Interview: Sports Science in Action
As has been advocated here before, sport science is a field in which the terms “scientist” and “practitioner” should be mutually inclusive. The scientist-practitioner approach is what sport scientists should strive towards. Measure so that you can manage, manage so that you can prescribe effectively, then measure to manage, and so on…
SPORT SCIENCE COLLECTIVE interviewed Dr. Wilbur Kraak about his approach to implementing sport science practices within his structures as head coach of St Georges Rugby Club from 2012 to 2015, and now as head coach of NNK in 2016.
Please tell us about your background as a sport scientist? Where and what did you study?
WK: I have always watched rugby from a different perspective, and like the analytical side of the game and latest training methods. For example, I enjoy going to Newlands a bit earlier to watch the opposition warm-up to get new ideas. I studied at NWU-Pukke:
2002 – Coaching Science Diploma specialising in Rugby
2004 – BA Degree Human Movement Science and Psychology
2006 – BA Hons Degree in Sport Science
2011 – MA Degree in Human Movement Science
2015 – Ph.D. in Sport Science (Stellenbosch University)
What is your area of interest as an academic?
WK: I like the performance analysis and coaching part of sport science.
What is your coaching background?
WK: I started coaching in 2006 as part of my course practical I coached under 6 boys. I was a full-time referee from 2004 to 2008. So, I didn’t have much time to coach. I started coaching seriously in 2008:
What professional goal are you working towards?
WK: I still want to become a professional coach and use my sport science background to my advantage in the professional set-up.
What is your personal view on the role a sport scientist should play within the context of a sports team?
WK: In South Africa I believe we underestimate the role of a sport scientist. Certain coaches still see sport scientists as a warm-up and fitness coach, that perception needs to change. A sport scientist plays an integral part of a coaching staff and should not be seen as an add-on. I see a sport scientist as a specialist coach that needs to advise coaches. They should be innovative and look for new methods to improve team performance.
How have you implemented sport science in the past?
WK: I always use sport science in all my coaching. The level of players and resources (man-power and finances) at my disposal determined the use of the different disciplines.
At St Georges, I dealt with periodization (strategic planning, taking in mind the small squad available), performance analysis (individual, team feedback and motivational), different training methods (functional training – jungle gym), game time management, and coaching and player education on the role of sport science and coaching.
What sport science practices are you currently making use of in your position as head coach of NNK Rugby Club?
WK: This year I am using some of the same practices and principles (periodization, performance analysis, coaching education), but am looking to include a few subtle extras such as; RPE scales and fatigue management (HIMS), better testing (pre-season and in-season testing to see how players are responding to training loads and program), injury management (recording injuries, management of injuries), small sided games as training, game time management and correlation between RPE scales.
Theoretically: If you were given free rein to do as you wish within the context of sport science in South Africa, what would you try to implement to promote, progress, and protect the field?
WK: The first thing I’d do would be to educate South Africa, and change the mindset on the role of a sport scientist in the context of a team. A clear job description of what is expected of a sport scientist would go a long way. It would also be important to distinguish between biokinetics and sport science. I would tell the success stories and give a few practical examples on how I used sport science in an amateur set-up.
Is there any advice you would give to those considering or working towards a sport science qualification?
WK: Be open-minded, the field is broad with loads of opportunities. Don’t specialise too early, and gain knowledge from a variety of sport science disciplines and sports.
Be willing to work long hours and for free at the beginning. Get involved with amateur and professional teams or individual athletes and coaches. Learn from these players and coaches and ask a lot of questions.
One success story for me is my former Masters student Yusuf Vahed. He used to be a long distance runner but started doing rugby conditioning (SAQ) in 2009. He worked for free from 2009 to 2014. He didn’t come from a rugby background. He was willing to do the hard yards. He is currently the head of strength and conditioning at Free State Cheetahs juniors and assisting the senior head of strength and conditioning coach for the Super Rugby team.