ECSS Reflections – Different Worlds and the Next Level of Performance Analysis

So The Prof and I are certainly all “conferenced-out”. Having been in Europe for just over week, it’s been not stop, with first the INSEP Heat Conference in Paris, and second the European Congress of Sports Science (ECSS) in Malmo Sweden. We’ve had an amazing time. Attended some good presentations, but most importantly gained the opportunity to meet some quality people and amazing minds from around the world of Sports Science. So what are my major reflections and learnings after the past week? I would love to talk about all the cool mechanistic things I may have learnt, like heat shock proteins, cellular signalling, PGC1-alpha and more, but that’s not where my mind is at. I’ve been thinking more about the current state of play in Sports Science, its practical application or lack thereof in the real world of sport, and the great divide between the two worlds.

Building the bridge Two different worlds! Both Prof and I are lucky in that we get to run back and forth over the bridge between the two worlds of academia/sport science and elite sport practice. However to me, my feeling is that the two worlds are still so far apart. At INSEP, we had some great presentations from the applied Sports Science guys (Aaron Coutts, Rob Duffield, Martin Buchheit and Dave Martin were 100% standouts), but a number of other academics seem to us so far into the science, that most coaches would be 100% bamboozled! Heck, I was bamboozled by much of it. What’s more, is that the INSEP conference was supposed to be geared at coaches and real world application. ECSS was very much the same. As Dave Martin put it in his presentation; we HAVE to be most interested in the communication and the translation BEFORE the science and bridge the gap between science and what goes on in the real world.

Prof and I also presented on this very topic at ECSS and we felt it was well received (see one of our slides from the presentation below). This was a common thread of conversation at ECSS amongst many of the applied practitioner as well. It was clear to us that a truly practical application sports science conference is one that is needed on the yearly roster.

Slide from Prof Chris Gore showing the TEM of Hb mass We need to develop systems that track individual changes. These systems should take into account the TEM and within-athlete variation (we developed and showed very similar ideas in our EJAP HRV paper back in 2012). Alongside this, we then need monitoring systems that can detect change and establish whether or not the intervention is going to be worthwhile for the individual. If someone was taking me through a process like that, I would be very interested, because its meaningful. More case studies like these have the potential to build on the knowledge in Sports Science. Perhaps hard to publish in the current environment, but in my eyes as a practical sports scientist, a significant contribution it would be.

Bridging the Gap Between Pure Science and Practice A New Age of Quantifying Individual Responses in Athletes Which leads me onto my next major reflection; we simply need more individual analysis of training responses and interventions. This is critical if we are going to move forward in the world of Sports Science. There are simply so many conflicting camps on a variety of topics (heat, altitude, hydration, high fat low carb, monitoring, to name but a few). The bottom line is, at the end of the day we are all individuals and we all respond differently (no shit!). But this is such an overlooked part of sports science data analysis and we really need to report our findings more appropriately. If individuals are responding differently, maybe that’s important to know. For example, with altitude, there would appear to be a huge variation in response (both within and between athletes). So when we lump data together, average it and throw in a “p-value”, of course we don’t see anything. But that doesn’t mean it’s worthless on an individual level. No wonder no one can agree. Along these lines, I attended a presentation around the use of heart rate variability (HRV) to monitor training. The incorrect conclusion (in my opinion) was that “HRV cannot be used to monitor training status”. Certainly not on a group level, but we HAVE to look at how we respond individual to a training stimulus and make informed decisions (see some of the data from Jamie Stanley’s Sport Med paper 2013). The good news is, it keeps us sports scientists in jobs! Everything needs to be considered within the context of what is going on. My good friend and coach Gordon Walker sent me this article that I thought was brilliant demonstrating this idea. So what’s next? Will Hopkins has been pushing these ideas for a very long time, but very few seem to have caught on. We need to start publishing a larger number case studies that show the individual responses to training and interventions to gain more appreciation for the individual. Chris Gore of the AIS gave a fantastic presentation around altitude. While the main content was mostly around changes in haemoglobin (Hb) mass, the most interesting part was around the way he was establishing “real” change in the variable. His methods took into account both the technical error of measurement (TEM) and within subject variability. His Hb mass could vary by 4% on just a day-to-day basis. Thus, the individual response and individual day-to-day variation is “individual”. This is of course going to be the same for a number of physiological variables.


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