The importance of getting our hands dirty

I recently read an editorial in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine by Dr. Daniel Gould from Michigan State University. The editorial was titled “The professionalization of youth sports: It’s time to act” (1), and although published in 2009, the main message is still just as relevant today in 2012. The article really struck a chord with me and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

You can access the article for free by clicking on the title above, but here is a brief summary: Gould highlights that most sport science and sport medicine professionals have very little influence on youth sporting organisations, coaches and/or parents because although we are very good at conducting research, we are terrible at disseminating the findings to these people that need it most. I particularly like this quote: “If we were operating within the private business sector, we would probably fire the marketing and public relations professionals responsible for getting our ‘‘products’’ (sport science knowledge) out to the public!”.

Gould goes on to say that since researchers are not always communicating with sporting organisations, coaches, and parents, those on the front line are receiving messages from the popular media that are often entertainment fuelled, with a focus on ‘winning is everything’. The lure of college scholarships, professional contracts, and medals, trophies, and national titles has led to the professionalisation of youth sport, and the rise of many negative youth sport coaching and parenting behaviours such as official abuse, illegal scouting, and even the use of performance enhancing drugs. Add to this, common athlete development myths such as ‘talent can be identified at an early age’, ‘early specialisation and intensive training programs are required for future success’, and ‘athletic development cannot occur in a fun environment’, and parents, coaches, and sporting organisations can carry on completely misguided.

While Gould’s main message is that the professionalisation of youth sport is “the single biggest problem” in contemporary sport, his recommendation for how to make a change to the situation is, in my opinion, even more important, as it applies to sport science as a discipline in general, and not just issues of positive development in youth sport. The article encourages sport scientists and sport medicine professionals to “get our hands dirty” – to stop talking about what needs to be done in academic forums, and actually get involved in local programs, disseminate our research findings in public sources, and even rally for political change.

I completely agree with Dr. Gould. I am in a unique position where I conduct research in an academic environment, but I interact with sporting organisations, coaches, athletes, and occasionally parents in a skill acquisition and motor learning consultant role. Although I love conducting research and solving problems, I probably enjoy the consultancy work more because I find so much value in being that translator between theory and practice for coaches and administrators who simply don’t have access to scientific publications and/or who do not receive regular sport science support. It only takes an hour at a coaching workshop or club meeting to dispel a few myths, share a few key messages, and give a couple of practical coaching tips. It doesn’t take long to prepare a short article for your local, provincial/state, or national sporting organization’s newsletter with an excerpt of your latest research findings. It only takes a few minutes to set up a Twitter account and post some links to interesting newspaper articles and blog posts every now and again.

To give credit where credit is due, with the increasing popularity of social media, a number of sport scientists have already joined Twitter, Facebook and/or started blogs, so I do think that our knowledge translation is improving, but we still have a long way to go.

Like Dr. Gould, I too would like to encourage all sport scientists to get their hands dirty and make a concerted effort to translate our research (or research of others that we find interesting) into a language that is easily understood and free of jargon, then publish it in forums that are freely accessible, and easily accessible to the people who could benefit most from the findings. Or better still, wherever possible, we should do our best to get involved with sporting clubs and organisations directly, and provide workshops, advice, and applied services to meet the organisation’s specific needs.

Now I know that this is not the first time that you have heard this message, but the fact remains that we could all do a better job of communicating with the stakeholders of our research (myself included). Thus from time to time we need a friendly reminder to put an hour or two aside and give back to the people who so often donate their time and effort to be participants in our research, and help them to make a change to their sports programs for the better.

To get the ball rolling, here are a few twitter accounts and blogs from leading scientists that I highly recommend to coaches, parents, athletes, and sport administrators to receive high quality information on anything and everything from athlete development, to psychology, perceptual skill training, physiology, recovery, and more (in no particular order!).

If you can recommend any other free access sources of sport science information, please comment below and tell us your favourite sites.

Dr. Daniel Gould

Youth sport

http://www.educ.msu.edu/ysi/

Dr. Ross Tucker and Dr. Jonathan Dugas

All things sport science

@Scienceofsport

http://www.sportsscientists.com/

Dr. Alex Hutchinson

All things exercise science

@sweatscience

http://sweatscience.runnersworld.com/

Dr. Dan Petersen

Perceptual cognitive skill development

@AxonSports

http://www.axonpotential.com/

Dr. Joe Baker

Health and performance across the lifespan

@bakerjyorku

Stuart Armstrong

Talent identification and development

@stu_arm

http://developingsportingtalent.blogspot.ca/

Dr. Sian Beilock

Sport Psychology

@sianbeilock

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/choke

Dr. Shona Halson

Recovery

@ShonaHalson

Dr. Jeff Cubos

Sports medicine / strength and conditioning / athletic development

@jeffcubos

http://www.jeffcubos.com/

Dr. Tim Noakes

Physiology

@ProfTimNoakes

Dr. Shilpa Dogra

Health and exercise science

@SDOGRAdotCOM

http://sdogra.com/

 

References

1. Gould, D. (2009). The professionalization of youth sports: It’s time to act! Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 19(2), 81-82.

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About Pathways to the Podium Research Team

The Pathways to the Podium Research Team consists of: Ms. Melissa Hopwood, PhD Candidate, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Dr. Joe Baker, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Dr. Clare MacMahon, School of Sport and Exercise Science, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Dr. Damian Farrow, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
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9 Responses to The importance of getting our hands dirty

  1. Christian says:

    Can you point me to the direction for the research dispelling the myth:
    “early specialisation and intensive training programs are required for future success”
    especially for those sports such as gymnastics and diving that traditionally require athletes to specialise early. From what I’ve seen all the evidence points towards the necessity of early specialisation and early intensive training programs in order to be successful, or at least give you the best chance of success.

  2. Mark Upton says:

    Thanks for sharing this article – a very timely and relevant piece. I read/see/hear more and more around this theme, from youth to elite level sport. There seems to be a consensus about the need to bridge the gap between scientist and practitioner – but is any progress being made? Sometimes I feel the opposite is occurring, that as more research is done across a wider breadth of “coaching science” disciplines, that even less is actually being understood and applied by coaches and others at the “coal face”.

    As you mentioned, researchers need to do more to disseminate their findings into content that can be consumed and understood by the “layman”. Especially in this era, there is a multitude of creative ways that content can be communicated digitally.

    But does the motivation/accountability exist to drive this? If researchers are fulfilling their brief by publishing their work, why would they make a further attempt to distill this into another format? Unless of course they have a personal value system skewed towards helping coaches (like yours). If universities and other institutions awarded PhD’s etc ONLY IF research was ultimately implemented by coaches, we might have a different dynamic!

    But the real issue is relationships and communication. The best applied results in sports science come when there is a great relationship between scientist and coach, where each respects and values the other. However scientists are not always great communicators, nor do they always have a feel for the dynamics of a real-life coaching environment outside of the lab. On the other side of the equation, coaches are often “afraid of the unknown” and so dismiss the scientific evidence and/or feel threatened by it.

    My great hope is that, as coaching evolves as a genuine profession, more coaches will come through having been educated in the sports sciences, or will at least have a core philosophy of using an evidence-based approach and being open minded to the contribution of sports science.

    Sorry that I don’t have any “magic” solutions! It is a complex issue for sure.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comments. I completely agree with you. Particularly your point about academics lacking the motivation to engage in knowledge translation to the public. Tenure and funding depend on peer-reviewed publications not implementation of research findings, so engaging with practitioners is often not a priority of a busy researcher. Unfortunately there are more academic researchers than applied sport science service providers like yourself, which is why we are seeing this disparity in communication.

      It certainly is more complex than writing a blog, but as you say, that communication has to start from somewhere!

      Thanks again for contributing to the conversation.

      Melissa

  3. Jodi says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post and echo Mark Upton’s comments. I think the suggestions you make on how academics can link with sporting organisations, coaches and athletes to share their findings and key messages are achievable, particularly via social media.

    I understand that peer-reviewed publications are a priority for researchers but there is great satisfaction for sports scientists who can share their findings with those who can implement it. In my experience, I have had wonderful feedback from many sports scientists whose work I have had the privilege of sharing. They are rewarded to know that their message has an audience who can put their findings into practice.

    So much in the way of time, effort and resources goes into research. It really would be great to see more of these findings shared in a way that could improve the strategies and practices that underpin the sports we love.

    • Thank you very much Jodi.

      I agree with you. I do think that researchers efforts to communicate with the stakeholders of our research is improving, largely thanks to social media. However, there is certainly room for improvement, and as you say, it is not that hard!

      Many grant funding institutions are now encouraging/requiring a knowledge translation commitment, so it would be great if this resulted in more publicly available information for practitioners, athletes and parents.

      By the way, readers, if you are looking for an excellent example of sport science blog, head on over to Jodi’s page at elitesportsscience.com!

      Thanks again Jodi,

      Melissa
      Lead Researcher
      Pathways to the Podium Research Team

      • Jodi says:

        Hi Melissa, it’s great to know that some institutions are encouraging or requiring translation of research outcomes. Hopefully more will follow in time! Many thanks for your recommendation of my website. Kind regards, Jodi

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