Source: http://alchetron.com/Antonella-Del-Core-495523-W)

Antonella termina oggi un lunghissimo viaggio iniziato con la corsa (aveva iniziato come ostacolista) e continuato per fortuna prestissimo sui campi di volley di tutto il mondo. Quando ho lavorato con lei a Napoli e nell'esperienza del beach era all'inizio di una carriera che poi si e' rilevata fantastica, ma era gia' chiaro che questa simpatica ragazza di Napoli aveva tanto carattere e il talento più' importante (a mio parere): una voglia di migliorarsi giorno per giorno con l'allenamento che erano fuori dal comune. 

Dopo tanti anni di lavoro nello sport, posso dire che il miglior talento che molti campioni (quelli veri, non quelli da "copertina") in sport diversi hanno e' la volontà di diventare migliori ogni giorno lavorando duro. E Antonella possiede sicuramente questo "talento" che ha condiviso e maturato con un'altra atleta che aveva queste caratteristiche (la sua compagna di squadra e beach Caterina de Marinis con la quale ha vinto il titolo Italiano di Beach nel 2000, altra atleta e persona fantastica che non smettera' mai di allenarsi e di imparare qualcosa nel volley). E sono sicuro che userà da domani il suo talento in altri aspetti della sua nuova vita lontana dalla pallavolo giocata.

De-Del Campioni D'Italia (coach Marcovecchio)


Dopo gli anni di Napoli, ha preso la valigia in mano e la Pallavolo l'ha portata a giocare e vincere trofei in Italia, Turchia e Russia oltre a numerosissime vittorie con la Nazionale Italiana e numerosissimi premi personali (se siete curiosi, potete leggere il palmares qui). Sacrifici non semplici  considerando le distanze da famiglia e affetti e soprattutto tenendo conto delle ore di allenamento e di attività' relative al volley spese in quasi venti anni da professionista. L'ultima volta che ci siamo visti di persona era a Londra nel caffe' del villaggio olimpico, io ero contentissimo dell'andamento delle Olimpiadi per la squadra con la quale lavoravo (Comitato Olimpico Britannico) e lei meno felice dei risultati sportivi e delle attenzioni "gossippare" della stampa Italiana. Ricordavamo i vecchi tempi e riflettevamo di come siamo fortunati a lavorare in un settore che ci permette di viaggiare e conoscere cose e persone nuove quasi ogni giorno, ma ci ricordavamo anche delle rinunce che si fanno per riuscire ad eccellere nello sport (sia come atleta che come tecnico/staff di supporto ecc.) e di come molti non si rendano conto di come dietro un mezzo successo si nascondono insicurezze, tanto lavoro, fallimenti e sacrifici. Parlavamo anche di come la stampa sia poco interessata all'aspetto sportivo nello sport femminile ma si occupi prevalentemente di aspetti estetici o gossip, sminuendo sacrifici e risultati di donne con storie che potrebbero e dovrebbero rappresentare modelli guida per tanti.

Antonella rappresenta l'Italia che tutti vorremmo. Quella delle persone che lavorando duramente e onestamente con passione possono arrivare ad ottenere risultati incredibili. Quella dei sacrifici e del coraggio di affrontare le difficoltà con il lavoro lontano dai riflettori. L'Italia che e' magnanima nelle vittorie e che sa accettare sportivamente le sconfitte usandole per migliorarsi. La sua storia sportiva (e quella di tante altre donne dello sport Italiano) dovrebbe essere presa a modello ed insegnata e usata come esempio per i giovani. Per fare in modo che anche in settori lontani dallo sport qualche bambino o bambina possa sognare e credere nella possibilità' di raggiungere obiettivi incredibili lavorando duramente e applicandosi e accettando che gli incidenti di percorso possono contribuire a crescere e diventare migliori.  Storie sempre più  rare in un mondo patinato pieno di modelli di vita falsi e che danno scarsa importanza al saper fare e alla necessità di imparare e migliorarsi.

Lo sport Italiano é pieno di storie di donne come Antonella del Core, il guaio é che purtroppo il giorno dopo la fine della loro carriera sportiva queste donne finiscono spesso nel dimenticatoio. 

L'augurio e' che storie come quella della ragazza di Napoli che ha vinto tantissimo in giro per il mondo siano da esempio per le nuove generazioni e che atlete come Antonella abbiano la possibilità di continuare il loro contributo nello sport dove hanno avuto successo e nelle scuole che sono la nostra speranza per migliorare il nostro paese.

Ad Antonella faccio i migliori auguri per il futuro e spero di vederla presto. Allo sport Italiano  e alla scuola ricordo che ci sono tante ex-atlete parcheggiate nei dimenticatoi che avrebbero tanto da insegnare alle nuove generazioni e il mio augurio é che qualcuno ogni tanto si ricordi di loro e possa creare opportunità per fare tesoro dei loro insegnamenti e delle loro storie di vita.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

New paper: Physical Predictors of Skeleton Performance

This week I had another paper published. This paper was part of the PhD studentship of Dr. Steffi Colyer in partnership with Bath University, GB Skeleton, UK Sport and my previous role at the BOA.

In this work we looked at the testing battery for strength and power assessment of bob skeleton athletes and identified predictors of skeleton performance. The analysis approach revealed that 3 tests scores can obtain a valid and stable prediction of bob skeleton start performance. More work from Dr Colyer's excellent PhD will be published soon, so follow her work as I am sure more applied approaches in other sports will be followed in the next years. I enjoyed working with a great group of colleagues, athletes and coaches for this project and the publication reminded me of how fortunate I was in my time in the UK.


This project is a good example of how some applied sports science projects can advance understanding of specific performance issues as well as provide meaningful advice for the coaches and practitioners involved in this particular sport.

The abstracts is below:


 2016 May 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Physical Predictors of Elite Skeleton Start Performance.

Abstract

PURPOSE: 

An extensive battery of physical tests is typically employed to evaluate athletic status and/or development often resulting in a multitude of output variables. We aimed to identify independent physical predictors of elite skeleton start performance overcoming the general problem of practitioners employing multiple tests with little knowledge of their predictive utility.

METHODS: 

Multiple two-day testing sessions were undertaken by 13 high-level skeleton athletes across a 24-week training season and consisted of flexibility, dry-land push-track, sprint, countermovement jump and leg press tests. To reduce the large number of output variables to independent factors, principal component analysis was conducted. The variable most strongly correlated to each component was entered into a stepwise multiple regression analysis and K-fold validation assessed model stability.

RESULTS: 

Principal component analysis revealed three components underlying the physical variables, which represented sprint ability, lower limb power and strength-power characteristics. Three variables, which represented these components (unresisted 15-m sprint time, 0-kg jump height and leg press force at peak power, respectively), significantly contributed (P < 0.01) to the prediction (R2 = 0.86, 1.52% standard error of estimate) of start performance (15-m sled velocity). Finally, the K-fold validation revealed the model to be stable (predicted vs. actual R2 = 0.77; 1.97% standard error of estimate).

CONCLUSIONS: 

Only three physical test scores were needed to obtain a valid and stable prediction of skeleton start ability. This method of isolating independent physical variables underlying performance could improve the validity and efficiency of athlete monitoring potentially benefitting sports scientists, coaches and athletes alike.
PMID:
 
27140284
 
[PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

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