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
Dr. Ross Tucker and Dr. Jonathan Dugas
All things sport science
Dr. Alex Hutchinson
All things exercise science
Dr. Dan Petersen
Perceptual cognitive skill development
Dr. Joe Baker
Health and performance across the lifespan
Talent identification and development
Dr. Sian Beilock
Dr. Shona Halson
Dr. Jeff Cubos
Sports medicine / strength and conditioning / athletic development
Dr. Tim Noakes
Dr. Shilpa Dogra
Health and exercise science
1. Gould, D. (2009). The professionalization of youth sports: It’s time to act! Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 19(2), 81-82.