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June 01, 2008

Science of Sports

Billed as one of the "Youth and Family" events by the World Science Festival, this program packed what seemed like 500 spectators into the sweltering Coles Sports Center (NYU's basketball court).

Sports scientist Tom Crawford got the ball rolling with an introduction of three pro basketball players who would participate in the session: Brevin Knight of the L.A. Clippers, and Lisa Willis and Leilani Mitchell of the N.Y. Liberty. He then handed off to the first speaker, sports nutritionist Dr. Christine Green.

Green started off with an old chestnut: "breakfast is the most important meal of the day," and then invited some kids to pick out healthy breakfast choices from two large tables full of various foods and drinks. The kids' decisions were a bit off the mark — tending towards sugary treats and junk food. But at least it offered the mom behind me several teaching opportunities with her two restless boys — "See ... I told you so." In the end, Dr. Green steered the audience toward a balanced diet of proteins, fats and carbs, and emphasized the increased need for certain nutrients before and after vigorous exercise.

The next part of the program focused on the study of motion by sports scientists. There was a demonstration of some impressive new interactive video technologies designed to help athletes improve their form, reduce injury and maximize performance.

Batting cleanup was sports psychologist Dr. David Eagleman, who fired up the crowd with an animated delivery that helped counteract the gymnasium heat and growing audience fatigue. Eagleman revealed new research that confirms high performance in sports is 90% mental and 10% physical. And, he proved his point by having the pro basketball players swish free throw after free throw while he encouraged the throng to clap, scream and stamp in a vain effort to distract the highly-focused players.

Though the conditions were challenging, the large kid-filled crowd generally kept its collective "head in the game" and hopefully left the building with a new appreciation for the science behind the slam dunk.

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