Interview: All Things Sport Science
SPORT SCIENCE COLLECTIVE tries to be a forum for sport scientists and related fields to discuss ideas and experiences. An interview is a great space to meet these goals, as it can provide insight into how things are done at other institutions and how different sport scientists think and approach problems. Below is an interview with Ryan Raffan, who was a lecturer of mine at what is now Nelson Mandela University (NMU).
What is your sport science background and area of expertise?
RR: I studied human movement science and sport science at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. I was specialising in exercise physiology and endurance sports, but my passion for vision and action led me towards becoming a skill acquisition specialist, which is now my area of expertise.
Where do you currently work and what are your roles?
RR: I work at the Nelson Mandela University and I lecture motor control and learning, conduct research and coordinate the sport science academic programme as well as the scientific services of the High Performance Complex.
How has the sport science programme evolved over the years?
RR: The sport science academic programme has always exposed our students to the range of theories and practices within the field, but the demand for strength and conditioning specialists and exercise physiologists created an emphasis on those particular areas of expertise. We have expanded our focus to include more biomechanics and skill acquisition as these areas become more pertinent (and more popular among coaches and athletes) in the national and international arena.
What would you say is a defining factor for the sport science honours degree? What would you say sets these students apart from others studying similar degrees?
RR: As our sport science academic programme exposes our students to a variety of theories and practices in all areas of expertise, we quickly identify our students’ interest and assist them in creating a career pathway to their dream job. My experience with sport science students is they possess a deeper level of critical analysis, which is different from other academic programmes that train students for a profession.
NMU opened their High Performance Complex in 2015. How have things been going there, and how have the sport science students been involved?
RR: The HPC assists with athlete development and scientific testing and training of the university athletes as well as the provincial academy athletes and private individuals. The sport science students are involved in testing and training of these athletes from strength and conditioning to physiological to skill acquisition.
Having traveled to a European university for your studies, how would you compare their facilities to those of South African sporting institutions or universities?
RR: Their structure is different from ours. The university is purely a university for lectures and research. Any applied research projects are then done at outside facilities (such as Olympic centres or clubs with infrastructure with an embedded sport scientist. In SA, we have a school system and universities where infrastructure exist and scientists practice.
What is your personal view on the role a sport scientist should play within the context of a sports team?
RR: The sport scientist is the consultant or assistant to the coach and athlete providing evidence-based information that can be utilized as ‘tools’ to enhance performance. These information ‘tools’ can be anything from identifying talent hotspots to specialised training methodology to strategic or tactical decisions.
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?
RR: I like the idea that applied settings have an embedded sport scientist (or scientists if the structure and budget allows) that are linked to universities. Given the need of a sport, coach, athlete/s or setting, a specialist scientist could be embedded in the community. This set up would allow information ‘tools’ to flow from metropolitans to smaller communities and facilitate athlete identification and development for national interest.
Is there any advice you would give to those considering or working towards a sport science qualification?
RR: Successful people have great mentors. A great mentor has the expertise of the field and has your best interest at heart…so find a great mentor.