Sport Science Research

AIS / SMA Symposium 2016: ‘Silent Contributors to Illness, Injury, and Performance’ (Day 1)

The 2016 Australian Institute of Sport / Sports Medicine Australia Symposium took place on March 18 & 19, exploring the theme of ‘Silent Contributors to Illness, Injury, and Performance’. Given the calibre of presenters in attendance, I’ve been looking forward to this event for some time and I can safely say that the wait has been worth it!

Here are my sketchnotes from Day 1, including highlights from presentations by:

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“Predictive modelling: Pitfalls and possibilities” (Video)

I had quite a few people interested in my recent presentation on “Predictive modelling: Pitfalls and possibilities”, delivered at the 2014 Applied Physiology Conference for the National Institute Network. So…I decided to record a version of it for those who weren’t able to attend 🙂

There’s no such thing as a perfect prediction model (Sketchnotes)

The modern world is increasingly enamoured by the possibilities of big data and sophisticated analytics. In sport, the application of data analytics continues to rise rapidly as measurement technologies and analysis platforms become more advanced yet accessible. Indeed, a prevailing view is that if you’re not using data analytics to inform decision making at every level of a sporting organisation, then you are falling behind:

 

So how close are we to the holy grail of being able to accurately predict performance, illness, injury?

I’d argue that we are a long way off. Here’s why: attempting to forecast future events is not a new endeavour. Take meteorology, for example. We have accurate and reliable measures of weather patterns collected daily for years and even decades, yet the weather forecasts we see on the news every night rarely extend beyond 7 days. Predictions of minimum and maximum temperatures have a high degree of accuracy – the MetOffice (United Kingdom) achieves ~85% and 90% accuracy for these predictions, respectively – but there remains a degree of error. Predictions of rain are less accurate, and predictions of uncommon events such as earthquakes are considerably less accurate again.

In sport, we face a whole host of challenges, chief among them being the quality of our measures, the depth (or lack thereof) of historical data using consistent measures, and the difficulty of developing models to explain highly variable events that may not occur frequently.

Jacquie Tran - "There's No Such Thing As A Perfect Model" (Sketchnotes)

Click to view full size

But as always, challenges present opportunities. Improvements in any one of these areas brings us closer to that proverbial holy grail.

Do you work in sports analytics as a researcher or applied scientist? What are your thoughts about our capacity to predict athlete outcomes now and in the near future?

Ansel Adams: Canyon edge, low horizon, clouded sky, "Grand Canyon National Park," Arizona., 1933 - 1942

“The useless days will add up to something”

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
“Dear Sugar, The Rumpus Advice Column #64: Tiny Beautiful Things”

Science is about the eternal pursuit for the truth. For centuries, we have been attempting to explain what we witness and experience in the natural world. We observe and experiment to advance our collective knowledge and figure out the directions in which we should devote our future efforts. But we do so knowing that we only ever approximate the truth. Underlying the best efforts of science: the belief that what we know is subject to change with sufficiently convincing evidence.

Research demands that we create new knowledge. We are asked to stand at the edge of the known world, look behind in appreciation of all that has gone before, then leap forth into the unknown in order to uncover new ground beneath our feet.

This is faith: to have the courage to go beyond what is known.

I’ve spent most of this afternoon with my sketchbook, trying to piece together my ideas about the last paper in my thesis. It’s the bigger picture thinking that I so enjoy, framed by questions like:

  • What is the basic concept that underpins my research question?
  • What does the current evidence have to say about how “true” that concept may be?
  • Where is my work located in this conversation, and what do these findings contribute?
  • Whose work does it agree with? And disagree with?
  • Does it tell us anything new?
  • Does it give any hints about where to go from here?

scribbles 
I answer these questions with hasty scribbles, crude flow charts, bold statements, retractions, revisions. And it comes to me that I can take a step back – zoom the lens out – and ask myself bigger questions again.  How does this concept fit within what we know about optimal athlete performance?  About the conditions necessary for humans to succeed in the pursuit of any goal?

And in a rush so electrifying that I think I can feel impulses crossing synapses, I glimpse how “the useless days” add up. I connect the dots between my research and:

  • A conference keynote that underlined the role of failure for developing self-belief.1
  • A popular TED talk that highlighted how grit is essential to success.2
  • A fortuitous catch up over coffee to chat about harmonious and obsessive passion in entrepreneurs and other high performers.3
  • A tweet about resilience as a defining characteristic of Olympic champions.4

Now I have a new perspective with which to understand how my work contributes a slice of insight not only to my discipline, but well beyond it too. I’ll write reams with this new-found fervour, knowing that only a fraction of it is likely to end up in my thesis. But today’s lesson is that faith is central to the scientific process. The conversations in the office kitchenette, the hours lost to TED videos and reading blog post after blog post, the diversions borne of wide curiosity, the projects we take on “just because”…it all adds up. We just have to have faith that the non-strategic things we do are important and meaningful too.

Days like these remind me why I love science, why I actively practice curiosity, and why I have so enjoyed the PhD experience 🙂


Footnotes

  1. David Martin‘s keynote address at ECSS 2012, “Winning the Tour De France: A sport science perspective” (video).
  2. Angela Lee Duckworth @ TED in 2013, “The key to success? Grit” (video).
  3. Rosemary Fisher’s PhD thesis (2011), “Passion, resilience, obsession and sustained entrepreneurial action: the path to entrepreneurial success”.
  4. Tweet from Mustafa Sarkar (@MusSarkar) and article on “Developing resilience – Lessons learned from Olympic champions”.
  5. Featured image: Ansel Adams – Canyon edge, low horizon, clouded sky, “Grand Canyon National Park,” Arizona. FlickrThe U.S. National Archives.

Neuromuscular Plasticity to Training: ACSMS 2013 Keynote by Prof Per Aagaard

The keynote presentations from this year’s Australian Conference of Science and Medicine in Sport were well-chosen, in terms of topics and presenters.  As someone who is only moderately familiar with this topic, I found Per Aagaard’s presentation on neuroplasticity and human movement performance (specifically muscular power development) to be well-targeted, particularly given the variety of disciplines represented in the audience.  Also, kudos for delivering this keynote presentation barefoot, with the cuffs of his trousers rolled up…!  The things you can get away with when you are conferencing it up in tropical Phuket 😛

Here are my sketchnotes from Per’s presentation:

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European College of Sports Science Congress 2013: Gathering my thoughts

We’re about 40 mins away from the closing Honorary session of this year’s European College of Sports Science Congress, to be delivered by Bengt Saltin. Time enough for me to jot down some quick thoughts about my experience of this year’s conference…

I used to think of conferences as a really big deal. And I still think they are…to an extent. I feel absolutely privileged to have my work accepted for presentation before my peers, and I can hardly complain that this process of research dissemination involves international travel as well. But with a few conferences under my belt now, I am beginning to understand that these events serve not as a capstone on research projects, but as a chance to sow seeds. The chance to propose your unique ideas, to push your chicks out of the nest and see if they fly, so to speak.

I was happy with my mini-oral presentation. Said what I wanted to say, and got a couple of good questions afterwards which will inform my write up of the study. I was also pleased that the mini-orals were presented in separate rooms. Last year’s multi-purpose room setting was chaotic to say the least, so I’m glad that the conference organisers listened to the feedback and did things differently here in Barcelona.

Good to see an improvement in social media use by the conference. Evert Verhagen (@evertverhagen) and myself had a great chat about this earlier in the week, and we both agreed that there is plenty of room for improvement (less broadcasting, more interaction) but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Particularly pleased to track the #ECSS13 hashtag and see lots of other Twitter handles aside from my own. A different experience to what happened with #ECSS2012 😉

Barcelona is simultaneously wonderful and terrible as a conference location. It is wonderful because of the gorgeous weather, the long sunny days, the friendly people, the incredible food, the efficient transport. But it is terrible because I couldn’t help but feel a little torn between wanting to catch conference sessions and yearning to go exploring outside the walls of the conference venue… #firstworldproblems!

More to come over the next few days, as I get time to catch a breath and let my ideas germinate. While I haven’t been as intensely involved as a conference participant this year, it has been a productive time nonetheless, and encouraging to feel that my research questions (big and small) are heading in the right direction.

Sports Medicine and Sports Science in 2012 and Beyond (be active 2012 Symposium)

More sketchnotes, this time from the be active 2012 symposium, “Sports Medicine and Sports Science in 2012 and Beyond”.  The session featured a clutch of big-hitters: Prof Karim Khan, Prof Jill Cook, Prof Malcolm Collins, and Prof Roger Enoka.  Such a privilege to hear the thoughts of these highly respected and active scholars on what sports medicine and sports science has been able to achieve, and what is next for our fields…

By the way, I’ve been delighted to receive such lovely comments and emails about my sketchnotes!  Many have asked how I do it, and I’ve been meaning to write a workflow blog post for a while now so that will be coming up in the next week or so, providing greater detail about my sketchnote and mind map processes.  But for now, here’s the short version!

Option 1: pen and paper

It often surprises people to find out that I love writing and working with a physical pen and a sketchbook, given my online presence.  Admittedly, there is an element of new media to the process:

  • Step 1 – create a mind map or sketchnote using pen and paper.
  • Step 2 – use my smartphone (Android) to digitise each page using CamScanner.
  • Step 3 – export to PDF from within CamScanner, and share the file to relevant platforms (e.g., a note management system like Evernote, my blogs, Twitter, etc.).

Option 2: iPad

I’ve recently acquired an iPad and I quite enjoy using it.  Though I love the romanticism in putting pen to paper, the digitising process can be tedious, particulary with extensive sketchnotes spanning many pages.  The iPad addresses this problem quite nicely:

  • Step 1 – create a mind map or sketchnote within the GoodNotes app for iPad, using a stylus (this is critical if you are a neat freak like me!)
  • Step 2 – export to PDF from within GoodNotes, and share the file to relevant platforms.

Developing an Academic Presentation, Part 3: Presenting My “Saplings”

Stage: Initial draft >> Re-drafting

Progress to date: Slides drafted, two practice runs presenting to an audience.

One week to go until my conference presentation.  I’ve been busy wrapping up teaching and marking commitments, so I haven’t had time to log as much of the recent presentation developments as I would like – rectifying that now!

Last Thursday, I had my first practice run with an audience.  It was nice to throw the ideas out there in front of a group of sport science researchers from a variety of disciplines.  The presentation was slightly over time.  Key feedback was to emphasise and iterate the “so what?” messages, and to provide more background on why the T2minute method provides value over and above what current training load measures can do.

We had another practice run yesterday, which was an improvement on the first – always nice to be progressing!  Still over my allotted time (I’ll be given 8 mins on the day, but spoke for 9 mins yesterday), so I’ve got to make some decisions about what is most important to convey in the short time span that I have.  Happy with how my slides are looking at this stage; only small changes to make from here I should think.

Slides in progress…

Setting practice run dates always helps me to get my butt into gear.  In a strange way, I almost like giving a half-finished presentation.  Of course it’s scary to throw my ideas out into the world for criticism, when they are but saplings and are nowhere near fully formed.  But I think embracing that fear and seeking out that challenge has helped me improve my capacity to take on feedback, to quickly re-draft, and in turn, more quickly produce a finished piece of work with high quality.

Beyond Central and Peripheral Mechanisms in Muscle Fatigue (Invited Presentation by Prof Roger Enoka, European College of Sports Science Congress 2012)

More sketchnotes!  These were from Prof Roger Enoka’s presentation on central and peripheral fatigue, and their effects on muscle physiology and performance (click here for the abstract).  A hot topic in sport and exercise science over the last year or so!

Enoka 2012 - Central and Peripheral Fatigue

Recovery and Sleep in Elite Athletes (presented by Dr Shona Halson, European College of Sports Science Congress 2012)

My sketchnotes from Dr Shona Halson’s presentation on recovery and sleep in elite athletes, during this year’s European College of Sports Science Congress (Bruges, Belgium).

Halson 2012 - Recovery and Sleep in Elite Athletes