Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ten Things Sports Science Does Wrong but that they refuse to Change.

There are ten things that Sports Science does wrong, but as it is with most industries, those working inside it can not see the problems.

Try this.

Stand close to mirror. So close that your nose touches the surface.

What do you see?


Want to have a good look at yourself? Stand back a little and get some perspective from a broader focus.

Around the world Academies and Institutes of Sport, Academic Institutions and sports science professionals continue to miss the point: sports science is not a reductionist activity when it comes to enhancing the performance of athletes in competition.

Reductionism is fine when you are looking for "binding sites on red blood cells" or "changes in mitochondria during intense exercise" or some other minutiae of physiological phenomenon for the purpose of writing research papers.

But sports performance is "holistic" in nature and successful performance comes when the total athlete is preparing and performing to their full potential from a physical, mental, technical, tactical, genetic and cultural perspective: Performance Science.

So what are the ten things mistakes sports science (and sports scientists) continue to make:

  1. They communicate sports science to coaches and athletes at too high a level with overly complex language, jargon and statistics and present information using Death by PowerPoint;
  2. They use the "reductionist approach" to performance enhancement. When sports performance is a complex interaction of mental, physical, technical, tactical, cultural, genetic and family factors, most sports scientists look for some minutiae of detail to explain and enhance competition performance;
  3. They work in "silos" or "departments" or "faculties" instead of adopting a true multi-disciplinary / inter-disciplinary (MDID) approach to performance enhancement;
  4. They undertake "training-based" research projects without taking into consideration the countless confounding variables outside their specific discipline that impact on their research findings, e.g. mental and emotional factors which impact on physiological adaptations;
  5. They try to "own" the problem - i.e. each department or faculty in a high performance sports institution will try to "own" the performance problem by fitting their own (single discipline) solution to it rather than matching the problem to the best solution from a total athlete and MDID perspective;
  6. They believe that what's published in the peer reviewed literature is best practice when it is still around 3- 5 years behind what the cutting edge practitioners are actually doing;
  7. They still believe that it is necessary to apply confidence limits of 0.01 or 0.05 to research findings when most coaches and athletes are working to 0.5 confidence limits. The result is that many good ideas go unpublished or un-implemented because they don't meet traditional reductionist statistical requirements;
  8. They refuse to talk about research findings with courage and confidence. Too many sports science research papers use phrases like "it is possible" and "in summary we feel that the research may suggest". Coaches and athletes live in a black and white environment where it either works or it doesn't;
  9. They refuse to take responsibility for performance outcomes. Coaches and athletes are responsible and accountable for the outcomes of their performances. Why shouldn't the sports scientists who advise them also be responsible and accountable?
  10. And the biggest problem of all....they can't accept the reality of the first nine problems.
Sports science - we've got it wrong and it is time to change.

The fight goes on!

Wayne Goldsmith

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