One of the most memorable images of the 2013 NCAA tournament was Michigan guard Trey Burke’s game-tying three against Kansas in the Sweet 16, sending that game into overtime and keeping the Wolverines alive in the process. Michigan would win that game, going all the way to the national title game where they fell short against Louisville.
As for Kansas, the defeat was a tough finish to a season that featured 31 wins, a share of the Big 12 regular season title and the Big 12 tournament title. The biggest issue in the eyes of many was the same as that of the 2014 team that lost to Stanford in the Round of 32: inconsistency at the point guard position (note: not having Joel Embiid didn’t help this year’s team either).
Researchers at the University of Kansas used the 2012-13 team in their study of the impact stress has on athletic performance, observing the cortisol (which impacts stress) and testosterone levels of the players in 27 of the 30 weeks of the season. And according to their research, one of the dips in testosterone levels for the players (and the raising of cortisol levels) occurred during the most important portion of the college basketball season.
The men’s team also saw its levels plummet right before the NCAA Tournament, a potential sign that stress was keeping the Jayhawks from playing at their best.
Interestingly, just two weeks after KU’s loss to Michigan, the team’s levels had bounced back up to baseline.
“It just shows that we’re working with high-level athletes to the point where they can be stressed pretty hard and bounce right back from it,” Andre said. “I’m not sure that athletes of a lesser caliber could be stressed to that level and then recover as quickly.”
What does this study mean with relation to the way in which programs train their athletes? According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the hope is that the study can give coaches an idea as to how to work their players with an eye towards having them at their best at the right time.
With the current technology in KU’s weight room, [KU strength coach Andrea] Hudy has instant data on each of her athletes’ lifts. With hormone levels, though, findings aren’t available until after the fact because of the time needed for testing, meaning an NBA combine that tests players’ hormone levels alongside their vertical jump probably remains in the distant future.
“It’s a process right now,” Hudy said. “But did I learn from it? Absolutely. Did the guys learn from it? Yes. Did coach learn from it? Yes.”
As noted above, using the date from such studies can be difficult due to the changes that occur within a team from one year to the next. But with so many looking for that edge that can make the difference between a good year and a great one, it may only be a matter of time before another program does a similar study.