Editor’s musings: The reality of sport science.
I was very fortunate to attend a conditioning seminar with Ashley Jones in March. For those who aren’t familiar with Ashley Jones, he is an S&C with more than 30 years of experience in the business. Hailing from the land of the long white cloud (New Zealand), he has worked in his home country, Australia, France, Scotland, and Japan. He has been primarily involved in Rugby Union and Rugby League, but has dabbled in basketball and some Olympic sports. All of this makes for an impressive CV. If you ever get the opportunity to learn from Ashley Jones, I’d strongly suggest you make the effort.
Among the many things that I took away from the seminar, one very simple idea really stood out for me. It was the motto or phrase that was printed on the cover page of the booklet we received.
“Inspired by science. Grounded in reality.”
This struck a chord with me. I feel like that maxim from Ashley Jones sums up the scientist-practitioner relationship succinctly, or at least what it should be. Science and real-world practice aren’t quite oil and water, but are more like olive oil and balsamic vinegar; they don’t really combine completely, but can mix well for a great taste. Witty food analogies aside, I’ve recently come across a new term in a tweet by Mladen Jovanovic (see below). Scientism, it would seem, can refer to “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).”
As an aside, I don’t advocate the harsh wording. All too often the health, fitness, and sports industries are plagued by professionals knocking each other for this or that theory which is deemed heretic. If someone referred to me as a lemming, it wouldn’t inspire me to be open to hearing their opinion. Although, I am keen to read the book promoted in the tweet.
Anyway, that's a topic for another time. Harsh words aside, it seems that this is further evidence of an unhappy relationship between science and practice. This is just adding to the earlier point, but the real nugget of this statement is how it can polarise opinions. People find themselves on either side of an argument. The battle lines get drawn. Us and them. Just think of all the hot topics that are dividing opinions around the world. Qualitative vs Quantitative. Vaccines. LCHF. Land expropriation. Rabada’s shoulder contact. The numerous applications of sandpaper. And more…
I believe that when topics become polarised, this leads to a “missing middle”: we can miss out on making a valuable impact through the effective combination of science and practice. I’ve never had a problem with the term “evidence-based practice”, in fact, I really like it. The key here is that your practice should be evidence-based and not evidence-biased. Practice should be based on evidence, and not a replication of or unwavering devotion to textbook information. I base my planning on LTAD and periodization, but I don’t imprint these principles verbatim. It’s almost impossible for me to have a pre-season hypertrophy phase for rugby. We are playing cricket, water polo, and basketball during this time. So do I throw these sports under the bus just to get in a proper pre-season for rugby? No, I’ve had to adapt my plan to try keep the boys performing with bat and ball on Saturdays. I was with the school rugby team at a festival in Johannesburg, and it would have been beneficial to travel to altitude several days before our first fixture to acclimatise[1,2]. Obviously, a logistical impossibility for most athletes or teams, and definitely off the table for us.
Generally, one has to try workout their evidence-based practice with the constraints of reality; time, equipment, facilities, the needs of players and coaches, etc. With science being the oil, and reality being the balsamic vinegar, your application and practices must be the bread (banting, if you like) dipped into the mixture (see Figure 1).
Sports scientists look at the whole picture, rather than just the extremes. Also keeping their practices based in science and grounded in reality (to paraphrase Ashley Jones).
Nassis, G. P. Effect of Altitude on Football Performance: Analysis of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Data. J. Strength Cond. Res. 27, 703–707 (2013).
Gore, C. J., McSharry, P. E., Hewitt, A. J. & Saunders, P. U. Preparation for football competition at moderate to high altitude. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 18, 85–95 (2008).
Burgess, D. J. The research doesn’t always apply: Practical solutions to evidence-based training-load monitoring in elite team sports. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform. 12, 136–141 (2017).