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The innovation process in sport science

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

By Lorena Torres Ronda, PhD

Innovation is associated with technology, but technology is only a form of innovation. Innovation can be defined as the introduction of something new, an idea or behavior in the form of a technology, product, service, structure, system, or process (10). Technology, and the future of technology innovation, must yield scientific knowledge for practical purposes, and the artifacts, devices, equipment, or materials directed to this end should address performance gaps to accomplish specific tasks or to solve problems.

Innovation and the Combination of Knowledge

Innovative technological developments in sport require a combination of knowledge from different disciplines and a collaborative effort (also known as cross-disciplinary research) from specialists, sport scientists, engineering, and medical and materials sciences (3). As Arthur and Polak (1a) assert, the process of invention is almost entirely achieved by combining existing technologies, since “We find that the combination of technologies has indeed been the major driver of modern invention, reflected in an invariant introduction of new combinations of technologies engendered by patented invention.” These phenomena reinforce the need for multidisciplinary support from and interaction between the different professionals involved in solving performance-based problems.

Innovation Process Stages

The innovation process follows a series of stages to either generate a new innovation, such as a new product or process to solve a problem, or adopt an existing innovation (carry out activities to further the use of the existing innovation). The stages are as follows (see figure 7.1; 10):

  1. Awareness. Recognize a need and identify a gap in knowledge or performance. A potential mistake in this phase is determining the solution before identifying the performance problem.
  2. Interests (and evaluation). Conduct research to develop knowledge bases and create or adopt solutions; identify suitable innovations (interest versus influence).
  3. Trial. Investigate the product. The trial period is when one investigates the product in order to be able to answer several questions: Is there a potential competitive advantage to using this product for athlete development or organizational performance or both? Is it practical? Is the cost:benefit relationship a positive one? If the answers to this chain of questions are positive, one can move to the next stage.
  4. Adoption. Propose some innovations for adoption; provide justifications for decisions.

Figure 7.1 Stages of the innovation process.
Figure 7.1 Stages of the innovation process.

The four stages of the innovation process are equally important. However, probably too often not enough attention is paid to the first steps; the implementation process is often introduced based on the last step (adoption). It is paramount to have a systematic process of asking questions, comparing answers, and making informed decisions about what to do next to improve conditions and performance. A good practice is to have a system in which the key stakeholders (i.e., multidisciplinary perspective) can assess the needs and wants (i.e., interest versus influence) of the organization. For both short- and long-term goals, it can be worthwhile to establish an organizational strategy to analyze sport trends, as well as trends in technology.

Four categories are included in an assessment of innovation needs (see figure 7.2; 10):

  1. Normative need. This is defined by the experts in a particular field and refers to the standard or criterion against which quantity or quality of a situation or condition is measured. For example, if a whole league has a certain technology for the analysis of a game, having this technology is a normative need, since not having it could be a competitive disadvantage.
  2. Perceived need. This is defined by those experiencing the need, who can be from different departments or can be professionals or specialists involved in the performance process. It refers to what they think or feel about the need. What has to be clear at this point is whether a need is perceived after identifying a gap in knowledge or performance (or both) or whether it is perceived as a need because others are implementing that particular technology.
  3. Expressed need. This is defined by those who offer the services and refers to addressing a need.
  4. Relative need. This refers to the gap between the services existing in one group and those in similar groups.

Figure 7.2 Needs assessment.
Figure 7.2 Needs assessment.

The aspect to highlight when analyzing needs is to be clear about what these needs are (perceived need), regardless of what others may be doing to solve theirs (relative need). To do this, having deep knowledge of the environment and the specific context, as well as the problems that need to be solved, will be vital.

More Excerpts From NSCA's Essentials of Sport Science