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Protecting Young Athletes

Kinesiology associate professor Diane Wiese-Bjornstal uses research to improve sport safety

Diane Wiese-Bjornstal loves sharing her passion for physical activity. Through her research and teaching, Bjornstal promotes healthy approaches to athletic excellence to trainers, coaches, and parents. She focuses on the psychological, social, and physical health and development of competitive youth sport participants, as well as athletes’ psychological responses to sport injury.

Wiese-Bjornstal, who is associate professor and director of graduate studies in the School of Kinesiology, has been concerned by the rising incidence of sport-related concussions in girls and boys. As youth sports become more competitive, kids feel increased pressure from coaches, parents, and fellow athletes, even when participating could jeopardize their health.

“I’m troubled by how serious and intense things have become in kids’ sports,” she says. “It’s important to be tough, but we must look after our kids’ health.”

In April Wiese-Bjornstal served on the panel for the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport Distinguished Lecture on female athletes and concussions. The event provided an opportunity to share current research about how the psychological aspects of sport injuries impact an injured athlete’s recovery time and long-term physical and mental health.

“What was exciting at the lecture was the perfect audience in attendance: We had students, parents, trainers, and coaches,” she says. “We were training the next generation and making a big impact on the wellness of young future athletes.”

The Tucker lecture demonstrated Wiese-Bjornstal’s reputation for bridging the lab and the playing field. “That’s what I love doing: finding ways to translate scientific research into a form that can help parents and youth coaches,” she says.

An ongoing exchange program with Ugandan soccer coaches also bridges research to practice. Last year, Wiese-Bjornstal and her advisee Jens Omli, now an assistant professor at Texas Tech University, hosted five Ugandan youth soccer coaches for coach training and to collaboratively develop a culture-specific curriculum to be adopted nationally. Last May, Wiese-Bjornstal and several colleagues visited Uganda to train 181 Ugandan youth soccer coaches. Finally, this March a second group of five Ugandan coaches visited the U, including the current Women’s National Team coach, to meet with faculty and students and make a public presentation.

“I was so impressed at how the Ugandan soccer coaches mentor the child as a whole person,” Wiese-Bjornstal says. “Despite facing major challenges to develop skills without proper equipment or resources, these coaches manage to make the kids feel cared for, and not just as a soccer player on the field.”

Story by Brigitt Martin | May 2011

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