Sports Science Monthly – July 2019

Every month we take a deep dive into the latest research in sports science. The amount of research in sports science has exploded, and for coaches in the trenches it can be hard to keep up on it all. That is one of the reasons we have put together the Sports Science Monthly, and we start off the July edition by looking at where coaches get their sports science information. After that we look into new research on small-sided games, re-examine training load monitoring, as well as looking into other topics.

As always, the full Sports Science Monthly is available exclusively to HMMR Plus Members. You can browse the past topics on our archive page. The first topic below is free to everyone, but sign up now to read about all the latest research. To get an idea of what Sports Science Monthly is all about, the April 2016 edition is available in its entirety for free.

This Month’s Topics

Where do coaches get their sports science information from?

» Quick summary: Sports science research literature is not—shock, horror—the main way many high-performance coaches gain their sports science knowledge. Partly, this is because sports science researchers are poor at disseminating their message, although this isn’t helped by the paywall structure of many journals. In a bid to improve practice, more open, jargon free reporting of sports science research is likely required.

It likely won’t surprise you that I’m a big fan of sports science. My love affair with the subject started at age 14, when I devoured my GCSE PE textbook over the course of a weekend. I was fascinated by the information contained within it, and eager to see how the knowledge of this information might help my athletics career. As I got better at sprinting, I became exposed to elite practitioners through the English Institute of Sport, who very kindly put up with my no doubt incessant questions about all the aspects of their work that I thought might make me faster. Alongside this, I completed a degree in sports science, with my dissertation exploring force production in each leg of the block phase of the sprint start (the main finding being the elite sprinters utilize the rear block pad to greater degree than sub-elite and novice sprinters), and I’m soon to finish a doctorate in the subject, with a number of publications coming out from this.

However, I’m well aware—and I think my sporting career helped a huge deal here—with the difficulty in translating knowledge to practice; whilst something might be good in theory, whether it works in practice, in the athlete’s unique situation, is up for debate. This insight holds me in good stead when I speak with coaches, because I understand their challenges. I’m also aware that many sports scientists, especially those with little experience with high-level sport, don’t have the same level of pragmatism, and this can cause conflicts with coaches, who think these sports scientists are just “lab coats”.

This is why a recent study, published in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching caught my eye. Entitled “Knowledge transfer: How do high performance coaches access the knowledge of sports science”, it’s an exploration of coaches at the high level—who are required to have an ever-increasing working knowledge of sports science—gain information from sports scientists. The study was comprised of a survey, which was answered by 205 coaches within the Canadian University sporting system, across a variety of sports.

Overall, the majority of the coaches felt that coaches in their sport were always on the lookout for new ideas, particularly when their athletes were not performing well. 75% of coaches believed that sports science research was contributing to the new ideas that could be used by coaches; 3% said no, and the rest were not sure. The coaches were more interested in research pertaining to tactics, team building, and mental training, and less interested in research around nutrition, injury prevention, and strength training. The bad news, from a sports science perspective at least, was that the coaches stated that they did not believe that the research was easily accessible, or was presented in formats that could easily be used. Both of these are, of course, true. Accessing research papers is notoriously difficult, with papers often being hidden behind a paywall (as a tip, google “sci-hub” and see whether this might be of use to you). Even if papers can be accessed, they are often written by scientists, for scientists, which can make them hard work to read for non-scientists. Again, this is slowly starting to change, with some journals being released that deal with more applied issues, but it seems like the main stumbling block for sports scientists and coaches working closer together is that of communication. Indeed, the majority of coaches appear to gain their sports science information, particularly with regards to new information, from other coaches, either in-person, or at seminars. That said, the good news was that coaches felt comfortable translating the information from sports scientists that they did receive to their own situation—although I’d caution that the paper didn’t explore whether the coaches actually did this well!

None of this really surprises me, and it might not surprise you either. Indeed, one of my motivations for starting this column series, and for writing other articles on HMMRMedia, was to better translate the science of a subject I love to the contexts of the coaches, making it more accessible to the people who need it most. I’m keen, though, to do a better job if I need to, so I’m open for ideas on topics that you think you might be more interested in and would like more research on – so please let me know. Also, feel free to reach out on twitter to ask questions, and be sure to follow other researchers/journalists who do a great job of either disseminating information, or attempting to make the research more applied, such as Alex Hutchinson, Martin Buchheit, and John Kiely. Ideally, all researchers producing work that has the potential to influence sports coaching and performance should attempt to produce lay summaries of their work. In doing so, hopefully we can break some of these barriers down.

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