At the highest levels of sport, success is defined in split seconds of time or millimetres in distance. Sport science seeks to give athletes every possible advantage, to ensure they cross the line first or their dive is executed perfectly. The three key areas of sport science are:

  • exercise physiology
  • sport psychology
  • biomechanics of sports techniques

Exercise physiology

Exercise physiology looks at how the systems of the body, such as the cardiovascular system, function, and the effect training has on them. It includes testing for strength, speed and cardiovascular fitness. Coaches use these lab-based tests to measure the progress of their athletes and the effectiveness of their training programmes.

Jess Varnish [Image: Addypope under CC-BY-NC-SA licence] Creative commons image Credit: Addypope via Flickr
Aerodynamic cyclist: Jess Varnish [Image: Addypope under CC-BY-NC-SA licence]

Sport psychology

Athletes need mental toughness to cope with the pressure and demands of the competitive situations they find themselves in. Sport psychology is about developing mental skills in order to achieve this.

Athletes will develop relaxation skills to deal with the stress and anxiety of performance, goal setting techniques to focus their motivation, visualisation skills to help them mentally prepare for performance and develop their self confidence. They may also be taught methods to control their mental state and help deal with any changes that may occur during competition (such as when they’re losing or feel they’re becoming too aggressive).

Biomechanics of sports techniques

Biomechanics looks at the effect of forces: on the body, within the body, and on equipment used during sport. We can use forces to our advantage and improve performance, for example by applying spin onto a tennis ball. Or we can minimise the effects of forces, for example by producing an efficient running style or designing cycling clothing to minimise the effects of drag. Making technique as efficient as possible can improve performance and will help to minimise injury.

Sport science can contribute to the success of an athlete or team in many other areas.

Sports medicine

Sports medicine, and its associated professions of physiotherapy and sports massage, works to prevent an athlete becoming injured and to provide them with the best rehabilitative techniques.

Nutrition

Nutrition, in terms of feeding athletes the best fuels to perform and recover, has a key role to play. Athletes need to know what to consume before and after training as well as before, during and after competition. Nutritionists will also advise competitors on hydration and issues specific to certain sports, such as ‘making weight’ in judo or boxing.

Strength and conditioning

Training for strength and conditioning is vital in the physical and physiological development of athletes to develop their fitness for elite performance. This conditioning will include:

  • use of free weights and other methods of resistance
  • plyometric training, (which is explosive jumping or throwing)
  • agility and quickness training
  • core conditioning
  • endurance training (such as interval training and distance work)

Sport science is a multidisciplinary subject and only by considering all its components can we be sure we are maximising the chances of success for our athletes competing in the Olympic Games.

Further reading

English Institute of Sport