Firstly, thank you to everyone who took the time to contribute to our short survey. We hope it will continue to be an annual event, and that the insights derived from your answers will help to shape the industry, and the part Sports Discovery plays within it.
The survey this year was focussed on the future of the sports science industry, and how it is perceived by sports professionals. The number of responses was broadly in line with last year, with your thoughts and opinions providing a wealth of good information.
Almost half of respondents recorded a full-time role within sports science, and along with consultants and management, those earning a living from the industry totalled two thirds. Demographics remained broadly the same, and reflect both the industry and our readership: around 10 per cent female, 50 per cent aged 22-30, with the majority in Europe.
Key to this years’ survey was the role a sports scientist plays. Was asked for the top 3 roles from a broad range of areas. A whopping 58 per cent of you believe Load Management is the key function of a sports scientist. This was closely followed by Advising Coaches and Data Processes. All of which taken together suggest monitoring an athlete’s training and performance, collating the results, and providing advice based on those results, is how you see your role. If that’s not the dictionary definition of sports science, I’m not sure what would be.
Relatively few respondents, 8 percent, felt Injury Prevention was important, with Recovery after injury and Return to Play only totalling 25 percent together.
Perhaps monitoring load to manage performance (and therefore prevent injury) is a better focus for sports science. Whereas recovery and return to play is more the role of a physio or coach.
If you consider Load Management and Advising Coaches as functions where interaction with other staff is essential, it is interesting to note that almost 80 percent said sports scientists should be held accountable solely by Coach Review. The top three responses also included Peer Review, and Athlete Review. It appears that subjective accountability (perhaps influenced by inter-personal relationships) is preferred over the hard numbers of Injury Statistics or Winning Performances.
Considering the audience for the survey, it was unsurprising that 88 percent feel that Sports Science is Not well understood and undervalued. So much so, that everyone (yes, 100 percent) felt it is necessary to improve the disciplines’ understanding to others!
You are clearly concerned about boundaries. Depending upon the sport, size of athletic squad, and number of fellow staff members, you feel areas of expertise (and responsibility) should be clearly delineated. Where other specialists are available, a sports scientist should not be afraid to seek others help when needed.
One left-field comment on boundaries concerned privacy issues around wearable tech. An athlete may expect data from a GPS unit worn during training to be stored and analysed. But if they also wear a fitness tracker, or utilise movement and health monitoring on their smart-phone, should that data be available for analysis.
The word cloud of responses clearly highlight “coaches” and “data” as two determining factors for service boundary management.
Job security and pay were frequently mentioned as key for developing a successful sports science service. Clearly these two elements allow the sports scientist to focus on managing the athlete, rather than team politics or whether they can pay a mortgage.
Also considered important was the availability of equipment; the ability to use data to inform and improve decision making; and, the coaches trust and belief in the service.
The following two comments sum up the majority of respondents feelings:
“Multidisciplinary approach which delivers robust athletes, seamless engagement with coaches, leading to understanding and cooperation.”
“Positively influence performance. Increased physical performance, reduced injury rates, improved recovery. Work with coaching staff, not against them.”
Education and professional development continue to be important. Over two thirds of you spend up to half a day per week, split equally between 1-2 hours and a half-day. A huge surprise was the “Number 1” recommended resource: Twitter! Peers, Colleagues, Practitioners and other direct-contact support make up almost half of recommended resources.
But professional education isn’t the only area a sports scientist needs to develop. Many soft-skills were mentioned as being necessary to succeed, along with basic administrative skills.
In last years’ survey we saw that the ability to communicate effectively was a key skill. This is still highly regarded, whether it’s the ability to “speak the language of the coaches”, or obtain sophisticated interpersonal or people skills. But one method of communication was mentioned more than any other this year: the ability to communicate complex data in a meaningful way. Some called this data analysis skills, some data visualisation, but many stuck to plain old Excel skills.
Beyond an under-graduate degree, a post-grad, or even a PHD, what is necessary for a sports scientist to succeed is to:
“Speak the language of the coaches. Create an environment of player buy-in. Create a data infrastructure to analyse data properly.”
These requirements were often repeated in the following question: how can we better prepare students for future roles?
Many of you highlight data management, data analysis, data visualisation, statistics, R, Python, and Excel.
Beyond those “nuts and bolts” skills, students should be provided with a clear professional development plan. “Data Monkey” internships should be discarded in favour of a properly structured scheme, involving payment of the minimum wage. Practical experience in this way should be mandatory and linked to professional accreditation.
Students, graduates and sports science practitioners should be reminded though, that much of this involves numbers and data, but it always involves people: Put people first.
Building a clearer more structured path will help those wanting to enter the industry, but for existing practitioners, what can be improved?
Better remuneration, better resources. Investment in people and the service.
Much of what has already been said was reiterated here: clearer definition of roles; better integration with coaching staff; professional accreditation.
Going forward sports science clearly has a role in being disruptive. To provide a fresh way of thinking and to challenge established processes. Being more involved in coaches decision making, and building the required level of trust to do that, means communication skills become ever more critical.
Finally we asked you what else you’d like to see discussed on the Sports Discovery sites. Many of you had kind words for the work we’ve already achieved, and the type of posts and forum discussions already available.
- Applied case studies.
- Data visualisation.
- Jobs, and how to be “more employable”.
- Statistical analysis.
- Industry regulation.
- Real world issues and how a practitioner overcomes them in their day-to-day jobs.
As with last year and the introduction of the forum, we’ve taken on board requests and ideas, and plan new features in the months ahead.
Thank you all again for taking the time to respond. Remember to keep an hour free towards the end of this year for our 2017 survey.