Sports Science: a practitioner’s perspective

This week I sat down with Jasmine Campbell (@CampbellJas) formerly of Guru Performance (@GuruPerformance) now flying solo at jasminecampbell.com, and practicing in and around Oxford. Jasmine is undergoing BASES supervised experience, is certified with the ISSN, ISAK accredited and SENr registered. Jasmine and I have known each other for a few years, having met at a BASES Workshop hosted by British Cycling. We speak regularly, discussing what we’re both up to in and out of the lab, and we are currently preparing a manuscript together looking at eating behaviours in scholarly athletes. Below is a written précis of our chat, which you can download to listen to by clicking here.

What does sports science mean to you personally? and why might it be useful to others?

Quite a lot. I’ve been on a very focused career path since I started my undergraduate degree in sport science, which is almost 7years ago now. Focused as in I know I wanted to work in sport science but not necessarily in what capacity as I’ve tried to keep myself open to opportunities. All disciplines interest me and it is important to understand how they all contribute to performance but I best understand and most enjoy physiology and nutrition. 

For me sport science has given me the chance to really push myself. I’ve never been particularly academic and because of this alone, it rarely lets me be in my comfort zone. There are always new challenges and chances to continuously develop myself. I will be a student forever as research and technology are constantly progressing and this will have an impact in how I will contribute to a support team and the athlete/s. 

In terms of my personal life, it’s taught me how to be healthier when it comes to eating and exercise. Sounds simple but what you think is healthy might not be or can be healthier and you can train smarter. I believe it sometimes rubs off on those closest to me too, so it’s nice to know that you can help your family and friends lead healthier lives. I guess to me it’s a hobby, personal area of interest, my career and sometimes it’s even my creative outlet! That’s what it means to me personally but to coaches and athletes, Sport Science is the application of scientific principles to both exercise and sport and is essential to improving performance. Exercise science and performance nutrition doesn’t have to be about the most cutting edge findings that help you get the >1% gains. It can be simple, small interventions or changes that has a large affect on both an athlete or the average person’s well being and health. 

Dr Graeme Close, Liverpool John Moores: 1st Do No Harm, 2nd Improve Health, 3rd Improve Performance. 

After hearing Dr Close say this in lecturer it’s become part of my practise. Obviously do no harm, so perhaps it’s best not to act on a research finding (you might have taken out of context) as it might actually cause more bad than good! For a general example, a during race feeding strategy that is said to improve performance that you haven’t practiced with the athlete might actually causes them gastrointestinal distress on race day, causing them to not even finish the race. Just because someone is an athlete and looks healthy doesn’t mean they are healthy so don’t underestimate the ability you have at improving someone’s health, which will subsequently improve their performance more than likely – two birds, one stone! 

I’m really interested in the topic of measuring performance or the affects of an intervention has had. There is a psychological effect as well as considering the validity, reliability, the resources available. As a vague example you know you are getting your body composition assessed in 3weeks opposed to 2months are you more likely to stick to your nutritionist’s and strength and conditioning coach’s recommendations or those whole 3weeks opposed to cramming it all in the last 2weeks before being tested. It might be easier, more reliable and best practice to measure in 8weeks but if it might work better for that person to give them a shorter time period. 

 

Has a scientific approach ever been a deterrent? Intrusive?

Especially where I work in the Human Performance Lab (Guru Performance Ltd, London), I feel as if people want to be ‘in shape’ at the point of testing. They are embarrassed to attend not being in what they define ‘good shape’ and no one wants to be told they can do better when they know they can already. This can be a big deterrent for people but what a scientific approach can do is inform the support personal or athlete how to train and eat in a smarter way. Even if what you’re doing is making a difference you could do it in a more time efficient way that is specific to you. Everybody is different and we see great differences between athletes that appear very similar! If you are already doing very well, performance testing can highlight your hidden weaknesses and identify small changes that need to be made. 

 

What do you most value in sports science? in a sports scientist?

I think you need both a sport science and a practitioner to be (best you can in different scenarios) adaptable, creative and always looking to improve. Probably an element of competitiveness is required and at least you understand what it means to others as sport is a competition but see it most important to better yourself rather than comparing yourself to your peers. How you go about approaching a subject, how you conduct yourself and how you communicate can have a huge impact on gaining buy in from a coach, athlete, parent or fellow support personnel. I’m trying to reflect as often as I can after even just short conversations or correspondence to see if how almost successful was the delivery in information or how the conversation might have been perceived by the other party. 

An interesting discussion I had in a workshop recently was about how you conduct yourself as a practitioner. We all know what best practice is and we all know what illegal practice is. So why don’t we always maintain best practice? We normally operate in ‘Normal Practice’ due to restraints on resources and time. I think recognising where and why your practise falls in this scale is important in different scenarios. 

Dr Zoe Knowles, Liverpool John Moores & BASES: Best Practice – Good Practice – Normal Practice – Poor Practice – Illegal Practice 

Another valuable ability of sport science is as education and as a sport scientist being able to educate. Equip an athlete with the skills and knowledge required for them to support themselves and make the informed decisions. 

How can other’s experiences and expertise in sports science better serve you?

Building a network of peers and mentors (Laurent Bannock, Dr Martyn Morris, Dr Andy Kirkland) has really helped me. If I don’t know something or I’m not sure, I have others who I can ask for their opinion as it might be something they have dealt with before, it’s their area of expertise or they are prepared to support me alongside it. Sometimes you get inspiration or encouragement from others to help you try something new. 

 

Where next for sports science? for you?

I want to further develop my practise in performance nutrition and gain accreditation with the British Association of Sport & Exercise Science (BASES), where I am working at Guru Performance Ltd for the time being. If any further education opportunities arise then I’ll probably take advantage of those. 

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