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Chapter X - The Physiology of Basketball

THERE is a popular impression, especially among spectators, that basketball is a most strenuous game. This impression at one time was so strong that many people felt that basketball was too severe a game to be played by young people, and especially by girls. The idea that the game is too strenuous has come largely from people who watch the game. It is only natural that these people follow the ball constantly and see action wherever the ball is, judging, therefore, that all the players are constantly in action. Many have taken the attitude not only that basketball is a strenuous game, but also that it may be injurious to those who play. I shall show later that the game is not injurious.

Doctor McCurdy, of Springfield College, was of the opinion that basketball was too strenuous, and he decided to conduct experiments to determine its effect on the players. Examinations were given to the men after a game, and the results seemed to verify bis belief. Albumin and casts were found in an astonishing number of cases. Doctor McCurdy-published the findings of the experiment in his book on the physiology of exercise, and some people accepted these findings as proof of their contention that the game was too strenuous.

I read his report, and I determined that if they were correct and if no other factor had entered, basketball indeed should be more closely studied. If a majority of players showed albumin, blood, and casts after playing in one game, what then would be the effect on the young men that were taking part in tournaments all over the country? I determined to carry out a series of experiments under the most severe conditions that I could find.

The opportunity to do this work presented itself when the State High School Tournament was played at the University of Kansas. Many teams would take part in this tournament, and the boys, playing game after game under unnatural conditions, would show the effects if the game were too strenuous. Mr. C. E. Rowe, who was a student in the department of physical education at that time, assisted me in the experiment.

The object of the experiment was to examine the two teams that would play in the final game. We wanted a urinalysis of the men on these teams, for we felt that after having gone through the entire tournament and after having played in the final game, they would surely indicate any harmful effects. In order to get a test of these two teams, it was necessary to obtain a specimen from the players of every team that won. To Mr. Rowe fell the task, and throughout the four days of play, his work was invaluable.

After hundreds of tests had been run, we began to realize that our results were going to be different from those of Doctor McCurdy. Team after team that we examined showed little or no abnormal condition, and it soon appeared that we were to upset some of the fixed ideas about the strenuousness of basketball.

When it became evident that our results were radically different, I was afraid that there might be a feeling that the results were not exactly fair because of my relationship to the game. With this thought in mind, I turned over the specimens to the department of physiological chemistry in the University. The findings of these experts so closely coincided with my own that I was assured that our work was authentic and that the findings might be published. The results of the experiment appeared in the guide for 1925, and they had much to do with dispelling the belief that basketball was an exceptionally strenuous game.

In spite of the tests that I had made, some persons still felt that tournament play might be harmful. Indiana, one of the leading states in basketball, decided to carry on experiments similar to mine at its state tournament. A group of doctors was selected to make the tests under the most critical conditions. The findings of this group definitely settled the fact that basketball in itself is not in any way a harmful game.

The tests we made were the same that were used in life insurance examinations. Both the cold nitric and the heat tests were used for albumin, and if either of these showed the slightest trace, the case was considered positive. Benedictís solution was used for the sugar tests, and the slightest signs were given preference.

Some time before, LaGrange had made an experiment in which he found an excessive amount of urea in untrained persons after they had indulged in severe exercise. To check this result, we also included a test for urea. The Doremus ureometer was used, and after several hundreds of tests had been made without confirming LaGrangeís findings, we decided to discontinue this phase of the experiment.

The examination for blood casts was made after the final game only. We decided that the maximum of strain would be shown in the final game, after

both teams had gone through the entire tournament. The results of the experiment are shown in the accompanying chart, and a record of the actual tests that were made in the urinalysis may be found in the appendix.

As the results of our experiment had differed radically from those of the earlier experiments, I sought explanation for these differences. After much study, I came to the following conclusions:

1. That youth is not so seriously affected by physical activity as the adult.

2. That the mature students were so drilled that they could push themselves in both their practice and their games more than the younger players.

3. That the amount of food eaten and the amount of outside work done might aid in the production of albumin.

4. That high-school players were cared for, they were put to bed and rested between games, their diet was carefully selected, and their sleep was carefully prescribed.

5. That Hillís investigation on muscle recovery offered another solution.

Hillís investigation showed that the waste products of muscular activity are restored, to be again used in energy-producing materials. Lactic acid, which is produced in muscle activity, will, during the resting period, be resynthesized into glycogen in the muscle, itself, without being thrown out and new glycogen being introduced into the body. Under these conditions, the rest between the games allows the body to recover entirely.

Gould makes the statement that complete recovery from strenuous activity may be consummated in one and a half hours of rest.

It is possible that any one, or a combination, of all of the foregoing factors may explain the differences in the results of the various experiments.

I have said that many people thought that the players were in constant motion during a basketball game. In reality, there are few games, indeed, in which players are in constant action.

In gathering the statistics for the foregoing statements, we observed a series of games of the Interscholastic League of Kansas City, Missouri, through the seasons of 1925, 1926, and 1927, and at the University of Kansas during 1931 and 1932. We used stop watches to keep track of the time when the teams were in action, relaxation, and rest. We took not only the activity time of the teams but also the average activity time for different positions. Sometimes the player time ran as low as 30 per cent, as in the position of the guards.

A chart of the division of time in a championship game at the University of Kansas clearly shows the amount of rest and relaxation in comparison with the amount of activity.

The statistics for the activity of different players were taken at games played in the Interscholastic

League of Kansas City, Missouri. The accompanying chart shows the division of time for high-school players in their different positions.

When we realize that there are many factors that may affect the playing time of the participants, it is easy to see that basketball is not so strenuous as

some people have imagined it to be. A player may be on the floor through a whole game, but such an instance is the exception rather than the rule. It is common to see as many as eight or ten substitutions

during a game, and frequently I have seen whole new teams take the floor. All of these circumstances tend to cut down even further the activity time of the individual player. With the true conditions shown, I can see no reason for anyoneís objecting to the game of basketball as too strenuous.

Basketball, in my opinion, is one of the few team games that emphasizes agility, speed, and accuracy, and is directly opposed to bodily contact. There is no necessity for the bodily shock that is part of football, hockey, and some of the other games.

It is true that, in certain parts of the country, this contact game is somewhat in vogue, and there is little doubt that this type of game is more strenuous than the open free game that is played in many sections. The style of game largely depends upon the coaches and the officials who work the game. If the rules are interpreted as they are meant to be, I believe that I could recommend basketball for any normal boy or girl.

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