NIU STEM Café explores the changing face of sports today

Due to changing demographics, data analytics, and enhanced training and nutrition regimens, sports have changed significantly in recent years. How have women’s sports grown in recent decades as more girls and women embrace the opportunity to play? How have sports changed at all levels now that data analytics impacts the way coaches recruit, train and organize teams? And how has the experience of athletes on the field changed as athletes become bigger and stronger than ever before, shifting the physics of sports such as football?

Find out at the next NIU STEM Café on Tuesday, June 11, at Two Brothers Roundhouse, 205 N. Broadway in Aurora, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from Two Brothers Roundhouse.

Join us for a lively discussion of recent changes in sports, featuring:

  • Christina Sutcliffe, NIU Softball Head Coach.
  • Debra Boughton, NIU Senior Associate Athletics Director.
  • Lisa Carlsen, NIU Basketball Women’s Head Coach.
  • Thomas Hammock, NIU Football Head Coach.
  • Mike Eads, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Physics.

NIU Softball Head Coach Christina Sutcliffe says, since she began coaching in 2001, she has seen many changes to facilities, budgets, television time and opportunities to play at all levels. However, she notes that many of the biggest changes on the field are due to players being stronger and more talented than ever before.

She says, “For instance, at a 2004 NCAA regional in Arizona, only 92 runs were scored in 13 games. In 2014, during that same regional on the same dimensional field, 100 runs were scored in only 7 games.” Sutcliffe says that constant increases in runs scored, batting average and other areas have impacted the game significantly. “This has caused us to come up with new technology rules for equipment so our players stay safe since they play so much closer to the batter than in baseball,” she says.

For NIU Head Football Coach Thomas Hammock, two things stand out as the most significant changes he’s seen during his coaching career, which has included coaching positions in the MAC, Big 10 and NFL. He says the commitment and dedication of players requires a different approach to college coaching because college athletes are now more focused on a single sport instead of multiple sports.

Hammock also highlights data analytics as perhaps the most significant factor impacting current approaches to coaching and recruitment. “You simply can’t strategize these days without using analytics,” he says. “It has completely changed the process of coaching.”

In addition to hearing from coaches about changes they have experienced, the audience will have a chance to learn a bit about the science behind recent developments in sports. NIU Physics Professor Mike Eads will be returning to the STEM Café to once again share insights into the physics of football. Eads, a researcher in experimental particle physics who works on experiments at both Fermilab and the CERN Large Hadron Collider, is also an avid football fan.

“A lot of physics is about describing how objects move and interact, and football is full of objects that move and interact,” he says. “Understanding some general physics concepts (like force, momentum and energy) can help you understand why things happen on the field, and why the game is played like it is.”

Eads continues, “The focus of this talk will be about how things have — or perhaps haven’t — changed over the years and what impact that has on the game. Are players bigger, faster and stronger than they used to be? Does this matter?”

Chris Bauler, restaurant marketing and entertainment manager for Two Brothers Artisan Brewing, is looking forward to the STEM Café.

“We’re always excited to host STEM Cafés at the Roundhouse,” he says. “Judy Dymond and her crew always bring interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking speakers on varied topics of interest. Despite some of the technical sides of topics, the speakers have always made their presentations accessible for all in attendance.”

“We’re excited about ‘The Changing Face of Sports Today’ because we’re all big sports fans around here!” Bauler adds. “Debating, arguing, lamenting losses and celebrating victories in sports tends to be the topic at work.”

Food and drinks will be available for purchase throughout the presentation, but guests should arrive early for best seating.

STEM Cafés are sponsored by NIU STEAM and are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives. For more information, contact Judith Dymond at 815-753-4751 or email jdymond@niu.edu.

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