Cutting Edge Not So Sharp

Sometimes trying to be on the cutting edge is not such a sharp idea.  This is highlighted in the recent The Atlantic magazine where John Ioannidis and his brave thinking is shared.  Ioannidis and his team strive to bring to light misleading and exaggerated medical research findings.  In an era where scientists are pushed to be cutting edge and journals want to share the most exciting findings, it seems like good judgment and sound practice are sacrificed.  In the medical world, these costs are quite dramatic.  In the sports world, this desire to be ahead of the curve can waste time and effort.  Furthermore, in most unfortunate circumstances, lead to injury and reduced performance.  Sometimes the glitz and glamor of the next best thing blinds to the wisdom of the tried and true.

This is clearly evidenced in the strength and conditioning world on a regular basis.  New weights, plates, and gimmicks seem to abound.  Yet the best coaches in the world can do some pretty amazing things (for the highest level athletes) with body weight and a few dollars of equipment.  Nonetheless athletes can too often be found chasing the next best thing (while too often running away from high performance).

I have been reminded to appreciate the tried and true a couple of times over the past week.  At the Association for Applied Sport Psychology conference in Providence, RI a research lecture ended with the presenter asking the audience to consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Psychological theory from 1943!?  Absolutely tried and true… if basic needs are not fulfilled, one can not even begin to consider high performance.  Similarly, in reading Elkind’s The Power of Play I was struck by the importance of old news.  Elkind highlights that he tries “to unite Freud’s motivational orientation with the intellectual approach of Jean Piaget.”  Freud and Piaget… more old news.  Old news that if understood by parents, coaches, and youth sporters of today would lead to happy, healthier, and higher performing athletes.

Do not get me wrong, the next big thing is exciting and certainly loved by the popular press.  Let’s just not throw out the baby with the bathwater by forgetting to appreciate past science and sound theory that may carry a few cobwebs.  Highest performance and highest health is found when the tried and true is refined to most efficient and effective levels.  Truly new ideas are far and few between (click for an example of striving towards a few that are true).  The “new” we typically know are either old ones repackaged (hopefully with greater user-friendliness) or poor one’s adorned with pomp and circumstance.  Searching for “cutting edge” is critical and the wise person is conservative with use of the label.

Looking forward is good.  Just don’t forget to look back on a regular basis.

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