Dr Scott Drawer: Making our athletes better, thanks to the brains of Britain
Friday, 11 May 2012
Ultimately, it's about winning margins that make the difference between gold, silver, bronze and "the rest", but over a four year Olympic and Paralympic cycle, some of the most crucial marginal gains are found in the daily training environment as opposed to equipment innovation; an hour less analysing performance data, a tweak in the order or content of a training regime or the desire to try something different, the use of modern technology to communicate and influence in a different way, two weeks less training missed through illness, a skill learned two months ahead of schedule to allow more time to perfect.
"Learning faster than the opposition", the mantra of business strategist Arie de Gues – who I have been known to plagiarise on occasion – is key to every aspect of making our athletes better, through better support of the coach.
Whether it's faster, more accurate and meaningful data feedback, a sounder knowledge and understanding of the causes of injury and illness or optimising the training equipment or nutritional demands of the modern athlete, our job is to cut through the wealth of literature and "popular science" out there these days, which quite frankly can be overwhelming in the "Twittersphere", and deliver evidence-based guidance and performance solutions to our coaches, practitioners and athletes so they know they are operating at the cutting edge of their sport.
This is an area in which I believe the UK has really capitalised on "home advantage".
Since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were announced, the heightened interest in British sport has allowed us access to some of the best expertise in British science and engineering through British academia and industry. The UK has a proud heritage of excellence in science and innovation, and to this day is second to only the USA worldwide in terms of our standing in the scientific sector, despite much less investment.
Our industrial strengths in defence, automotive, aerospace and IT all have real application to our athletes everyday lives, in training and competition, and are helping us, along with our partners at the BOA (British Olympic Association), BPA (British Paralympic Association) and EIS (English Institute of Sport), ensure our athletes will be among the best prepared in the world come London 2012.
For every £1 ($1.60/€1.20) invested by UK Sport in this area of work over the current Olympic cycle, we have secured match funding or value in kind to the value of £2 ($3.20/€2.40) to help us make our work go further – but, of course, the real benefit is in the much wider network of expertise to create a truly "blue sky thinking" environment.
Over this period we have managed to deliver 140 research and innovation projects across 25 different Olympic and Paralympic sports. In doing so, we believe we will have impacted on over 95 per cent of potential British medallists at London 2012 and, hopefully, made them better prepared through greater knowledge on their own performances: better coached, better equipped, better fuelled and better than the opposition.
UK Sport would like to thank our partners in industry and academia for their support. We couldn't possibly name everyone – there are more than 25 different academic groups that have contributed at some point in the past four years and more than 100 different companies from sole traders and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to large organisations – but their expertise, insight and approach to supporting British athletes needs to be acknowledged.
For the inside track on some of the Research and Innovation projects behind British athletes' performances this year and a view on the future, you can follow Dr Scott Drawer, Head of Research and Innovation at UK Sport, on Twitter or visit our website.