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A holistic approach to sport performance

This is an excerpt from NSCA's Essentials of Sport Science by NSCA -National Strength & Conditioning Association,Duncan N. French & Lorena Torres-Ronda.

By Duncan N. French, PhD

Supporting athletes to maximize their performance has not always been interdisciplinary. Indeed, as the performance sciences (e.g., physiology, medical services, strength and conditioning, dietetics) have evolved over roughly the past century, technical disciplines have matured at different rates (i.e., the world’s first sports medicine establishment took shape in the early 1900s, whereas strength and conditioning coaching became popular only in the late 1960s), and as a consequence the foresight to integrate and collaborate has not always been apparent. In addition, a degree of professional bias, ego, lack of willingness to interact, or the absence of respect for other professions, as well as technical disciplines that operate independently from one another (i.e., siloed), have been the norm for many years. Traditionally, a linear continuum from the start of a performance-based problem to the end point (e.g., return to play following injury, or the improvement in body composition) was thought of as a singular approach to managing a strategic process within the confines of a single technical discipline (i.e., medical management of return to play, or nutrition-only interventions to improve body composition). The consequence of this is that technical areas end up working on the same performance issues simultaneously, in a parallel fashion, independent of one another. Looking for a single cause or approach is indeed common, largely due to professional biases, and it is perhaps considered a simplification that seems necessary within the fast-paced environment of sport (16). However, this often misses the importance of the confluence of several factors or circumstances that might best influence a performance outcome (e.g., medical services engaging with psychologists during the management of a rehabilitation, or nutritionists, physiologists, and strength and conditioning coaches all collaborating to improve an athlete’s body composition). As a result, the implementation of discipline-specific silos may in fact create greater problems, and certainly presents the risk of less than optimal performance impact (see figure 30.1). Instead, thinking in more holistic multifactorial terms gives a significantly different perspective, which, while potentially more complex initially, likely poses a wider range of possible solutions both in the intermediate and in the longer term (16).