Sport science and exercise science are often bracketed together. In fact sport science differs from exercise science in aims and emphasis in several key respects. Sport science uses our understanding of the physical, technical and mental factors limiting human performance to design intervention to enhance performance. Currently, despite huge progress in the past two decades, the book of what we know is far smaller than the book of what we don’t. More on this later.
In contrast, exercise science is concerned with the role exercise and physical activity in maintaining public health. Three decades of epidemiological research clearly indicate that on a personal level being physically active to an extent that maintains a moderate level of aerobic fitness is one of the most important preventative health behaviours. Indeed there is clear evidence that despite the on-going alarms about an obesity epidemic, low fitness presents more challenges to health than a high BMI. The problem is that low fitness and high BMI usually occur together. The challenge, on a community and national level is to design polices which make physical activity the norm. These policies touch not only health policy but also, town planning, transport and education. Sport scientists and exercise scientists share a common root but the branches take them in very different directions.
At Edinburgh Napier University we are concerned with both sport science and exercise science. Our ethos is grounded on the integration of theory into practice. The scientific process of observation, description, and explanation is not complete until we use these explanations to design and deliver interventions that make a difference; in sport performance or in public health.
We often break the sport science down into different elements, the physiology, the biomechanics and the psychology. This is an expedient but not helpful division. The interesting things, the things that make a difference in sport performance do not recognise these distinctions. The fatigued body moves differently, the anxious performer executes skills less efficiently. Everything is by definition multidisciplinary. That is how we teach our students.
At the highest level, sport is hard-nosed, ruthless and unsentimental, it is all about winning. In the past many sport scientists have made the error of offering services that ‘will help you win’. This is an impossible position and one we should rightly be sceptical of. Sport is too complex for such simplification. A performer may perform better than they ever performed before but still lose. A much used and much more useful epithet is that ‘winning is the science of perfect preparation’. This resonates much more strongly with the sport scientist. Using the scientific knowledge, the applied sport scientist designs, delivers and monitors the performer doing the unglamorous, hard training which provides the backbone of performance. The research is clear, it takes 10,000 hours, roughly ten years of hard, committed training to become an expert in a psycho-motor skill. This requires motivation day in day out, dealing with set backs and injury; all the occupational hazards of the elite performer. Perfect preparation translates to no aspect of performance being ignored and no potential marginal gain overlooked. Everything matters.
In all sports there is a gulf between the professional, elite performer and even the serious and committed amateur. In some sports this simply boils down to the time available to the professional to train and physically prepare. The sport scientist has the potential impact on the amateur performer to ensure that the training time available is used as effectively as possible. This knowledge allows the performer and the coach to maximise return on time and effort and ensure the biggest ‘bang’ for the available ‘buck’.
The Masters / PG Cert. programme in Sport Performance Enhancement at Edinburgh Napier University is designed to give sport science graduates the opportunity to make a difference, either in sport research or sport performance support. It is flexible in that it can cater for the specialist in any discipline or prepare the generalist for a role in a multidisciplinary team. We offer the core learning experiences required to develop the knowledge and skills which will enable you to make a difference. You will be working with nationally recognised leading applied sport scientists. You will be using state of art equipment, in purpose built facilities. The focus throughout the programme is learning by doing; and by doing you are making a difference to the performance of high performance athletes. If you are aiming to gain BASES accreditation, supervision is available. If you see your future in applied sport science – what’s stopping you – Edinburgh Napier has the course for you – it’s the starting line, we’ll prepare you for the race.