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One thing that has not been in short supply during the COVID-19 crisis is commentary on the future of sport and the industry behind it.
The absence of the superstars and teams we love has been keenly felt, whilst 2020’s scenes of empty stadia, arenas, courts and community sport facilities feel indelibly etched in the Australian psyche.
Yet we are beginning to see signs of renewal. There’s a return to training. The value of sport at all levels has been recognised throughout the government response to COVID-19, and now we look to a resumption of play, led by the NRL and the AFL.
For current and prospective sport science students, in amongst the relief that sport is returning, there’s some uncertainty and a very human tendency to look externally – towards factors that are out of their control.
However, Dr Lyndell Bruce, Course Director Master of Applied Sport Science at Deakin University and member of Deakin’s Centre for Sport Research, believes there are reasons for optimism.
‘Students coming into undergraduate programs in 2020 and over the next couple of years will be in a strong position, as we expect the sport industry to innovate, adapt and reinvent itself through this period,’ says Dr Bruce.
‘We believe the value of sport science will become more visible and important in the new world, so we’re encouraging our students to embrace the uncertainty and focus on what they can control.’
One of the things students can control most easily is their perspective, and Dr Bruce is keen to emphasise this starts during undergraduate degrees and continues through postgraduate study.
‘We take it as a given that our students leave with expertise across areas such as strength and conditioning, biomechanics, physiology and skill acquisition,’ explains Dr Bruce.
‘The evolution of the industry, its constituent sports and organisations will, of course, shape the nature of the opportunities available come graduation time, with ongoing fluctuations between specialist and generalist roles.’
‘However, the graduates with the best appreciation of the dimensions, layers and nuances of the broader sport industry are the ones who will stand out.’
‘That’s why it’s so important that students get full value from their industry placements and, where possible, take the time to make connections and learn about different areas such as marketing, commercial and community relations,’ she concludes.
'The evolution of the industry, its constituent sports and organisations will, of course, shape the nature of the opportunities available come graduation time, with ongoing fluctuations between specialist and generalist roles.'
Dr Lyndell Bruce,
Centre for Sport Research, Deakin University
This imperative is further emphasised by the rapidly changing nature of sport science roles in sports organisations.
For example, the modern sport scientist has much in common with the digital marketer – with a shared focus on influencing through insights.
‘In both roles, great communication can shape the approaches and decision-making of leaders, individuals and teams, resulting in improved performance,’ according to Dr Will Vickery, lecturer in Sport Coaching at Deakin University and member of Deakin’s Centre for Sport Research.
So it’s not enough to be highly data-literate, or even to be considered an expert by the coaching team at your club.
‘It’s essential to help coaches understand systems and data, and work together to find the those clichéd one-percenters,’ says Dr Vickery.
‘Your approach to informing, educating and upskilling those around you will be critical to your success as a sport scientist.’
Where Dr Vickery and Dr Bruce’s worlds collide is best described as athlete-centred coaching. It’s an holistic approach that collects and interprets mountains of data, but which still requires a very human approach.
In Australia’s footy codes, every blade of grass covered is recorded. Every kilogram lifted and every kick completed. Athletes even submit information that helps coaches to track their wellbeing.
‘The athlete-centred approach is something that we’d encourage all our students to adopt while they’re with us at Deakin and work hard at as they progress in their careers,’ says Dr Vickery.
‘We need to be curious about athlete data – interrogate it, learn from it, and use it to personalise programs – but always put the person before the athlete. Encourage openness, vulnerability, mistakes and failures. It’s essential to create an environment in which everyone feels safe.’
In the absence of live action, many sports fans have been engrossed in The Last Dance, and its coaching lessons apply equally to athletes and aspiring sport scientists.
The best coaches guide rather than direct. They see us as people first. They ask us hard questions, challenge our motivations and provide great feedback.
Ultimately though, the onus is on us to take charge of how we think, learn and live. That’s how we shape our own futures, especially in times of uncertainty.
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