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What Do Sport Performance Professionals Do?

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Exercise Science With HKPropel Access by Duane V. Knudson.

By Broderick Dickerson, Drew Gonzalez, Scott Battley, Richard Kreider

Sport performance has emerged into an interdisciplinary field encompassing several exercise science–related subdisciplines. A sport performance professional is someone who concentrates their expertise on a specific focus or practice with respect to the aforementioned subdisciplines. Professional and intercollegiate sports, sport organizations, and private companies are embracing scientific approaches to enhance performance. Most competitive teams and programs employ several key sport performance professionals who work closely with the coaches and teams to prepare athletes for peak performance and succeed in competition. These specialists include strength and conditioning coaches, sport dietetics and nutritionists, athletic trainers, physical therapists, sports medicine and specialty physicians, biomechanists, sport scientists, and sport psychologists (figure 10.1) (Dijkstra et al., 2014).

Figure 10.1 Hierarchy of improving sport performance.
Figure 10.1 Hierarchy of improving sport performance.

Key Point

Sport performance is a multifaceted field that has several key subdisciplines: strength and conditioning, sport nutrition, sport science, and sport psychology and coaching.

The general hierarchy of improving sporting performance should be considered by all members of the sport performance team. It is essential to provide athletes and sport teams with the most appropriate training programs and dietary guidelines to accommodate training and performance needs and to minimize the risk of injury. Therefore, strength and conditioning and nutrition are the foundations of peak athletic performance. Strength and conditioning programs are implemented to improve skill and health-related fitness components in addition to the goal of improving an athlete’s athletic profile. Moreover, the ability to perform vigorous and repetitive muscular contractions is dependent on energy availability from energy-yielding nutrients consumed through the diet. While the sport performance team has many critical components, these foundational subdisciplines lay the groundwork on which athletic success is built.

Athletic training and sports medicine are essential in the rehabilitation process for injured athletes who will then return to training, which is conducted in ways that minimize the risk of reinjury. Sport scientists use analytics to fine-tune performance and provide feedback to the entire sport performance team regarding training adaptations, competition performance outcomes, and athlete recovery. With the advancements in technology, new databases and analytic devices and software can be used to provide real-time feedback to the sport performance staff and athletes to better assess sport-specific outcomes. Biomechanists can be consulted on appropriate movement technique that confers the best chances for success. Sport psychologists evaluate, educate, and train athletes to prepare them for competition in ways that bolster mental toughness, perceptual skills, and player attitudes. Improving the mentality and cognition of the athlete is critical considering the intense training schedules and requirements, as well as having to perform in high-pressure competition.

Athletic performance is the product of collaboration between various individuals that make up the entire sport performance team. Athletic administrators, facilities and equipment managers, travel and logistics personnel, videographers, researchers and academic support, and communications and marketing personnel all play a role in the functioning of the entire sports performance team (Smith and Smolianov, 2016). It is important to note that some sports might require more contribution from specific specialists to optimize athletic performance while minimizing the risk of injury. For example, technique-centric sports (e.g., gymnastics or golf) might use the expertise of biomechanics professionals and sport scientists to achieve success in competitive events. On the other hand, football teams might require more attention from athletic trainers and sports medicine personnel given the nature of the contact sport. Therefore, it is likely that most programs have developed an interdisciplinary approach that considers the nature of the sport and athlete and the best practices and strategies to ensure optimal performance outcomes.

Sport performance professionals are carving a new path that brings together researchers, practitioners, and analysts to continue expanding on the application of knowledge from exercise science, nutrition, and athletic performance fields. In March 2018, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) initiated an official scope of practice for the sport performance profession. This chapter will discuss details later regarding the new NSCA certification as well as other certifications that sport performance professionals can obtain. All of the sport performance subdisciplines have worked together to shape the sport performance profession in parallel to the NSCA mission, which has led to the development of its new certification.

Research within sport performance has focused on ergogenic aids, noninvasive wearable and field-based technologies, and various exercise and strength training protocols to improve performance and recovery outcomes. Given the growth in the importance of sport dietetics, along with the growth of sport nutrition organizations such as the International Society of Sports Nutrition since 2000, it appears that those in sport nutrition will continue to advance the knowledge base of supplementation practices and nutritional interventions that result in better on-the-field performance outcomes. Additionally, those in the strength and conditioning field are continuously expanding their base of knowledge with the NSCA’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which highlights the latest findings in the strength and conditioning field from some of the top exercise and sport scientists across the world. Lastly, it is important to note that the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) offers gold standard certifications in strength and conditioning for the athletic population. The CSCCa has certified Master Strength and Conditioning Coaches (MSCC) who serve as mentors to the future Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) personnel. All of these professional organizations and associations serve a critical role in the progression of the sport performance profession. While a large collaborative group of professionals already is working within their respective fields to optimize athletic performance outcomes, the future of sport performance will continue to foster an evidence-based and data-driven approach to advance the field as newer data analytics software and technology become available.

Additionally, the need for exercise scientists and researchers dedicated to helping the field grow through ethical and sound research will always be needed. Professionals and practitioners support the field by collaborating with researchers; using the findings of well-designed, peer-reviewed research studies; and applying the findings into practice. It is because of the scientists and professors conducting important research that the sport performance team can implement evidence-based nutritional and exercise practices to enhance athletic performance and competitive readiness while minimizing the risk of injury.

As sport evolves, so do the coaches and personnel working behind the scenes of athletic success. We tend to marvel at athletes breaking world records or having career-defining performances. A lot of what sport performance professionals and scientists do is not always noticed; however, their contribution to the profession has a tremendous effect in helping athletes and teams reach peak levels of performance. Professional sports and sporting events are gaining more popularity. Therefore, the need is growing for more scientists and specialists in the sport performance field.

More Excerpts From Introduction to Exercise Science With HKPropel Access