A common misconception about sports is that there’s not much to it beyond the field of practice and play, that talent and coaching alone are what makes great teams excel.
UCF’s Sport and Exercise Science program, under the College of Education and Human Performance, has put in the time and hard work to change that notion. The program utilizes high-tech methods, such as GPS and ultrasound, to show athletes how to play harder, smarter and faster.
Most recently, the program was ranked sixth in the nation, out of 52 programs, by the National Academy of Kinesiology in September. The big factor that stood out was the program’s 100-percent graduate hire rate into tenure-track positions.
“We didn’t expect that,” said Dr. Jay Hoffman, chairman of the Department of Educational and Human Sciences. “We thought we would like to get in the top 20 and to get sixth in the nation is just a testament to the graduate students that we brought in. This ranking is only once every five years.”
Growing from 400 to 1,400 students in five years, the program was rebuilt from the ground up by Hoffman.
Student researchers have partnered with UCF sports teams and the Orlando Magic to learn more about how the human body performs, and hope to pair up with MLB teams in the future. Through working with the UCF rugby team, students were able to compare athletes at different positions to see how the muscle varies between them, while also analyzing the team’s performance during aerobic capacity strength tests.
Researchers use body-composition testing and ultrasounds to take pictures of athletes’ muscles so that the sports and exercise science program can get ideas about how the muscles are structured and the type of muscle quality that is present. This information is integral to determining a players’ level of fatigue during play, which helps trainers structure fitness regimes to account for injuries or weaknesses.
Hoffman’s work with soccer teams focused on how athletes experienced fatigue throughout the season and served as the groundfloor for all of the research to follow.
“With soccer, we used global positioning systems that we were monitoring throughout the entire season, and every game we were taking a look at fatigue of players and also taking a look at performance changes over the course of the season,” Hoffman said. “We were, at times, looking to predict injury based upon bilateral deficits, whether it be power, performance or muscle quality, using ultrasound noninvasive measures.
“We also were interested in taking a look at recovery from Friday to Sunday games. We wanted to see if, after 36 hours from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, were the athletes fully recovered. If we found a problem we could perhaps identify a solution.”
After working with the Sport Exercise and Science program, the UCF women’s basketball team instituted an in-season training program.
As the season progressed, the athletes actually became more powerful and stronger, and researchers were able to monitor them every several weeks to look at factors that would give them any indication of whether they were fatiguing or not.
Kyle Beyer, an exercise physiology graduate student, is one of the students helping the program grow.
“The field is kind of new, and there is always stuff we can learn each day,” Beyer said. “When we do studies, we are trying to answer a question, to figure out how we can make you bigger, stronger, faster or how we can enhance health in all of those outcomes.”
Through the years, Hoffman has hired faculty, such as professor Jeffrey Stout, to help the program build and reach new heights.
“The program has grown from 400 students,” Hoffman said. “When I first got here in 2010, that was the entire sports and fitness program. [We now have] a sports and exercise science program that has 1,400 students.”
Dr. David Fukuda, an assistant professor for the sport and exercise science program, attributes the success of the program to the team effort found in the institute.
“You have leaders who have an idea of where they want to go with things,” Fukuda said. “Everyone has varying interests but an overall similar goal of exploring sport and exercise science.”
Matthew Saunders is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @ClassicSmit or email him at MatthewS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.