By Randy York, The N-Sider
Some say research is important to see what everybody else has seen, so they can think what others have never thought. Others see research as formalized curiosity that pokes and pries with a purpose, so they become equipped to succeed whenever preparation meets opportunity, one of the most magical words in athletics.
Whatever role research plays in collegiate athletics, three Husker coaches are very proud to be on the ground floor of the collaborative Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory (NAPL), located in the East side of historic Memorial Stadium.
NAPL = Biomechanics, Nutrition, Biomarkers, Cardiovascular, Equipment
Jack Ransone, Ph.D., directs the NAPL, which has enough space to conduct advanced research on 1) the biomechanics of elite athletes; 2) athletic and nutrition supplements; 3) biomarkers that measure saliva and recovery time; 4) cardiovascular research; and 5) athletic equipment issues, such as helmet and footwear design.
The NAPL's advance research sets the table for innovative solutions that benefit Husker student-athletes in terms of their safety and overall athletic performance.
The N-Sider asked three Nebraska coaches for feedback on the NAPL, and all three are convinced that the performance lab's formative years have built a solid foundation that eventually will create great opportunities for Nebraska Athletics across the board.
Heather Brink (above left) is Nebraska's associate women's head gymnastics coach, who became the first Husker in history to win an all-around title in the 2000 NCAA Championships.
John Walker (middle) is Nebraska's only head soccer coach, who was the National Coach of the Year in 1996 and led the Huskers to 10 conference titles and two Elite Eight finishes.
David Harris (right) is in his sixth season as the Huskers' distance and middle distance coach and Nebraska's head cross country coach, who has guided four athletes to Big Ten titles.
Heather Brink: NAPL Proof That There Really Is NO PLACE Like Nebraska
“The NAPL staff has allowed us the opportunity to do some much-needed research on the things that we can't always see with our eyes,” Brink said. “Historically, there is not a lot of scientific research of this nature that has been done for gymnastics.
“As coaches, you always strive to continually improve and find ways to help your athletes achieve their full potential," Brink said. "NAPL and its staff have been the springboard for us to find ways to collect data and be able to try new things to help our athletes.
“NAPL is also a great resource in recruiting because it's impressive to have the tools, resources and knowledge right at your fingertips,” said Brink, who was inducted into the University of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016. "We were the first university institution to have such a lab. Very few professional teams have the resources we have, and it's just another reason why There Is No Place Like Nebraska.”
Husker Gymnasts' Trial Research Became the First of Its Kind to Collect Data
“Our team has done some trial research, allowing us to collect data,” Brink said. “It was the first research of its kind in our sport and we use it to suit our team the best way we can.”
Nebraska's pursuit of the NCAA's 2017 Gymnastics Championship was fueled by NAPL and Ransone (pictured above), who led the research that helped Husker student-athletes recover and understand what has happened internally in this year's process.
“We used the lab for underlying tests to pinpoint injuries that may occur and do things necessary to avoid injury,” Brink said, praising NU's physical therapy and strength and conditioning efforts.
Jack and the Rest of NAPL a 'Huge Advantage' to Help Athletes, Coaches
“Jack and the rest of NAPL is a huge advantage,” Brink said. “We have the knowledge and the resources available to help our athletes and coaches.”
Research in women's gymnastics is scarce in terms of how long it takes in the recovery process. “It measures the day-to-day toll in practices,” Brink said. “With the proper data, these resources not only help our team, but our sport.”
NAPL “has bridged the gap between science and world of sports and all the athletes,” Brink said. “We're setting new standards in the way we use science and how to better understand the full training cycle of an athlete.”
Accelerating Biomechanical Analysis of Soccer's Functional Techniques
Walker (pictured above) has coached Nebraska soccer teams to a career 309-146-34 record. NAPL has become “an amazing resource for the program," he said. "Initially we used the lab to help us gather information on ACL prevention and concussion injuries. Lately, we've asked for their help in the areas of biomechanical analysis of some the game's functional techniques, including heading, ball striking and volleying.
“All of our players have these three functional techniques analyzed by the NAPL staff," Walker said. "We're sharing data now with the coaches and will share next with our players."
Coaches, Players Strive in Detailed, Scientific Way to Achieve Mastery
“We want to coach our players in a detailed and scientific way in order to help them achieve technical mastery,” Walker said. “The work with the NAPL staff has allowed us as coaches to have a more accurate knowledge base for coaching these key soccer techniques.”
Walker will share NAPL's feedback with Husker players. “We anticipate this detailed feedback will help them achieve technical mastery," he said. "Jack and his staff have been terrific to work with. They have the same goals we have as coaches – help our team maximize their potential.
“We have a world-class facility with top-notch sport science specialists working in our own athletic department,” Walker pointed out. We would be foolish not to take advantage of this incredible opportunity for our program.”
Husker Distance/Cross Country Coach: Research Sharpens Performance
Harris (pictured above), is a veteran distance/track/cross country coach who has gained national prominence from his peers. He appreciates how approachable Ransone is "about any kind of research we want to do. He studies it, and he comes up with a good plan," Harris said.
"In distance and cross country, we research our top athletes in maximizing oxygen," Harris said. "We test them and then sit down and analyze what they did. It's motivating and helps them on what they can do to improve their workouts. You can see progress when they study. It's helped our distance runners know more about their bodies and what they're doing that's helping.
"Jack has a great background in research and a great background in athletic training," Harris said. "He's a very athletic-oriented research person. He's been great in helping us sharpen our performance. We had stress-level testing last spring and those who volunteered to participate were glad they did. They were interested, and I encouraged them to participate because Jack can help you. He's been around long enough to give the extra edge that we're all looking for because he can definitely help."
Talented Staff Foundation for Nebraska Athletics Performance Laboratory
Nebraska Senior Associate A.D. Steve Waterfield oversees the Huskers' performance and strategic research. Others who work directly for Ransone are Endocrinology Research Fellow Jessica Calvi, Senior Research Fellow Ryan Hasenkamp and PostDoc NAPL researchers Scott Crawford, Christopher Bach and Curt Tomasevicz.
"Our lab staff consists of doctoral degrees in engineering, physiology, and developmental psychology," Ransone said. "We have staff members with lifetime experiences as All Americans and competitors who have won multiple NCAA team championships, an NBA World Championship and Olympic Gold Medals."
Ransone Was USA Cross Country Coach in Uganda's World Championships
Ransone returned to Lincoln last week after serving as USA's senior men's and senior women's head cross country coach in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda. Both USA teams finished fifth, which is one of the USA's top combined finishes because Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda occupy the top three finishers on an almost annual basis.
Team USA for both men and women are pictured above.
“It was a great honor to be part of this national team and witness athletic competition at the highest world championship level," Ransone told me. "The opportunity to compete in a cross country race in front of 20,000-plus spectators, the Ugandan president and parliament in attendance was a very special and memorable experience for everyone."
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