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  • Writer's pictureJo Clubb

Career Development Tips for Sports Scientists: Translating Sports Science across Team Sports

Updated: 1 day ago

As a sports scientist, your career is inherently dynamic, requiring you to adapt to various environments, sports, and athlete needs. Drawing from a lecture on translating performance solutions across different contexts, here are some key tips and insights to enhance your career development and effectiveness as a sports science practitioner.


1. Embrace the Context

Context is key! But what do we mean by this in the context of sports science?


Understand the Sport-Specific Demands

Each sport has unique physical, mental, tactical, and technical demands. Whether you are working in football, ice hockey, American football, or another team sport, the first step is to understand these specific demands. For example, when I moved to the US to work in the NHL, I suddenly realised everything was on ice, yet all my knowledge was based on land-based athletes. I had to reflect on how this context - the demand of skating rather than running - would affect what I could or could not translate into this environment.


Recognise Different Athlete Profiles

Sports can vary significantly in the types of athletes they attract and develop. For instance, the diversity in body types between NFL players—from wide receiver through to linemen—demands tailored approaches in training and monitoring. But to me, this was one of the most intriguing challenges that this sport had to offer! Understanding these differences is crucial for providing effective support.


For more on the importance of context across and within team sports, watch the video below, taken from the Global Performance Insights YouTube channel. These clips are taken from my presentation at the PLAE Labs interactive workshop at Loughborough University in April 2022 on translating sports science across different professional environments.



2. Challenge Assumptions and Biases


Adapt to New Environments

Moving between sports requires setting aside preconceived notions. For example, what works for a football team might not be applicable to an ice hockey team. For me though, I felt this gave me an advantage: I had a 'Beginner's Mind'. I didn't know how things had always been done. Maybe you're not in a new sport, but can you still cultivate a beginner's mind? Can you avoid cognitive entrenchment, as we've previously discussed on the blog.


Continual Learning

Working in diverse sports environments offers valuable learning opportunities. Take the example of tracking data: should maximum velocity be a metric on a basketball court? Should distance covered be measured for linemen or goalkeepers? These are critical questions that require thoughtful consideration. Sometimes translating from other sports is relevant, sometimes it is not.


3. Develop and Implement Sport-Specific Strategies


Tailor Your Sports Science Support Programmes

Design your monitoring systems and training programmes based on the specific demands and structures of the sport. For example, American football’s weekly game structure contrasts sharply with ice hockey’s intense 82-game season. Your strategies need to reflect these differences. This can also change within the same sport, over the course of a season. For example, your programme during a congested fixture period, such as the Premier League's festive calendar, may focus more on specific areas (i.e. recovery) than other times of the year.

A six stage cycle, going from stage 1 of injury trends, risk factors, sport demands, athlete profile, athlete management, and athlete monitoring in stage 6. Stages 1 and 2 are coloured pink to group as injury awareness, stages 3 and 4 are coloured blue to group as sport demands, and stages 5 and 6 are coloured green to group as athlete monitoring. This figure is an operational framework for managing injury risk, as published by Roe and colleagues.

Use an Operational Framework

A robust framework, like the one developed by Mark Roe and colleagues (2017), involves six stages across three themes of injury awareness (pink), demands (blue), and monitoring (green). This framework can help you systematically address injury trends, risk factors, and performance demands specific to each sport.


4. Balance Precision with Practicality, Value with Burden


Choose Appropriate Tools and Methods

When it comes to sports technology and data collection, balance precision with practicality. For instance, while DEXA scans provide precise body composition data, skinfold callipers are often more practical in team environments. We may have to make a trade-off between precision and practicality for certain monitoring processes to succeed in the applied setting, but that compromise cannot be so great that accuracy is diminished too much.

The Global Performance Insights Value Burden matrix, with high value and low burden is bright green, high value and high burden in light green, low value and low burden in orange and low value and high burden in red, with the colours representing how ideal the data collection approach is in the applied setting.


Focus on Value and Minimal Burden

When designing interventions, aim for the highest value with the minimal burden on athletes. For instance, implementing easy-to-complete, 5-item subjective response questionnaires can provide valuable insights without overloading the players as the validated research tools would. For more on the Value Burden matrix, read this post.



5. Translate Knowledge Into Action


Implement Layered Interventions

Use a layered approach to interventions, similar to the "Swiss cheese model." Each intervention has its limitations (and therefore, holes just like Swiss cheese!), but layering them can create a more robust system. This might include a tiered approach, such as a general warm-ups for all players, specific exercises for certain positions, and individualised programs based on screening results.


Collaborate and Communicate

Effective collaboration with coaches, medical staff, and athletes is essential. Understand their needs and constraints to find practical solutions that fit within the cultural and operational context of the team. Seek to see things from their perspective. A key part of translating knowledge into action is communicating what you're doing and crucially, it's why. Remember, starting with why in sports science makes a huge difference.


Conclusion

The ability to translate sports science solutions across different sports environments is a vital skill for sports scientists. By embracing context, challenging assumptions, developing sport-specific strategies, balancing precision with practicality, translating knowledge into action, and continuously monitoring and adjusting, you can enhance your effectiveness and advance your career in sports science. Stay adaptable, remain curious, and always strive to understand the unique demands of each sporting environment you work in. We are, after all, scientists!


 

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