Sport Stacking

Alexandra Silveira
23 January 2012

Sports terminology is pretty specific; in soccer you score by making a goal, but to score in basketball, you make a basket. So, here's a bit of trivia: If I describe a sport played on a court, involving a mat, where false starts and fumbles can get you into trouble, and where your goal is to complete a cycle, what sport are you playing?

If you answered basket-foot-racing- wrestlemania-ball, well, you're wrong. The sport I'm describing is the newest international sensation - sport stacking.

Did You Know?
There is no such thing as basket-foot-racing- wrestlemania-ball (but you might have already figured that out). Sport stacking is relatively new in the field of sports - it was founded about 20 years ago in southern California. Since then, sport stacking has become part of physical education programs in the United States and has grown to become internationally popular. Sport stacking is so popular, competitions are aired on ESPN and there is even a World Sport Stacking Association!

Did You Know?
Sport stacking was popularized by a segment on the Johnny Carson show. So, why is it so popular? Well, to understand its popularity you have to understand the game. Sport stacking is played on a mat with specially made plastic cups that have holes in the bottom to prevent them from sticking to one another. The cups start stacked inside each other and a player must stack these cups upside-down to form pyramids.

There are multiple pyramid formations made of 3, 6, or 10 cups. The challenging part is that the player must up stack (to form the pyramids) and then down stack (to get the cups back to the original formation) in a certain order, using both hands, and doing it all as quickly as possible.

Did You Know?
The cycle stack is the most complicated competitive stack and is made in three phases with three different types of pyramid formations. The current (2007) world record for the fastest cycle stack is held by Robin Stangenberg who completed the cycle in a mere 7.41 seconds (just for comparison, 15 seconds is considered fast)! What makes the sport so interesting (and challenging) is that to play well, a player needs good hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination begins when the eye relays an image through the optical nerve to the brain. The optical nerve connects the eye and the brain and, like all other nerves in the body, is made up of cells called neurons.

Neurons are the cells responsible for transmitting messages in our bodies. The brain then sends messages through other nerves to activate muscle motion — in the case of sport stacking, arm and hand muscles are sent the message to move, and to do it quick!

Did You Know?
A scientific study at Mesa State College in 2004 proved that second grade students who participated in a five-week cup stacking program significantly improved both their hand-eye coordination and reaction time as compared to students who didn't participate in the program. As a person practices sport stacking more and more, the actions becomes reflexes. Reflexes are automatic neuromuscular (involving both nerves and muscles) responses to something.

Doctors test reflexes by hitting a small hammer on a knee — nerves relate the sensation to the spinal cord and other nerves cause the leg to bounce up without a person even thinking about it! The leg bounce is a common example of a simple reflex, a reflex that we are born with; however, we can learn reflexes, like the art of sport stacking, and these reflexes are called conditioned reflexes.

Did You Know?
There is an added bonus to sport stacking; sport stacking helps to develop ambidexterity, the ability to equally use both the left and right hand. It's no wonder that sport stacking is such an international craze. Practice enough and the improvement in hand-eye coordination and reflexes can translate over into everyday life and even into other sports. Anyone up for a game of basket-foot-racing-wrestlemania-ball?

Learn More!

Udermann, B. et. al., Influence of cup stacking on hand-eye coordination and reaction time of second-grade students. Percept Mot Skills. 2004 Apr;98(2):409-14.

Wiki on Reflexes

Alexandra Silveira is a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham studying cancer progression. In her free time she likes to daydream about the OpenMoko.

Alexandra Silveira

I just received my PhD from the pathology department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I currently live in Providence, Rhode Island and co-manage the Entertainment section of CurioCity. In my spare time I read about science, watch horrible comedies, and am an aspiring Rock Band rock star.

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