Sports Science Q&A’s with Dr.Davidson – Volume 1

As we alluded to last post (read that first), we’ve contracted with Dr./Coach Patrick Davidson to be our first ever content partner here at www.samleahey.com. This is an exclusive relationship as the new home of Patrick Davidson is now here. This is the first of many great pieces to come in addition to our usual content. You can receive free Patrick Davidson updates HERE. This inaugural post is meant to be very general in nature as the subject is inherently vast. In future posts we'll delve deeper and deeper into the specifics of training and science but for now let's keep it big picture.
Sports Science Introduction
     According to Wikipedia“Sport Science is a discipline that studies the application of scientific principles and techniques with the aim of improving sporting performance. The study of Sport Science traditionally incorporates areas of physiology, psychology, motor control and biomechanics but also includes other topics such as nutrition and diet, sports technology, anthropometry, kinanthropometry, and performance analysis. Sport scientists and performance consultants are growing in demand and employment numbers, with the ever-increasing focus within the sporting world on achieving the best results possible. Through the study of science and sport, researchers have developed a greater understanding on how the human body reacts to exercise, training, different environments and many other stimuli.”
     A simple research database search for the phrase “sports science” yields an increasing number of indexed studies each year. Pubmed only has 53 studies indexed with “sports science” in the title of the article. Thus, on a relative level sports science is experiencing exponential growth but on an absolute level we are still less appreciated than other scientific disciplines like medicine. This is expected. The term “evidence-based coaching” is coming intro fruition more these days for a number reasons including trainers/coaches being more educated, the push for more objective results and mitigation of perfunctory natured coaches/trainers, desires for standardization, and a host of other debatable reasons.
Without further ado, let’s get some “big picture” thoughts from Dr.Davidson on sports science issues, paradigms, and the practicality of science as it relates to training.
SamLeahey.com: Patrick Davidson Strongman Carry
Question#1: What is sports science to you?
Answer#1: All science is based on the attempt to observe, measure, and explain the way that the universe works. Modern science is a step-wise process that operates under the premises of the empirical method. The empirical method is a standardized, systematic approach to observing and measuring phenomena that is rooted in logic. Science allows for examination of phenomena under the auspices of quantitative and qualitative methods. Ultimately all scientific inquiry involves a blending of quantitative and qualitative aspects. This blending of quantitative and qualitative techniques is what allows us to make objective measurements and then to be able to judge the value of what our measurements represent. Sports science is a specific branch that examines factors related to sports performance. Sports are competitive physical games where the success of participants is dependent upon movement qualities, fitness, and specific skills. Therefore, the attempt to measure, judge, and explain movement qualities, fitness, and skill are the primary domains of sports science.
The ability of the sports scientist to explain the factors related to their domain is dependent upon utilizing the best possible tests, instruments for measurement, a sufficient data base of scores from subjects who have been tested, statistical techniques, and a keen analysis of the underlying meaning of the collected results. Perhaps the most difficult, yet important step in the process just described is the ability to provide meaning to the collected data. Scientific evaluation is based on comparing data to reference perspectives. Reference perspectives are divided into two domains, normative and criterion. In essence, the ability to judge the merit of a quantifiable test result is dependent upon comparing the score to previous scores. This ability to only be able to judge the worthiness of a score by comparing it to previous scores is ultimately what provides the boundary to the scientific method.
Sports science ultimately has to create a complete taxonomy of movement qualities, fitness components, and skills associated with specific sports. All sciences must begin by first listing all of the components that make up its domain. Within the world of resistance training, the taxonomy that we currently have includes the division of movements into such categories as hip dominant, knee dominant, pushing, pulling, etc. from a movement perspective, and the division of force production into limit strength, speed, speed-strength, isometric strength, strength-endurance, etc. Ultimately, we need to continue working on creating as thorough a taxonomy for all movement possibilities, all fitness sub-types, and all sports skills in order to move on to being able to measure, collect a body of scores, and finally create reference perspectives for evaluative purposes.
Sports science is the pursuit of truth as it relates to the ability to demonstrate movement, fitness, and skill. This pursuit will continue to elucidate new findings that may be applicable to athletes from different disciplines. Ultimately the sports science and performance community must continue to identify, measure, evaluate, and dispense the findings relative to our field to drive our collective best practices to new levels.
Q#2: Where is the disconnect between sports scientists and sports performance coaches/trainers? Is it universal?
A#2: This is a question that opens up many avenues of conversation. What comes to mind first regarding the topic of the disconnect between the sports scientists and the sports performance coaches/trainers is that many coaches and trainers believe that the majority of the scientific studies that are taking place in our field have nothing to do with the types of modern training practices being used with athletes. Also, scientific studies are based on a reductionist methodology where one movement quality, fitness component, or skill is isolated and measured on its own. Most coaches and trainers view the training process as an entity where the summation of all training components leads to a result that is different from an isolative strategy. Third, the breadth of scope of published studies in the field is so wide that often time’s coaches may be unsure of where to look to find scientific findings that may be of value to them. The number of published studies grows at such an incredible rate that the ability to keep up to date with everything that is happening in the field is impossible. Trying to identify new and useful information that can be incorporated into a coaches’ current training philosophy can be a very confusing and frustrating process. Ultimately, the answer to whether this disconnect is universal is both yes and no. Every coach will continue to scoff at certain research titles, and think to themselves that the researchers are out of touch, and at other times coaches will come across research findings that provide an eye opening experience.
          One of the reasons that there is a divide between the research community and the coaching/training community is because of the incentives for researchers and the goals of the sources of funding. The “publish or perish” paradigm which exists at research institutions compels professors to seek publication in journals that showcase reoccurring themes and topics. The repetitive themes in these high-impact journals  are those that receive the most external funding from prominent agencies, such as the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation. The topics that are most heavily funded by these agencies are those related to disease prevention. Previous research has demonstrated that cardiovascular concerns are the primary determinants of health related fitness. While muscular performance and hypertrophy/atrophy are heavily involved with health, the majority of funding and research has been aimed at cardiovascular fitness and disease. Thus, while professors perform agency-funded studies focused on preventative medicine and rise the ranks of the research realm and academia, there is a dearth of literature for the science-minded performance enhancement specialist
          The declining health of our nation, the obesity epidemic, and the fact that the youngest generation is predicted to be the first generation to not have a longer lifespan than their parents in recorded history are the primary driving factors that have shaped the direction of research within the exercise and sport sciences community. In the earlier days of exercise science, the primary direction that researchers took was to measure fitness qualities and, ultimately, determine the best ways to improve fitness. Eventually, exercise science transitioned disease prevention, treatment, and possible reversal. The current state of exercise and sport science is that the majority of research focuses on very narrow, isolative analysis of factors related to disease. There is a lack of researchers who are measuring phenomena related purely to sports performance in an integrative, holistic manner. This is largely due to the direction of funding, belief that disease prevention is more important than movement quality, fitness, and skill development, and the current trend of the declining health of the nation.
          There are certainly a lot of examples of coaches who have used the findings from researchers such as McGill and Wolfe in recent times to reshape the types of exercises that we do and the way that we coach athletes to perform those exercises effectively, but the list of researchers who are being held in high regard by sports performance coaches/trainers is a short one.
Q#3: What is the role of sports science in our jobs as coaches and trainers?
A#3: Sports performance coaches and trainers are seeking to improve the way athletes move, reduce the likelihood that the athlete will be injured in the sport, improve the working effect of the muscular performance associated with sporting movements, and increase the length of the athlete’s career. The role of sports science in this process is to try to identify what methods accomplish these goals the best. To identify the best methods, scientists need to define all of the contributing variables, measure these variables, attempt to manipulate these variables with training strategies, recovery strategies, nutritional strategies, etc., and then compare the efficacy of each manipulative strategy to one another.
          The training, recovery, and nutritional strategies used by coaches and trainers to improve sports performance of the athletes they work with are based on a combination of the traditional methods of the sport, the intuition of the coach, and findings from scientific based sources. Ultimately coaches develop a philosophy that helps the coach formulate the overall testing and training framework for the athlete(s) whom they coach. This framework represents the course of action that the coach believes will allow the athlete to reach the greatest possible levels of achievement in sports performance.
          Communication between the coaching/training side and the research side of the sports performance community is an extremely important component in ensuring the continuation of progress in sports. This is something that is lacking in our country. Researchers do not have access to high level athletes for testing and experimentation, and coaches and researchers often times do not have open dialogue with one another. Much could be learned and benefitted for both sides if better interaction was taking place. A good place for this process to start would be to have more researchers get out of the lab and get into the field/into the trenches, and to have more coaches read more from scientific texts and primary sources rather than purely from blogs, newsletters, and websites. When people delve into areas where they are not as knowledgeable, comfortable, and experienced the opportunity for real learning and growth is present.
Q#4: How does a coach/trainer integrate sports science into making athletes better at their event/sport?
A#4: Coaches and trainers should be trying to help their athletes be the best that they possibly can. The sporting world is a highly competitive place. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing comes down to very small differences in fitness, skill, techniques, tactics, or other factors. Sometimes the sporting world can be changed dramatically by innovation in any of these areas. Take for instance the sport of high jumping, which was dramatically changed by the Fosbury Flop, which was a technical change in the way athletes performed the sporting move. Take for instance the sport of swimming, which was dramatically changed by the innovations in suit design. The new suits completely changed the buoyancy of the athlete and provided core stability for the athlete. The way that the athletes swam and trained changed for a period of time when there was very little regulation on suits. These examples show that tremendous change can occur in a sport due to innovation. Often times you do not know where breakthroughs are going to come from. 
          Coaches who refuse to look to new ideas, practices, and techniques may find that they are suddenly outdated in their sport. If a revolutionary new strategy comes into a sport, coaches who are not open minded and open to change may fail to incorporate something that is clearly better than the old way of doing something. This new method may come from the scientific community. This new method may come from anywhere. The point is that things can change dramatically and they can change quickly. Sometimes the thing that can completely change a sport comes from scientific findings. A coach can be the revolutionary of their sport/discipline if they discover something in the science that they can utilize in the training of their athletes. Conversely, a coach can quickly find himself/herself in the unemployment line if he/she is too stubborn to acknowledge the arrival of the next big thing.
          Now, how can a coach utilize scientific findings to improve the performance of their athlete(s)? First off, coaches need to be tireless readers and lifelong learners. The more you read and the more you learn, the greater your capacity to integrate new knowledge into your already existing repertoire. Second, coaches need to be creative in how to apply scientific findings. It is one thing for a coach to read something like Myers’, Anatomy Trains. It is another thing entirely to take the knowledge from Anatomy Trains and use it to create new stretches and exercises that work entire fascial lines and slings as a unit. The application of knowledge is the highest level of truly understanding something. In the world of sports, the application may be all that really matters. Being smarter and better educated is an advantage in sports.
Q#5: Generally speaking do you think of yourself as a scientist, coach, or both? Why? Do you think a line of demarcation is even necessary? Why or why not?
A#5: I view myself as both a scientist and a coach. I also view myself as an athlete still. I am as competitive a person as you will ever meet. I want to be the best at everything I decide to do. I want to contribute to the sports science world through writing, lectures, research, and collaborative efforts. I want to coach my athletes to national and world championships. I want to win the national and world championships.
          Of all these goals that I have just listed, the one that I want to accomplish the most is that I personally want to win the national and world championships in the sport of strongman. I think the thing that has always driven me harder than anything else has been the desire to excel in the sports that I participate in. I have always been willing to train as hard as I possibly can. I have always been willing to eat as much or as little as I have to in order to be at the optimal weight to win. I have always been willing to acknowledge and then work at my weaknesses in order to improve my performance as much as I possibly can. I have always been coachable and willing to listen to people. Now that I coach myself, I have to be willing to keep my eyes and ears open to all possible sources that could help me improve my performance. I think that I will always have to be competitive in something from an athletics standpoint. The desire to win has always driven me to try to learn from all possible places, because I truly don’t know where the next big thing is going to come from.
          As a coach, I try to examine the sport that my athletes are competing in with a methodical and detailed approach. I also try to evaluate the movement quality and capacities of each athlete so that the results I obtain from them direct the program design for them. I target the weak links of the athlete from their movement quality evaluation and focus my corrective approach at their weakest link. I select fitness exercises for the athletes to perform that I identify as being safe patterns for them based on their movement quality evaluation. I program so that all realms of the strength to speed continuum are trained. I program so that all means: general, general-specific, and specific can receive attention in appropriate volumes at appropriate times.
          As a researcher, my primary area of interest is in the area of corrective approaches for over-powered, extremely tight athletes. This is probably because I have been an over-powered, extremely tight athlete for decades. The majority of the young male athletes that I work with in the sport of strongman also fall into this category as well. I ultimately want to discover the best methods for trying to reduce hypertonicity in the patterns that these athletes tend to display.
          Do I believe that there is a line of demarcation that exists between my role as a coach and my role as a scientist? Not really. I view the process of successful coaching as a scientific endeavor. I make observations, formulate hypotheses, collect testing data, determine a training plan based on the data, and then reevaluate as often as possible. In the research world, I look at things that are directly related to the issues that I face in coaching. I seek out knowledge that I believe will make me a better coach. The two roles feed each other synergistically.
NOTE TO READERS: Any questions, comments, or conerns can be posted below. You can also find Volume 2 of this Sports Science Series HERE!

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  1. RRick Kaselj says:

    Great discussion on Sports Science. This is a well-researched article, got tons of information to make us understand more what sports science is and its importance to the fitness business. Good job Sam.
    I am looking forward to reading your blogs.
    Rick Kaselj
    <a href="http://ExercisesForInjuries.com">Exercises For Injuries</a>

  2. […] Sports Science Q&A’s with Dr. Davidson- Volume 1- Sam Leahey […]

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