Monday, February 27, 2012

Getting Yourself Diving Ready

Before you dive head on into the water, you have to first prepare how to go about with it. Since you will be immersing yourself into a totally different environment, you have to make the right preparation to make sure that you enjoy it the best and safest way possible.

The first thing that you have to look for is a good diving instructor. This is very important because you cannot get all the essentials just by reading alone. There needs to be a hands-on training in addition to other additional instruction that a diving instructor will give you. For instance they can give you which sites are best for beginners and which ones are appropriate for seasoned divers.

The next thing that you have to do is to do some research on the specific diving site that you are interested in. Check to see whether the area can give you an interesting and is the weather generally good for diving. These can make you ensure that you can have the most out of a dive, because you will be shelling out some bucks for it so you might as well choose a good site. An interesting site should have a rich wildlife or attractions. Good weather also allows safe waters and better visibility while diving.

After choosing the diving site, you now move on to looking for the right gear for you. In choosing the perfect diving gear, you can do some research by going on the net, asking your instructor or read some reviews about the various brands available. Having the right and complete set of gear will make your dive fun and safe.

Among those that you have to look for is a wetsuit, scuba fins, weight belt, a Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD), mask, snorkel, regulator, scuba tanks, a knife or shears. After you have your equipment ready, you now have some basic training first. And remember that when you dive and are still new at it, always have a reliable diving buddy with you. In addition to this you must know ahead of time any communication signs and signals that you will be using underwater.

The next thing that you will be deciding on is how you are going to go into the water. Are you getting to your dive site by walking from the beach, or are you diving in through a boat. This way you will also know the formations which you can find in the water and how you are going to avoid damaging them. If you are walking, you should avoid stepping on corals.

You must also know how to perform basic life support should any emergency arise during the dive. You should also have an emergency plan to make sure that immediate medical help will be available. For instance what you would do when someone goes missing, what to do when someone is injured, or the nearest hospital.

Always have a dive plan because this will give you more structure with your activities and you can ensure your safety better. You should also remember to take your scuba lesson first especially if you are a newbie. With these simple instructions you are well on your way to getting yourself diving ready.

Seamanship School - One Way to Dock Down Tide on an Inside Berth

This is a hairy manoeuvre the basic seamanship schools usually avoid, but I'm describing a real live experience that we repeated daily throughout a whole Cowes Week Regatta in the 1970s.

First, let's make it clear that the boat we are talking about was a racing sailing boat 34 feet long, whose auxiliary motor drove a folding propeller. Now let's look at the potential causes of problems.

* * * *

All single screw boats suffer 'prop walk' - going ahead, they turn tighter one way than the other, and going astern the stern is kicked to one side. Normally, you do your best to take advantage of this when planning an approach to a berth.

When you switch from 'ahead' to 'astern', the boat takes some time to stop. The rudder has no effect unless the boat is actually going backwards through the water, and even then it has far less effect than when going ahead because it isn't in the fast-moving slipstream of the prop.

When switching from ahead to astern, folding props sometimes fold flat. When you go ahead, the natural screw action assists centrifugal force in opening both blades again smoothly, but occasionally only one blade will open when you go astern, causing severe vibration and possible damage to the bearing seal. The only option is to return to neutral and try again. Not a joke if you are heading for the end of the dock at the time, with a two or three knot tide helping you.

Our berth was a small pontoon with a gangway from the mid-point to the shore. On the shore side, there were two berths upstream and two downstream of the gangway. We had an upstream one, next to the gangway.

Shallow water began less than half a boat length in from the pontoon, so there was no room to approach the berth from the shore side and turn back out towards it.

We were all racing, so sometimes the berth further from the gangway was already occupied by the time we arrived.

The classic approach to this problem is to face up-tide, get into line and slow right down until the tide walks you very slowly backwards into your berth - with or without the other boat in place, a crew member hops on to the pontoon and warps you in.

Because the shallow, muddy shore was so close, this was risky. Also, on several days there was an erratic, gusty wind.

The technique we ended up using wasn't very kind to the pontoon's moorings, but it worked - just. We went in head first down tide and used a spring to help stop the boat (and once, when the prop didn't open, as the only means of stopping).

A trusted and nimble crew member (sometimes me, but we took turns because it was so scary) took the stern line and a spring, tied to the mast and led through the jib fairlead block (slid up to its foremost position for the occasion). He stood outside the lifelines ahead of the shrouds, and jumped onto the pontoon as early as he could, slipped the spring round the most uptide mooring cleat he could reach and surged the line out, braking the boat's movement as quickly as possible, then tied off the spring and pulled in the stern line.

Sports Nutrition and Fitness Awareness

Hydration is your best friend

Quick Fact: Did you know that you can survive the hostile environments of the world without food for a month but can only last three days without water? Water is one of the most active nutritional requirements for people to maintain the natural balance of hydration and nourishment. When you perspire, you reduce the amount of water in your body and it needs to be replenished. If you are planning to exercise then it's important to stock up on your body's water supply, during and after you finish your routine. Water is the best choice for liquid replacement during a workout. If you are planning to exercise continuously for more than an hour and a half, you may want to replace your water with an electrolyte rich liquid supplement such as a sports drink.

Aside from water, sports drinks are very helpful in restoring your body's electrolyte and carbohydrate needs during an exercise regimen. "Sports water" as what they are called are rich in nutrients that your body requires to avoid dehydration and replace the energy lost during a workout burn and can help you replenish lost minerals lost for the day. The carbohydrate contents in sports water provides you with the C6H12O6 you lose when you burn. As you exercise your muscles produce lactic acid which makes them ache, sports drinks reduces the production of lactic acid by providing a constant supply of carbohydrates to burn. When checking out sports drinks, make sure that they contain anywhere from fifteen to 18 grams of carbohydrates for every eight ounces.

Maintain your levels with good Nutrition

Your body draws its energy from the carbohydrates that you consume. A simple definition of what comprises carbohydrates is your simple sugars and starches that are found in food like cereals, bread, pasta products, lactose products and the most common source which is white sugar.

These simple sugars are metabolized by your body and converted to a compound called glucose (C6H12O6), which the body burns to produce energy through the organelle in your cells called the mitochondria. If you are planning to start your day with a workout then you must remember that your caloric intake should comprise of mainly carbohydrates at an average of five calories per gram. Having a stable diet of carbohydrates should ensure that you can function well with no need for an energy stock up as your body will use up the fuel reserves from previous meals. To be sure that you don't end up burning muscle tissue (in the event of energy scarcity the body produces lactic acid to resynthesize chemical byproducts so they may be converted to fuel called anaerobic glycolysis)

Sports Nutrition 101 - Basic Hydration Guidelines

If you are a fitness buff looking to gain that competitive edge then you need to make sure you receive the right nutrition as you work out. Consuming copious amounts of water and eating with a balanced meal will make the body burn energy wisely and provide you with the stamina you need to improve your performance significantly. You can make sure that you become the best athlete you can be and gain the important aspects of good performance at the field which is strength, agility and stamina as you train with good nutrition. Create a diet that takes specific factors of your constitution into account- your size, physical built, exercise preferences and age. The best person to provide you with more information is your psychiatrist.

Keep on Hydrating

Keeping your fluid balance at all times is a must if you are to follow a strict regimen based on sports nutrition. Water (H20) is comprised of sixty percent of your overall body mass and is responsible for synthesizing almost every form of chemical reaction in your body. The challenge is that the human body does not have the capacity to store or create water, so replenishing the supplies you lose through evaporation while you work out is critical if you want to optimize your athleticism. It is ideal to consume eight glasses of water every day, but as an athlete you should make it a practice to drink 50% more. Consume fluids before, in the middle and after every sports activity to maintain hydration and avoid losing important fluids and electrolytes. As you complete your routine, try to minimize the risk of dehydration by compensating for the amount of water you lose as you sweat and urinate.

The best fluid replacement to consume during a heavy workout is to drink a cold glass of water to maintain hydration and cool the body. This is advisable if you plan to exercise for periods that don't last longer than an hour. For continuous workout sessions, it's better to consider a fluid alternative such as a sports drink, as you start to lose out on your Sodium and Magnesium deposits, important electrolytes that maintain the balance of chemical reactions in the body. Sports drinks contain vital electrolytes and roughly 10% of your carbohydrate requirements. For best results you should add fifty percent of water to the sports drink you take.

Drinking water as a regular practice is important. You should consume water even if you don't feel thirsty as this body reaction is not a reliable indicator if you require water in your system. The body doesn't tell you that you need to drink until you have lost an approximate one percent of your body mass index, which is enough to lower your stamina and decrease athletic performance. When you feel thirsty, ensure that you drink water even if your thirst is satiated to ensure full liquid replenishment.

Good Practices to keep hydrated:

Consume water on a regular basis, small amounts on a frequent scale is better than large but less often.
Cold drinks are better to lower your body temperature and minimize perspiration.
Take weight measurements before and after you finish an exercise routine and consume two glasses of water for every pound removed.
Your urine will tell you if you are dehydrated, yellow colored urine means you need more water in your body.

Fishing - Varying Methods for Catching Fish

When someone says they are going fishing, you probably envision the pole, the bait, and the hook. You may even picture them wearing a hat, vest, and the boots and pants combo that is often worn with a pair of suspenders. While this is a more recent way to catch fish, there are actual several different techniques that all possess similar results.

Hand Gathering

Picking up different types of seafood along on the edges of the beach is considered to be hand gathering. However, in ancient times, people used methods like trout tickling as their preferred method of fishing. By rubbing the fingers along a certain portion of the fish, it would immediately fall into an immoveable state. At that time, the fisherman would pick them up out of the water and toss them into the closest basket.


There are several different kinds of nets used for fishing. Some are still in use today and can be an efficient way to catch several fish at the same time. While some nets are small and used by hand, others are larger in size and placed behind a boat to drag in anything that falls inside the net as it moves. Individuals and groups can find success with nothing but a net to cast out into the water.


Spearing, another ancient method of fishing still in use today, involves a stick with a sharp point on the edge. The spear is thrown into the water at a passing fish. The spear goes through the body of the fish, making it easy to bring it up out of the water and into the closest container.


Angling is what comes to mind when someone mentions fishing. They are taking some type of a rod with a line and hook attached. They place the line and hook into the water and wait for a fish to come by and attempt a bite. When this happens, the fisherman pulls on the rod and the fish catches on the hook. It is removed from the water and placed into a container.


Fish traps are made so that a fish can easily get inside but does not have any type of access to get out. In different parts of the world people create their own version of the trap. Some are permanent while others are only temporary. The size and scope of a trap varies based on the geographic location as well as the type of fish a person is trying to capture. Even the materials used vary from place to place.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflections on the Italian conference on track and field

I am on the plane back to London returning from Italy after having spoken at a conference organised by the Italian Track and Field Federation’s regional committee of Veneto and the regional branch of the Italian Olympic Committee. I spent interesting 2 days in Abano Terme for a variety of reasons, some of which I will write about here. I also had time to reflect about my career so far and where I started.
First of all, I have to say it is always a pleasure to get back to Italy. I left many years ago to study and further my education (my first “escape” was in 1996 [time goes fast!]). After the USA, Spain, Hungary and bits and bobs around the World, I arrived in the UK in 2001 (yes it is now 10 years) to pursue a career in sports science. First in academia and since 2005 with the British Olympic Association. When I left Italy, It was with a bitter taste, many things happened which helped me decide to “throw in the towel” and move on.
The main issues were: the lack of meritocracy, the lack of vision and thinking big, the lack of jobs and clear career paths, the inability to work in partnership and the constant bad influence on politics in every field. However bitterness was then transformed in pleasantness by the realisation that leaving Italy was not an exile like some Italians think, but in reality a great opportunity to be thankful for. In fact, since arriving in the UK, I have been blessed with continuous opportunities. I have met some fantastic people, I have had the opportunity to work and collaborate with World Class colleagues in many fields in academia and sport and I have the privilege to work towards the London Olympics for the biggest sporting event which will happen in my country of adoption at least for my generation.
Reflecting on the last 18 years since I started this journey, I realised how much I have learnt and and how much I have evolved as a professional thanks not only to my ovn hard work and sacrifice, but also thanks to the countless interactions I have had and still have with various people in many fields and thanks to the opportunities I have been presented with.
The conference was also an emotional moment. It was primarily organised to discuss athletics in Italy and around the World thanks to contributors coming from Germany and France. But the main aim of the conference was to remember the immense contribution from the greatest Sports Scientist Italy ever had (in my view): Professor Carmelo Bosco. Prof. Bosco was my PhD supervisor, and I enjoyed some years of hard work on the road with him not only working on various research projects but also working on applied projectr with athletes and higher education.
(With Prof. Bosco on a trip)
Working with a genius is never easy. It takes effort, it is difficult, it is stressful and requires long hours of “deep” practice and a strong character as well as the willingness to accept criticism and work hard to learn. I feel so lucky of having been working with people like him, Atko Viru, Jozsef Tihanyi (to name a few), because these guys not only were great at what they did (and Josefz still is), but they were passionate about their jobs and were/are totally driven to learn more every day.
(1998, Tartu Estonia – picture credit Bill Laich)
Italy was a difficult place to work at the time. The faculty of Sports Science did not have a library. If you wanted to read scientific literature, you needed to book access to the School of Sport of CONI and you were allowed few hours only few days per month. So if you wanted to have knowledge you had to go and get it and it was not easy to do so (mind you there were no queues…so clearly few people were interested in reading!). Unlike now, knowledge is “on tap” [but so is crap], and there is really no excuse for not trying*to learn something new every day. For the young readers, this was the pre-PDF era when you had to go to the library, find the journal, take notes or make photocopies. It was a time when a literature search required a week to be done. You needed to hand in at reception a floppy disk with a list of keywords and come back a week later to receive the files with the literature search outputs. We had an office to do literature search with 1 computer. There were brick walls everywhere. But, as Randy Pausch said in his last lecture, brick walls are there to separate the people that really want something from the ones not willing to overcome the obstacles.
At the conference, I spoke about how great it was to discuss about science and training methodology 24 hours per day for few years. Having strong debates, doing calculations, performing experiments, discussing and arguing with coaches and scientists filled my days at the time. That was proper “deep practice”. Everything was an opportunity for growth and such environment was what made Italian sport successful and innovative in those years. It was great, and I treasure every minute of that time.
imageYury Verkchoschanski, Carmelo Bosco and Atko Viru discussing data. A normal day at the office in Rome in the 90s being in the same place working with these guys was brilliant.
In Abano I also met an old friend and had the pleasure of translating his lecture. The old friend is Professor Paavo Komi. Prof. Komi was another inspiring figure in my career. I went to “study” him in 1997 in Denver at the ACSM when I was a student in the USA for my Master. I had read all his papers and books and wanted to see/hear his keynote lecture as well as understand how somebody can prepare a scientific presentation about his data and showcase his work in front of hundreds of people without panicking. I quietly entered the empty auditorium while he was aligning his slides (for the youngsters, at that time PowerPoint was not really an option) and asked politely if I could see him preparing the talk. He was a bit puzzled at first, but then he allowed me to stay. That day I learnt how meticulous preparation has to be in every field and I was inspired to try to reach his levels of knowledge and positive influence on the strength and conditioning and scientific community.
In Italy I was asked to translate his presentation and I loved every moment of it, as the work he has done with numerous collaborators around the world has been truly amazing as well as being totally relevant to strength and conditioning. I also had lunch with Paavo and we chatted about past times as well the origins of the European College of Sports Science and how things have changed in this profession so quickly (for the good) in the last 15 years. We should be thankful to this group of guys. They had a vision and not much money (actually they had none...) and they created a great organisation to foster collaboration, innnvation and education as well as a job market for our profession. It is amazing what people can do if their noses are pointing in the same direction.
Few lessons here. People and ideas drive innovation and change and help athletes reaching new heights. Facilities and gadgets help and support people and ideas. Not the other way around. Likeminded people willing to park the ego at the door for bigger achievements than personal self promotion can do amazing things. Lessons from the past are good. Experience helps in framing the path to the future.
There is a tendency these days to discard what happened in the past in every field. As well as a tendency to forget about the people which were there before and got their t-shirts. I guess it is a sign of the times. Old school is perceived to be not relevant anymore. I like old school. In particular if old school means application of basic, sound concepts with attention to detail.
I think we should make sure we know and understand well what happened in the past to learn and we should seek wisdom from the people who were trying to do what we do now years ago so we don’t re-invent the wheel. In our field we have still the same unanswered questions. We still don’t have 100% knowledge on how to individualise and maximise training programmes, we haven’t cracked the code on overtraining and fatigue and we still don’t understand fully what it takes to transform successful young athletes in winning performers.
So, if you are a young sports scientist, make sure you listen to the people teaching and mentoring you. They may sound old school, sometimes pedantic, sometimes a bit hard to deal with. Listen to them, there is a lot to learn and you will thank them ten years from now. Also, make sure you also read scientific papers published many years ago. Not all the recent literature is “recent”, lots of things have been done before and they are “sold” as new.
If you are looking for examples, go and read the work from Professor Angelo Mosso and look at his ergograph developed in 1890. You will find out that the use of dynamometry to measure fatigue is not a new idea after all.

Distinguishing the individual and the athlete: cheerleading, sexual assault and drink-driving

A recent news story highlights the case of a 16 year old cheerleader who refused to chant the name of a player who had previously sexually assaulted her, and was subsequently expelled from the squad for doing so. After attempting to bring a compensatory claim against her school which failed, she was ordered to pay $45,000 in costs.

The court ruled:

"As a cheerleader, HS served as a mouthpiece through which [the school district] could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams. This act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, HS was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily."

I'm not sure of the credibility of this story as I have no background knowledge on it but one of the most interesting aspects is the distinction between the role and responsibilities of being an athlete (if one can call cheerleading a sport) and the rights one has as a free individual.

On a similar note, Danny Care has been dropped from the England rugby team for being found guilty of drink-driving after a New Year's party. This again highlights the ambiguous distinction between a private and public life and the rights and responsibilities that come with each. Care was not on duty with the England team at the time and the matter was rightly dealt with by the police and law courts. However, the act was seen to be justification for his dismissal from national selection.

These stories provide us with a couple of interesting philosophical questions:

To what extent is one a free individual in sport?
What bearing should decisions made in one's private life have on one's public sporting life?