Most sports have rules that protect the safety of athletes. But how do we come up with these rules? And which rules work best to keep athletes healthy and able to play?
Several years ago, Michael Hutchison, an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, conducted research into concussions among National Hockey League players. Through a video analysis, Hutchison and his research team found that almost two-thirds of concussions were caused by direct hits to the head. The team’s finding led to a new NHL rule prohibiting this kind of player-to-player contact.
Hutchison’s research demonstrates how science, when applied to sport, can help reduce the frequency of a serious but common injury among high-performance athletes. It’s the kind of valuable knowledge that could be generated by U of T’s new Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport, established earlier this year with a $20-million gift from the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation.
“A dream come true”
The Tanenbaum Institute will be one of the largest centres for sport science and sport medicine in North America, bringing together sport and exercise researchers at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, clinician scientists in sport medicine at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and clinicians and researchers at Toronto’s Sinai Health. 1
Ira Jacobs, the institute’s interim director, says the new centre will fund research to support high-performance athletes across a spectrum of abilities, from world-class professional athletes to para-athletes to recreational and amateur players who want to optimize their performance and training. “It’s a dream come true for the study of our physical and mental capabilities in sport,” Jacobs says.
Research topics will range from athletes’ nutritional needs to team psychology to rehabilitation of athletic injuries. Other important topics include how biomechanics – the study of the physics of movement – and wearable technologies can improve training and performance, and how to determine when an athlete who has suffered a concussion can safely return to play (still not clear after decades of research, notes Jacobs).
Sharing knowledge widely
A chair in sport science and data modelling, funded by the gift, will help gather data about athletes across the Toronto region – including from underrepresented communities and the thousands of U of T students who play varsity and intramural sports – to generate new knowledge that both high-performance and everyday athletes can use. A database of sports injuries, for example, could track which treatments are most effective for different demographics. To share its findings, the institute will host regular conferences and public lectures. 2
“I truly believe that sport unites us, inspires us and offers all people a path toward becoming their best selves,” says Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of the Tanenbaum Family Foundation and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.3 “I’m proud to join with U of T and Sinai Health in transforming athlete health and well-being.”