You are a battling team, needing to Moneyball your way up the standings by exploiting whatever cutting-edge innovations you can uncover.
You are a behemoth, scared of needles, desperate to use your riches on the smartest and latest one-per-centers available in order to impress shareholders, er, members.
The confluence of the two most competitive realms in modern life – sport and business – is unleashing entrepreneurial creativity in sports science. The best wisely build on the time-honoured basics – sleep, diet, a positive outlook and honing your skills. The foolish resort to needles. Here’s a few of the cutting edge, but safe measures available to the canny club.
Vibrado sleeve. Picture: Vibradotech.com
Skills: Vibrado flashing sensor sleeve
Sick of pundits and fans whingeing about how goalkicking is the only area in football that has not improved, and players do not practise kicking at goal enough? Then we point you the way of the latest free-throw technology from basketball. Reportedly available in the second half of 2014, the Vibrado is a sleeve fitted with accelerometers that track arm movements and calculate the arc of actions, comparing them to the ideal motion necessary for a successful shot. Feedback comes via lights and sounds emitted from the sleeve, or later at a computer. Adapt the inputs for the ideal kicking action, modify the sleeve for the leg, and hey presto! Travis Cloke kicks 100 straight!
Injuries: Wireless motion sensor pads
These devices have been adopted by a growing number of AFL clubs, usually in injury management and rehabilitation. The dorsaVi body movement system used by Richmond, among others, can identify potential problems before they occur, by pointing out muscle groups struggling with particular loads. dorsaVi’s Andrew Ronchi even suggested that movement analysis could help a club decide which youngster to draft, by comparing objective movement profiles.
Jennie Ponsford was using light therapy to decrease fatigue in patients with a brain injury in 2011. Picture: Penny Stephens
Sleep: Light therapy
A ploy that might keep the West Coast Eagles more competitive on the road was showcased by the recent visit of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Sydney for the opening of the Major League Baseball season. The Dodgers coped with the sleep-destroying effects of long-haul travel by fitting their chartered plane and hotel rooms with ''Awake and Alert LED lightbulbs with high blue spectrum light'', a method of combatting jet-lag first devised to assist astronauts on the International Space Station to get some kip. The lights aim to trick the body into believeing it is experiencing daylight, another mimics the darkness of night.
The New York Times reported that the Texas Rangers had a more down-to-earth sleep remedy. ''Fernando Montes, the former strength and conditioning coach for the Texas Rangers, counselled his players to fall asleep with the curtains in their hotel rooms open so that they would naturally wake up at sunrise no matter what time zone they were in – even if it meant cutting into an eight-hour sleeping block. Once they arrived at the ball park, Montes would set up a quiet area where they could sleep before the game. Players said that, thanks to this schedule, they felt great both physically and mentally over the long haul.
''Strategic napping in the Rangers style could benefit us all. No one argues that sleep is not essential. But freeing ourselves from needlessly rigid and quite possibly outdated ideas about what constitutes a good night’s sleep might help put many of us to rest, in a healthy and productive, if not eight-hour long, block.''
The person on the left has superior self-talk. Picture: Frank Kamhi
The mind 1: ‘Self-talk’
Sleep is important. But so is fooling yourself that you are feeling OK when you are tired. The Americans, masters of positive speech, have found that ''motivational self-talk'' during exercise improved performance. Those repeating ''positive'' mantras lasted longer than those just slogging away without boosting chatter.
It is probable that the brain, not the body, determines what makes us feel spent. ''If exhaustion is determined by the brain and is, to some degree, subjective, then theoretically the right tweaks during training could convince your brain that you can go fartheror harder than it would otherwise allow.''
Get thinking. axonsports.com
The mind 2: Cognitive training
The brain and mind are the forgotten frontiers of body-obsessed athletes. Sports psychologists are under-utilised and can help with everything, from choosing the right coach to helping players deal with the dying minutes of a close match.
But they are also helping devise specific training for the brain, which can be tailored to specific aspects of specific sports.
Sports psychologist Dan Bishop used his lab at the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in London to monitor the brain activity of 39 footballers in an MRI scanner, aiming to better understand how to train athletes to better anticipate the moves of opponents.
Axon Sports is one company devoting itself to ''training above the neck''. It gets athletes into a sports lab fitted out with a digital skills trainer, a large video screen offering ''live'' examples of situations they need to work through during games. After practising there, many more times than they could during normal training, they can continue honing their reactions and decision-making on their iPads during the season.
Axon says it has analysed the needs of the athletic mind, breaking it down into such categories as ''high speed decision-making'' and ''spatial reasoning''. When your half-back next fails to pick out a teammate in a crowded midfield, you may wish your club had employed such techniques.
Axon’s Joe Germaine says if today’s sportsmen really want to excel, they have to start training their brain as well as their body. ''Mental training is something that a lot of people have taken for granted,'' he says.
Genuine. Power balance wrist band. Picture: Craig Sillitoe
Other: Wrist bands, pyramid chips and negatively charged water
On the cutting edge, kooks mingle with visionaries. No, we’re not talking about the drone-powered HoverBall, which may provide the sports of tomorrow, or the mind-controlled exoskeleton which could help a paralysed kid kick a soccer ball at the opening of the 2014 soccer World Cup. We're not even talking about hologramic Power Balance wrist bands, spruiked by high-profile sportsmen and celebrities, including AFL players Brendan Fevola and Jack Riewoldt in 2010. Its makers were ''ordered to drop 'misleading' claims that they improve flexibility, balance and strength'' by November 2010, Fairfax reported. ''The Therapeutic Goods Complaints Resolution Panel found there was no evidence that the wristbands used by sports stars helped to improve performance.''
We're not even entertaining discussion of ionized water, debunked by The Wall Street Journal, the process which uses expensive machines to create a chemical reaction which results in water becoming more acid or alkaline. Athletes endorsing alkaline water, say it increased energy and focus. Gastroenterologist John Petrini, past president of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, said: ''There is no basis for any health claims at all'' for alkaline drinking water.
No, the final word on the exciting world of groundbreaking sports science belongs to the amiable folk from S. W. A. T. S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids), tracked down by Sports Illustrated.
S. W. A. T. S. ''technology'' promised to counteract the negative effects on sportsmen of thousands of mobile phones in the surrounding arena by applying hologramic pyramid-shaped chips to acupuncture points, based on the theories of a 1930s inventor who claimed to be able to affect viruses with radio waves. Science has not backed up such claims, nor did it back up their belief in negatively charged water; a powder additive which supposedly added muscle mass to a woman in a coma; and an oscillating ''beam ray'' lightbulb that could ''knock out'' the swine flu virus.
Such hopefully enthusiastic would-be pioneers could be considered harmless but for their final offering to US college athletes: deer antler spray, which happened to contain substances specifically outlawed in the US.
It all gets too chemical and Essendon-ish from that point.
The words of their co-owner Christopher Key serve as a warning to any sports organisation to execute due diligence when venturing to the frontier of sports (pseudo) science:
''Athletes want to win and compete at the highest level and so they are willing to try anything,'' Key told Sports Illustrated. ''All the athletes in the beginning are, like, 'Look, we don't care what it is. If it works we will use it'.''
He says he is convinced his products work, but, ''We don't have to prove that this is real or not''.
''What we're looking for is for (science) to prove that it is not real.''