Welcome to a new monthly collection that I will be writing, looking at sports science for coaches. In today’s sporting climate, coaches aren’t just supposed to coach – they are expected to keep up-to-date with new trends within sports science, including (but not limited to) strength and conditioning, nutrition, biomechanics, and psychology. This creates a lot of problems; many coaches are too busy coaching to sit down and find the correct research. Often, research is presented without context, so the coach doesn’t quite know what the study means. Through these series of articles, I hope to create a resource for coaches to be able to find recent articles that are applicable to them, and be able to place them in context. I will also report on research that isn’t always specifically applicable to a coach, but is a great example of the scientific method in action – including the limitations of science. This isn’t meant to be an overview of the whole sports science field, as time constraints mean I only report on a small number of the research published each month. However, I aim to pick the ones that might be most relevant and applicable. As always, I would welcome your feedback going forward on how to improve the roundup.
You might have noticed that I felt quite passionate about the topic of overtraining syndrome (OTS) in last week’s blog. The reason for this is that I suffered with bouts of non-functional overreaching (NFO) and OTS throughout my career. I believe it stunted my progression within sport, at least for a period of 18 months, and it really was a miserable time for me. I’m eager to prevent other athletes from going through what I did, so here is my story.
When we design a training programme for athletes, our ultimate goal is to enable them to perform at their best. Inherent within this, we understand that it might involve some hard work. Indeed, the goal of a training programme is to create a stress on the athlete, which results in acute fatigue. The athlete then undergoes a period of recovery, and during this recovery adapts to the stress. Training, therefore, can be viewed as a constant cycle of stress (training) and rest (recovery). At times, it might be appropriate to bias that cycle one way or the other; during periods of high training load we are deliberately placing more stress on the athlete than they can tolerate – ordinarily this would require an increased rest period, but instead we attenuate that rest period to provide more stress. Again, this is good, and part of the training process. When we then bias the cycle towards rest, such as in a taper, the athletes recover, hopefully get some supercompensation, and performance improves. This is known as functional overreaching, and is an important part of training. Often, performance rebounds from a slightly depressed position during the heavy loading to the improved position after a few weeks.
For those of you who have followed my career, you might know that I am responsible for one very large mistake. I was responsible for my country, the reigning Olympic Champions, to be disqualified in the 4x100m relay at the 2008 Olympics. I, personally, made a mistake which most likely cost myself and my team mates an Olympic medal. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so I won’t belabour the point too much, but following this mistake I had two options.
Are you an athlete? Then I’ve got some bad news for you; you’re going to get injured. But you likely knew that already. Estimates of injury rates in sports people vary, but one injury per 100 hours in training or competition is a fairly moderate estimate; anyone doing any sort of training for a length of time will eventually get some sort of injury.
We’ve all been there. Stood over the bath (or bin), full of ice, psyching ourselves up to get in and endure the minute of cold in order to improve our recovery.
Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t teach speed”? In my youth, and despite my complete lack of any technical ability, I was reasonably effective at both soccer and rugby. Notice that I said effective, and not good. Playing rugby at school there actually was a pre-planned move which involved giving me the ball, and getting me to run without even considering passing until I either scored or was tackled. Playing soccer, I was moved to the wing, and my team would just punt the ball into space for me to run on to. No talent required. I was successful only because of my speed – I was already a national age group champion at that point. It was here that I would hear my teachers, coaches and team-mates comment “you can’t teach speed.”
But can you?
“All other things being equal . . . ” How often have you heard that phrase? Perhaps you’ve used it yourself? (If so, please stop). The most common situation I’ve heard it used is in regards to weight training: “All other things being equal, the strongest athlete will win.”
I’ve written extensively this month about the scientific process, methods, and study design. All of this has an effect on the results. But we also need to look at a few other aspects that impact our understanding of the results. In other words, we need to ask how we can become better consumers of scientific research. For that I have a few tips that can help with interpreting scientific findings.
Earlier this month I have discussed the scientific process and how to interpret results, but at some point we also have to look at whether the process that brought about the results was valid in the first place. In my last article, I discussed a study looking at HMB supplementation and explained how the fact that the subjects included no females and no trained athletes limited what conclusions could be drawn from the findings and applied to larger populations of people. But there was another larger issue with the study design: the study had no control group.