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What the heck is a sport scientist anyways???

A few weeks ago, I created a presentation on the topic of Applying Science to Sport. The intent was to clarify the influence a sport scientist has in making athletes better and how decisions can be “Shaped by Science”.  I never ended up having the opportunity to present it, so I thought it might be valuable to get some of the concepts out into the world! It would certainly help clarify to my family what I’ve been up to for the past 12 years, as I’m not certain they could elaborate beyond the veiled response of;

” he trains and tests athletes using scientific methods” 

3 Primary Values generated from working with a sport scientist. 

  1. Accountability – both client and trainer have objective data to identify if progress is being made (make necessary adjustments to the programming). Without data our biases can wreak havoc on reality, especially for long term projects or goals!
  2. Filtering –  the internet is full of “guru’s”  and gadgets all proposing to make you bigger, faster, stronger. The pseudoscience is compelling and can cause confusion. A sport scientist has the skillset necessary to identify information that is false and steer you clear.
  3. Translatinginformation without application will fail to make you better. Applied sport science is the art and science of translating research into real world situations for clients.

*if you have time to read, a more thorough explanation of the process it is described below, and a case study can be seen in the testimonial of Olympic Rower Kevin Kowalyk Here! * 

Setting the record straight (hopefully)

I should probably open by saying that I am NOT a physiotherapist (PT), athletic therapist (AT), massage therapist (RMT), a doctor (MD) , a psychologist or a dietician (RD).  That being said, I have worked with some outstanding practitioners in each of these specializations, and have taken the time and opportunity to observe, absorb, and challenge them, as they have me, over the years. Having invested the time and effort to try to understand and learn from these privileged relationships, and coupled with my formal training as a physiologist (one who seeks to understand individual systems and how they synergistically integrate to explain the phenomena of human function), I have created a unique approach to delivering a wide variety of services.

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Sport science isn’t necessarily recognized as a stand alone profession in Canada, but can better be described as a process. A sport scientist uses a scientific process to provide an integrated and wholistic approach to improvement. 

That still probably doesn’t provide any clarification just yet, but a key tenant of the scientific process is empiricism. This requires an individual to acquire knowledge through experience and observation. To narrow it down to some keywords, I like to tell people that the lifecycle of an applied sport scientist is:

Identify, Quantify, Modify, Translate

Identify – “what does your journey to greatness look like?”

Working with a coach, athlete, client the first step is to observe and ask questions. What are the goals? Sometimes people don’t know what their goals are, or exactly what they are trying to figure out, they simply want to get better, and that’s ok, “you don’t know, what you don’t know”. This is where I come in.  Figuring out what needs to be done, and thinking critically about questions is the breeding ground for innovation, and ensures that we are not merely following another persons path to our own destination. This just wouldn’t make sense would it? (we can however learn from their journey).


Why would I follow your path, to my unique destination? 

Quantify – “that which you measure will change”

Once we have an idea of what the desired outcomes (goals) are, it’s important to then setup some measure of the goal, so that we can appraise the gap between goal, and current reality. In sport we call this the gap analysis. We hypothesize the magnitude of a  stimulus (exercise or some other intervention) that will cause an adaptation, and then anticipate the time course for this adaptation to occur. From here we are able to project when you will reach your goal. This is called gap closure. In the lab we can get very precise measures of our goal, but the exciting evolution in the past 5-10 years with technology is that if you get the right equipment, and know how to use it properly, we can get the nearly the same fidelity out in the “real world” or the “wild” as I like to call it!

A joy in my life has been experimenting with unique ways to quantify the subtle changes in human physiology resulting from exercise! 

Modify – “no fads, no gimmicks, just evidence based approaches” 

There are a variety stimuli (exercise of other….)  that cause our body to adapt. I pride myself on using evidence based approaches. This means that you won’t find “fads” or “gimmicks” in my prescriptions, unless I have some compelling evidence to believe they will work. I always approach “too good to be true” interventions with a healthy dose of skepticism, but am on board if and when they work! After all, I want us to succeed so am willing to adopt new paradigms. When I choose to introduce an innovative method, I will always be able to link it back to the principles, and ensure that we establish a framework of accountability ( measuring and reviewing) to trust that the innovation is a bang and not a bust! 

Often training modifications for clients with existing programs don’t require a complete overhaul. Rather, there are usually small modifications that increase the efficiency of training response, and the accrual of many of these small modifications result in large positive outcomes. Individuals should always be encouraged to “train harder and smarter”. 

Translate – “information without application fails to make you better”

With great power comes great responsibility” uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman quote form the Tobey Maguire era). Since knowledge is power, and interpreting data creates knowledge through understanding, I guess that means that collecting data comes with a responsibility? I believe it does, and that responsibility is to use the data to educate and inform decision making! Data is just data. There is heaps of it out there. Where a sport scientist can really provide benefit is in the 2nd and even 3rd level of data anlaysis. This mean’s not only looking at the numbers, but really trying to understand what they mean, their relationship to the real world, and the context for which the data was collected. This part of the process often ignites a curiosity resulting in more questions and creativity form clients on how to integrate discoveries into training going forward.

“Providing feedback to athletes on data collected is a powerful way to create curiosity and develop relationships “

*In a future post, I will talk about the landscape of elite sport, and the need to balance making quick “instinct” based decisions, vs. applying a more rigorous form of analysis to monitoring and adjusting training.* Give us a call if you think you might benefit from having your training #ShapedbyScience” 431.998.6433 /

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