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Sport science for all, not just the elite

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A young child learning to run with guidance from a parent; Joseph Schooling strategising with his coaches and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) personnel around him – what do the two have in common?

These are both displays of sport science at work. Reinforced during the recent Singapore Sport Science Symposium 2017, the understanding of sport science is pertinent to human performance, whether one is working with youths or elite athletes.

SSI SymposiumSSI Chief Toh Boon Yi (left), a representative of the division and sporting ecosystem's appreciation to Dr Adrian Kee for his contributions. Photo: SportSG

Ultimately, it is applicable to anyone seeking to enhance physical performance. In a “subtle but significant move”, according to SSI chief Toh Boon Yi, Sport Singapore renamed the symposium, previously known as the SSI Symposium, to “reflect the work of not just one agency, but the endeavours of an entire ecosystem in the country”.

This year’s symposium, themed “From Youth to Elite Sport: Harnessing Potential and Pursuit of Excellence”, saw attendees from various sectors gathering to share insights, in a bid to promote sport science across all levels. Setting the tone was Bruce Elliott, an Emeritus Professor from The University of Western Australia.

SSI SymposiumParticipants of the SSI Symposium 2017. Photo: SportSG

Delivering his keynote address, “Biomechanics: An Integral Part of Athletic Endeavour from Fundamental Movement Skills to Olympic Performance”, he brought up the example of a child learning to walk and run. He remarked: “It’s biomechanics. You’re out chasing your centre of gravity in walking. The power in walking comes from the ankles and you just set off in pursuit of your centre of gravity.”

“But as you move to running, the power skips the knee and it’s something that lots of coaches and sports scientists have forgotten. If you want to increase speed, the power in running comes from the hip. Power moves from the ankle in walking to the hip in running,” he added, explaining that biomechanics can facilitate technique optimisation and injury reduction.

SSI SymposiumInside the SSI gym at the SSI Symposium 2017. Photo: SportSG

Indeed, the symposium’s sessions served as a reminder of the role of sport science in injury prevention to attendees, including teacher Evelyn Teoh. The former sports coach, who holds a Masters degree in sport science, has been helming her Junior College’s athletics team and attended the symposium with her colleagues.

“Children are getting injured more easily – maybe because of fast overloading, [or] working too hard. Sport science can help to prevent such injuries. Teachers should have a basic grasp of biomechanics, so as to better take care of the students and to help them progress,” she elaborated.

SSI SymposiumSpeaker Bruce Elliott during the SSI Symposium. Photo: SportSG

Technique optimisation should also be considered a key concern, according to another participant Cheryl Teo, a sport science PhD candidate, coach, and former national kayaker.

Noting that all it took was a smartphone to enhance one’s training with sport science insights, she said: “We film our students as they’re paddling. Instead of trying to tell them the same message over and over, we ask them to review their movements.”

SSI SymposiumSSI Nutritionist Cheryl Teo during the SSI Symposium. Photo: SportSG

Lee Sai Meng, head coach of the TeamSG women’s water polo team, concurred: “Sport science lets us know how to work our body better. It doesn’t just apply to high performance athletes. You need to know what you’re doing, how you’re doing, and why you’re doing something.” Of course, the high performance aspect of sport science was not forgotten either.

Elite sports practitioners such as Lee also gained new insights in areas such as the importance of sleep in recovery and picked up tips from SSI sleep scientists who work regularly with our TeamSG athletes.

SSI SymposiumThe symposium’s sessions served as a reminder of the role of sport science in injury prevention to attendees, including teacher Evelyn Teoh, seen here in this picture. Photo: SportSG

TeamSG’s first Olympic champion Joseph Schooling was brought up as well, as Toh provided an insight into his gold medal-winning performance: “Our sport science team was able to add to his [Schooling] natural power by monitoring and analysing the swim patterns of his number one rival, Michael Phelps.”

“Working with Joseph’s coaches, our scientists put together a strategy that had him putting in a fast, powerful start in the first 50m. Joseph’s goal was to establish a lead of half a body length on Michael. He then had to keep to a specified set pace in order to maintain that lead,” he revealed. After all, as Toh concluded: “In today’s competitive world, it takes more than talent to reach the podium.”

SSI SymposiumDr Marcus Lee, a speaker during the SSI Symposium, talks running biomechanics. Photo: SportSG

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