Being an intelligent consumer of Sport Science – and ALL Science

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Let’s start with a Quiz.

Question #1:

Steak & eggs is a good pre-event meal. 

  • True or False?
Question #2:

Drinking water during workouts is a sign of weakness.

  • True or False?
Question #3:

Sharing water with your teammates from a bucket using a single ladle is a proper thing to do.

  • True or False?

Now pretend you are in a time machine, and you go back to the early 1960s.

Question #4:

What were the correct answers for the above questions, but in the era of the 1960s? 

Some do not need the time machine, since they remember being there and being aware. The answers are:

  • Answer to Q1 is true
  • Answer to Q2 is true, and
  • Answer to Q3 is true.

Flashback summary: Pregame meals of steak and eggs were ideal. Water breaks during workouts were a sign of weakness, and everyone shared the same ladle too! 


Next, consider Moneyball (the book and movie).

The big sports impact story line of Moneyball is about how statistics revolutionizing baseball. Meanwhile, the game of baseball, curiously, might have already been one of the sports most driven by statistics.

The second story line is as compelling. It answers the question of why?

The answer is tradition, which is reflected in Moneyball as a deeply-held, long-standing institutionalized bias.

“They did it, so I do it.”

Statistics managed to flip the script, but not without a lot of resistance.

Moneyball movie poster with Brad Pitt

When it comes to science, first consider the source. 

Avoid the news as an authoritative source. They often get it wrong in the subtlest and simplest ways.

There are a number of reasons related to the hit and run nature of news. It is brief, to the point, catchy, simple. By the time it gets through these filters, news reports can easily be distorted.

There is also bias, which most of the time is unintentional. 

There is a well-recognized tendency to believe what supports our existing beliefs. This tendency is called the confirmatory bias.

Sometimes bias in the media is intentional.

The people and corporations that are selling those nutritional supplements such as sports drinks, braces, gear, etc. may be more interested in the bottom line than topping out your performance. Where we are well motivated, by money or whatever, we tend to experience a better result. It’s called the placebo effect.

Lying with statistics happens too.

A person who is motivated to lie uses whatever is at his or her disposal. Given that most people don’t understand statistics, it is an easy lie to make.

  • It is really tough to lie with true science because there are an abundance of checks and balances in place before anything gets the science stamp of approval.

Testimonials are a toss-up.

If someone was willing to give you $100,000 to say “X-sport drink is the best”, what would you do?

If your script has you saying “scientific research says blah, blah, blah” would you take it as true or would you investigate? 

So, if something on the news catches your attention, check it out elsewhere. 

Go to scientific sources, like professional organizations. They typically have web sites with consumer-oriented materials. You might also consider other sports organizations from grassroots groups, to coaches’ associations, to sport governing bodies. They may provide science information as well. Make sure they have science advisors vetting their content.

Professionals in sports medicine and the sciences, like psychology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, nutrition, are often expert consultants.

If you are really ambitious, you can go to Research Gate, a website that is like Facebook for researchers. There is an astounding amount of material there. Site.

If it sounds like gathering knowledge is work, it is. 

It takes effort. Success at sport takes work. It takes effort to understand the science of success in training and competition. There is a payoff for getting it right.

This approach to sport science applies well for all science. 

  • Let science be your guide to understanding and responding to the coronavirus. 

When faced with doubt and uncertainty in the field of play or in life at large, science is there to differentiate facts from fear.

The International Swim Coaches Association is here to provide you with solid science you can use in the pool.

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