You are a coach, trying to juggle practice plans, meetings, game prep and player issues while trying to stay focused on the season's goals. At the end of another long day, you see this in your inbox:
To: All Head Coaches
From: Athletic Director
Subject: Monthly Reading List to Keep Up with Current Sport Science Research
- Neuromuscular Activation of Triceps Surae Using Muscle Functional MRI and EMG
- Positive effects of intermittent hypoxia (live high:train low) on exercise performance are not mediated primarily by augmented red cell volume
- Physiologic Left Ventricular Cavity Dilatation in Elite Athletes
- The Relationships of Perceived Motivational Climate to Cohesion and Collective Efficacy in Elite Female Teams
Just some light reading before bedtime... This is an obvious exaggeration (and weak attempt at humor) of the gap between sport science researchers and practitioners. While those are actual research paper titles from the last few years under the heading of "sport science", the intended audience was most likely not coaches or athletes, but rather fellow academic peers. The real question is whether the important conclusions and knowledge captured in all of this research is ever actually used to improve athletic performance? How can a coach or athlete understand, combine and transfer this information into their game?
David Bishop of the Faculty of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Verona has been looking at this issue for several years. It started with a roundtable discussion he had at the 2006 Congress of the Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science with several academic sport scientists (see: Sports-Science Roundtable: Does Sports-Science Research Influence Practice? ) He asked very direct questions regarding the definition of sport science and whether the research always needs to be "applied" versus establishing a "basic" foundation. The most intriguing question was whether there already is ample research that could applied, but it suffered from the lack of a good translator to interpret and communicate to the potential users - coaches and athletes. The panel agreed that was the missing piece, as most academic researchers just don't have the time to deliver all of their findings directly to the field.
In a follow-up to this discussion, Bishop recently published his proposed solution titled, "An Applied Research Model for the Sport Sciences" in Sports Medicine (see citation below). In it, he calls for a new framework for researchers to follow when designing their studies so that there is always a focus on how the results will directly improve athletic performance. He calls for a greater partnership role between researchers and coaches to map out a useful agenda of real world problems to examine. He admits that this model, if implemented, will only help increase the potential for applied sport science. The "middleman" role is still needed to bring this information to the front lines of sports.
The solution for this "gathering place" community seems perfect for Web 2.0 technology. One specific example is an online community called iStadia.com. Keith Irving and Rob Robson, two practicing sport science consultants, created the site two years ago to fill this gap. Today, with over 600 members, iStadia is approaching the type of critical mass that will be necessary to bring all of the stakeholders together. Of course, as with any online community, the conversations there are only as good as the participants want to make it. But, with the pressure on coaches to improve and the desire of sport scientists to produce relevant knowledge, there is motivation to make the connection.
Another trend favoring more public awareness of sport science is the additional, recent media attention, especially related to the upcoming Beijing Olympics. In an earlier post, Winning Olympic Gold With Sport Science, I highlighted a feature article from USA Today. This month's Fast Company also picks up on this theme with their cover article, Innovation of Olympic Proportions, describing several high-tech equipment innovations that will be used at the Games. Each article mentions the evolving trust and acceptance of sport science research by coaches and athletes. When they see actual products, techniques and, most importantly, results come from the research, they cannot deny its value.
Bishop, D. (2008). An Applied Research Model for the
Sport Sciences. Sports Medicine, 38(3), 253-263.