Communication: A missing module?
The issue of communication and the transition of scientific ideas into practical applications within sport has become a recent area of interest for me. This has partially been stimulated by listening to the Pacey Performance Podcast series where coaches and leading sports scientists from across the globe are interviewed to gain insight into their professional roles and responsibilities. When you listen to how these individuals view their function within their environments, it becomes apparent that relationships are of paramount importance if they are to prove themselves to be effective practitioners. The establishment of trust between athlete and support staff is often considered when all things are equal, more important than the volume of scientific knowledge that you have. Clear insights into how new training practices will enhance performance need to be provided before coaches or athletes have the confidence to incorporate them into their training schedule.
The basis of a relationship is communication and forms the way that people share ideas and viewpoints. Good communication is a two-way process that can establish trust, boost morale, and foster positive relationships. It is comprised of open conversation with positive overtones where both parties are happy with the final outcome. In order to achieve these ideal conditions, it is important to speak in a way that embraces a specific environment, uses plain language to convey ideas that will encourage the others to actively absorb what is being said, reflect on it, and where relevant, offer ideas in return.
“Speak in such a way that others love to listen to you.
Listen in such a way that others love to speak to you.” – ANONYMOUS
There is a vast array of approaches to communication and each have their merits and flaws. To gain an understanding of what methods will produce positive responses from the ‘audience’, respect must be given to language and cultural differences, especially when considering individuals from different countries and/or different academic backgrounds. By being able to adapt and effectively communicate ideas to a variety of people it will show that you understand your area of interest and also that you are interested in the people around you.
The athletes “don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
It is generally accepted that the main objective of science is to create new knowledge by explaining an environment as accurately as possible. The ‘new’ knowledge is disseminated through the scientific community where it is continually questioned and refined. The field of Sports Science is then scientifically describing the sporting environment where athletic performance can be explained and potentially predicted. In an ideal setting the scientific findings are then effectively communicated back into the sporting environment and performance modified to a more desired outcome. However, a major stumbling block to this process acknowledged by both scientists and coaches, has been (and is to date) the effectiveness of the communication between the research and practice environments[5-8].
A starting point to a balanced understanding of these barriers would be to determine what both groups, coaches and scientists, consider Sports Science research to be and what the obstacles to effective communication are. Sport Coaching is very applied and performances of individual athletes (or team) in a multidisciplinary environment are of key importance, while in scientific research the focus is on the performance of numerous athletes within a single environment. The outputs of the fields can also be very different with coaches concentrating on improving performance, with individuals from a whole variety of different educational backgrounds. Researchers on the other hand, will all have scientific training and can direct their efforts to either generating greater knowledge of the sporting environment, or towards answering questions that will, directly or indirectly, influence athletic potential[5,7]. This very limited comparison illustrates that there are important overlaps between the two disciplines but that there are nuances that need to be embraced for knowledge exchange to be effective.
With these obvious disparities how can science be used to assist sporting performance? If science is used as a tool to help understand sports environments rather than as a medium for scientific investigation, then a more question-based approach to athlete preparation can develop. The WHY of using certain equipment, testing procedures or training methods etc. can be addressed. Training and preparation can become more streamlined, specific, relevant, flexible, and safer to increase athletic output in all physical, technical, tactical and psychological elements.
It is important to understand that while humans are competing in sport, there will always be variability in performances. Which if we are honest is one of the fundamental reasons why we are interested in the 'contest' between athletes or teams. The application of science will to a great extent reduce trial and error by tracking competition and training data to establish when performances show improvements (or decrements) and whether these changes can be attributed to anything within the preparation or performance schedule. This doesn't however, imply that monitoring or testing should be conducted for the sake of collecting data. This approach can show athletes and coaches a limited understanding of the 'environment' in which you are operating and be detrimental to athlete - support team relationships.
In summary, by creating environments where open, positive discussions that embrace the needs and backgrounds of both coach and scientist is a start to better integration of scientific tools into sport. Let me leave you with this question; “how do we develop opportunities that will promote the sharing of information and ideas to coaches that have had limited exposure to sports science?”
Pacey, R. Pacey Performance Podcast. http://www.strengthofscience.com. Available at: https://www.strengthofscience.com/pacey-performance-podcast/ [Accessed May 24, 2018].
Hope Speak (2014). Why is communication important to human life? Available at: https://www.hopespeak.com/blog/why-is-communication-important-to-human-life-2/ (Accessed May 28 2018)
Pacey, R. (2018). Performance Podcast #179 – Devan McConnell & Justin Roethlingshoefer. Available at: https://www.strengthofscience.com/pacey-performance-podcast/pacey-performance-podcast-179-devan-mcconnell-justin-roethlingshoefer/ (Accessed May 28 2018).
Purtill, R. (1970). The Purpose of Science. Philosophy of Science. Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 301-306.
Bishop, D., Burnett, A., Farrow, D., Gabbett, T. & Newton, R. (2006). Sports-Science Roundtable: Does Sports-Science Research Influence Practice? International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. Vol 6, Issue 2, pp295–300.
Reade, I., Rodgers, W. & Hall N. (2008). Knowledge Transfer: How do High Performance Coaches Access the Knowledge of Sports Scientists? International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. Vol 3, Issue 3, pp319-334.
Williams, J.S. & Kendall, L. (2007). Perceptions of elite coaches and sports scientists of the research needs for elite coaching practice. Journal of Sports Science. Vol 25, Issue 14, pp1577-1586.
Williams, J.H. (2011). Use of Social Media to Communicate Sport Science Research. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. Vol 6, Issue 2, pp295–300.