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  • Kate Wallis

Driving High Performance Sport with Sport Science/Sports Medicine

In the experts column, we bring you an article from Kate Wallis- International High Performance Consultant, KW Performance Consulting, in which she underscores how Sport Science and Sports Medicine disciplines function independently and/or as part of a multidisciplinary team in a High Performance sporting environment.

What do we mean by Sport Science and Sports medicine?

Sport Science and Sports Medicine is an umbrella term used to capture the multifaceted application of a wide range of support services used to enhance training, recovery and performance in athletes.

Disciplines that headline the Sport Science aspect of this term are Strength and Conditioning, Physiology, Performance Nutrition, Biomechanics, Data Analysis and Performance Psychology to name a few.

Disciplines that fall under the category of Sports Medicine are Physiotherapy, Myotherapy/Massage, Sports Physicians, Podiatrists, Optometrists, Dentists and other specialist areas that treat general population sections of the community as well as the athlete population.

Collectively, these varied support services are all unique in the way they can contribute to the matrix that is athlete preparation and support.

Typically, these various areas will be led by a ‘Head’ or ‘Director’ who oversees the various aspects of the overall running and functioning of the discipline. They will usually be quite experienced, be able to provide a mentoring role to the other members of staff of the department/area and be a representative of their area at interdisciplinary meetings if in a multidisciplinary environment such as an Institute or professional team. Accountability for the quality of the service delivery of the discipline lies with this individual, making this person a respected and very integral part of a Sport Science and Sports Medicine Team.

If budget, demand, and the space allows, there will be other members of the discipline/department carrying out a variety of functions of the service delivery such as research, data collection, consultations and applied delivery of the discipline onsite at training and competitions.

Individuals working in various departments should be employed in roles due to their specific and relevant skills and qualifications to ensure they are contributing to the improvement of the athletes they are working with. Requirements may be a University degree as well as internships, extra certifications, as well as registration and accreditation with a National or International governing body in the field. These prerequisites for employees in the Sport Science and Sports Medicine areas provide assurity to the athletes and coaches they’re working with that they have the right skill set to be able to provide interventions appropriately and optimally.

How do Sport Science and Sports Medicine disciplines function independently or as part of a multidisciplinary team in a High Performance sporting environment?

When we think about the term ‘High Performance’, our mind goes to the elite end of the spectrum. The high achievers. The best of the best. The ones who need the most attention and support. The term High Performance itself encapsulates not only the services under the Sport Science and Sports Medicine umbrella, but other departments like Coaching, Travel and Logistics, Education, Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement, Finance and Governance as examples.

The integration and management of the above listed areas that are equally as important as each other, is a true art. Think of each of the listed areas of the Sport Science and Sports Medicine areas, as well as the recently mentioned areas that come under the High Performance banner as just as important as each other in a big puzzle. The puzzle is not complete with a piece missing. If an athletes’ nutrition is sub-par, they won’t have the fuel for quality training or recovery and they will become run down and potentially put themselves at risk of injury due to fatigue. If an athlete doesn’t have the level of coaching they deserve, or need, they will never have the opportunity to reach their full potential or realize their dreams in their chosen sport. If a team or individual doesn’t participate in a sport that is governed by integrity, that plays by the rules, is morally compromised or isn’t in line with the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) for example, they are at risk of being sanctioned and/or suspended from competing in their sport. If the sport or athlete has no financial backing from their family, sponsors or their State or National Government in order to access quality training and support services, again, they will not be able to reach their full potential. Optimal athlete preparation and performance needs each piece of the puzzle to fit and for the puzzle to be complete in order for the real magic to happen!

This is why I always come back to my two non-negotiables in the world of athlete management and support service delivery. Integration and communication. Not a single piece of the puzzle can operate without the other. An injured athlete cannot only see a Sports Doctor or a Physiotherapist. They must consult with a Nutritionist to manage quality and volume of food if a reduction of energy expenditure has occurred as a result of the injury, in order to make sure that secondary injuries don’t occur due to poor nutrition and a subsequent increase in body mass. This can potentially also make the return to sport phase challenging and lengthy which is where a Rehab or Strength and Conditioning specialist can assist by providing a specific and targeted program. In the meantime, an athlete who has faced an injury can experience some psychological trauma. Depending on the nature and extent of the injury the athlete may be having a lot of fear related concerns in relation to returning to the sport or be defeated about missing a major selection event due to the sustained injury. Intervention and support by a Performance Psychologist is imperative for this athlete in order to mitigate these things and assist in a smooth transition back to training and competition. So, as you can see, an athlete doesn’t only need a Physiotherapist when they get injured. Integration is vital in facilitating the athlete used in this example back to being able to train and compete at their best.

Integration between disciplines and support services cannot happen without open, transparent and positive communication between all parties. The most important person at the centre of all communication is the athlete. Many would say the Coach, and in some cases in the lower development areas of a team sport this may be the case, but if we’re talking about true High Performance service delivery the athlete is the centre. Depending on their age and their own insight to their training and direction of their career, ask the athlete what works for them. What doesn’t work for them? What do they not like doing but they know will have a positive impact on their training and performance? What do they need from their Coach? Their support people (parents, siblings, teammates, spouse etc)? What do they need from their management if they’re on a professional team? Their Director of the Institute if they are in that environment? Don’t worry, this isn’t about asking them for their wish list and then expecting to get it! This is about empowering the athlete/s to be the central driver of their career and for a level of rapport and respect to be built so that the other disciplines can over time have a direct, meaningful and positive impact on their sporting career.

Sport Science and Sport Medicine, within the High Performance bracket, is an area that is key to athlete preparation and performance. The planned and purposeful integration of these disciplines in a true High Performance culture along with exceptional levels of transparency and communication, can lead to amazing outcomes for the athletes.

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