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Last month we conducted a survey on Sports Discovery looking into the views on Sport Science careers; questions included what fundamental skills are needed to succeed in High Performance Sport and what methods are used to further develop your career.

We had hundreds of respondents from all over the world; comprising Europe (69%), the Middle East (1%), Africa (2%), North America (11%), Latin America (1%) and Asia Pacific (16%).  We would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their thoughts and hope some of the findings below will be of interest.

Whilst opportunities continue to be advertised; this month alone we have shared vacancies at Oklahoma City Thunder NBA, Orlando City FC, British Cycling, Manchester City FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Liverpool FC, Southampton FC, Leicester City FC, West Brom FC, Everton FC, Crewe Alex FC, Wasps Rugby, Saracens, Ulster Rugby as well as a number of University based roles, the competition within our industry continues to expand with more graduates and students fighting it out for internships and jobs.  What makes the difference to those who have made it to the top?… What do those starting out think will make the difference for them?…

We have split some of the findings into three main sections; Demographics in High Performance Sport, Skills for Success, and Aspirations.

Demographics in High Performance Sport

  • 87% of respondents are currently working in or have worked in sport at a professional level
  • 89% of respondents were male
  • The majority are currently working in a full time role (46%), plus 21% as consultants, 15% structured internship, 8% unpaid/unstructured volunteer and 4% management.
  • This highlight there is still a significant number of people working for free and so the debate over unpaid interning/volunteering is still a prominent issue within our industry. Previous attention on this topic led BASES to release a position stand on graduate internships: http://www.bases.org.uk/write/documents/bases_position_stand_graduate_internships.pdf.
  • Given that 85% of respondents have already worked in professional sport plus the majority are already in an established role (full time, consultant or management) it seems this survey captured more of the perspectives of those already with their foot in the door of the industry, more so than students trying to break into it, who made up a smaller proportion.
  • Half of the respondents classified their main area within Sports Science as ‘Strength and Conditioning’ but there were respondents across all categories (Figure 1). This reinforces the complexity and depth of roles across the broad banner of ‘Sports Science’.  There are pros and cons to this; a broader range of roles gives students a range of opportunities and/or specialism to pursue during their studies and/or their careers, on the other hand this may make wholesale/extensive/blanket accreditation across the industry difficult.
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Figure 1

Skills for Success

  • The key aspects that respondents believed helped them get to their roles are shown in the word cloud on Figure 2.  The four most common responses were: Experience, Degree, Networking and Mentors.
  • The most popular responses for the fundamental skills necessary for Sports Scientists to succeed in High Performance Sport were Knowledge, Communication, Skills and Ability. Other notable skills include understanding, openness, (making things) personal, (building) relationships, flexibility, confidence and adaptability (Figure 3).
  • It is interesting to see how the beliefs of skills for success change with those at difference stages in their careers.  For instance, taking the responses for just the Consultants and Management, the most popular achievements that help them get to this level were Networking, Mentors and PhD.  Whereas out of those in a full time role PhD was only the fifth highest responses for the method to enhance their career.  Whilst our perspectives may change over time for what we require to make the next step, are we well enough informed to know what that should be?
  • A third of the Consultants and Managers identified ‘Communication’ as a fundamental skill to succeed as a Sport Scientist in the High Performance environment.  This soft skill is not necessarily something we are taught at University, so do we just learn it along the way?
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Figure 2

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Figure 3

We have also cherry picked a selection of individual responses from Q7 which we feel were either reflective of the overall responses or otherwise rather interesting:

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Question 7

Aspirations & Next Steps

  • There was a real variety in what respondents thought were the most important methods to enhance their own development.  Of the fifteen options provided (to pick a top three) all were selected at some point (Figure 4).
  • Undergraduate degree was in fact the least selected option; does this suggest that these are now so common that it is only a first step of many into your career.  Does the competition and/or demand for a career in Sport Science take a lot of further development?  Remember that ‘degree’ was the second most common response for what has helped you achieve your status in the industry – it would seem this is more in relation to the Postgraduate degrees.
  • The variety of perceptions in the important methods to further enhance your development suggests there is no clear pathway for those undertaking a career in Sport Science.  Once again there are pros and cons to this situation; people may be lacking in direction of how to take the next steps but there may also be many roads leading to Rome!
  • Once again there was a difference in response depending on the demographic of the respondents selected – interns and volunteers selected work experience and Masters degree as their most important method to enhance their development.
  • One of the most common choices as a method to further enhance your development was to ‘Publish Research’.  With the vast majority of respondents aspiring to work with professional athletes, it is positive to see a desire within our industry to both work in professional applied practice AND publish research.  There have been calls to improve the overlap of applied practice and academic research both on our blog (http://sportsdiscovery.net/journal/2015/02/01/does-research-actually-support-practice-in-professional-football-thoughts-on-the-bjsm-review/) and in a recent publication by Professor Aaron Coutts (Working Fast and Working Slow: The Benefits of Embedding Research in High-Performance Sport: http://journals.humankinetics.com/ijspp-current-issue/ijspp-volume-11-issue-1-january/working-fast-and-working-slow-the-benefits-of-embedding-research-in-high-performance-sport).
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Figure 4

Finally, looking ahead to the future, we asked you for your recommendations how to fill any skills gaps and provide direction for the industry. Interestingly, many of you were unsure, undecided or didn’t know what to recommend. For those who did provide their recommendations, we’ve cherry picked a few of the individual responses that seemed to summarise what many others were suggesting…

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Question 9