People are often surprised when they hear speak about sport science. Is there really such a thing as sport science? Is there a difference between sport science and exercise science? What do sport scientists actually do? I could try to answer these questions, but instead of that, I will let you read the abstract and conclusion of a 2008 paper by Dr. Bill Sands, who has been there, done that in the world of high performance sport. You can also read the entire article here.
“Sport science measurement presents some common and some unique challenges. Common challenges include those of funding, instrumentation availability, size and mass. Unique challenges involve working with celebrity athletes who are often reticent to serve as subjects, coaches who often will not give up training time for measurement, extraordinary demands on ease and speed of measurement and data return, and a different perspective of ‘success’ in conducting research. While the academic scientist’s success is usually measured in terms of publications on group data investigations, the sport scientist must improve the specific athlete(s) with whom he/she is working. For example, if an investigation of 20 athletes shows that 15 improved with the intervention, two stayed about the same and three showed worse performance results—statistical significance and/or confidence intervals would likely be achieved and the study would likely meet modern peer review standards. However, if the three athletes who got worse were the three ‘best’ athletes of the group—coaches and the sport scientist will consider the intervention a failure.”
“Studying elite athletes is one of the most rewarding and difficult investigations one can undertake. These research subjects are by definition extraordinarily rare. Thus the investigator is dealing with low statistical power and little interest in generalizing to a population; one is often studying the population. Finally, it is difficult to account for athlete performance variability, current fitness status, willingness to be tested, willingness to give a ‘best attempt,’ period of the training plan, and other factors from problems inherent in wearing unusual and unfamiliar equipment, being critically observed by scientists, and the varying importance test results may have on the athlete’s career. While the scientist may see the test results as something only to determine status, the coach and athlete may see the results as a means of selection thus producing a tension that was not intended by the scientist.”