Thinking Scientifically

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Matt Thome

Matt Thome

ALTIS Performance and Innovation Manager

The ALTIS living lab

The primary aim of the ALTIS Living Lab is to improve the integration of science with practice in sport performance environments. We understand that the results of our work will not always be generalizable to the broader population of athletes, beyond the elite level. Thus, it is a secondary goal of ours to help coaches create their own ‘Living Lab’ within their specific context.

With this in mind, we hope to provide useful and practical information for all coaches to initiate or improve the use of science in practice. The first piece of this ongoing series is a simple introduction to what it means to ‘think scientifically’ within a practical setting.

What is your current method for evaluating complex problems in your environment?

Do you have a method for this process?

How do you determine if an intervention is even worth evaluation?

Complex problems may never have a single solution, but this doesn’t mean that we should stop looking; it means that, if our goal is to continually get better at what we do, we must establish a method for evaluating and cataloging management strategies.

The current way in which we receive most of our day-to-day information (through social media) is disordered and superficial. The quality of that information can range from very good to very bad, but if we have no way of organizing or evaluating it, it’s all useless. 

The first step is to stop and think about what we are currently doing. We need to strike a balance between being ‘stuck in our ways’ and losing our attention to every ‘new’ method that comes along. We should start by evaluating the current methodologies that we are using, especially those we have been using for quite a while. Do we have ‘data’ (objective or subjective) that justifies the use of a method? How did we gather that data?

The answers to these questions will begin to reveal how our current philosophy has developed – some aspects could be deemed as more ‘scientific’ while others more intuition-based. In any case, developing a process for evaluating, implementing, and re-evaluating a specific methodology is important to progress our knowledge.  

We can take the basic structure of the scientific method to guide us in this process. This starts with making observations in our environment and identifying the most important problems. Once we have a problem in which we’d like to evaluate, we would propose a potential outcome, or hypothesis. We then test this hypothesis and evaluate the result. It’s important that we test the hypothesis in the context of the athlete’s typical training or competition environment and that we don’t stop with the result of a single test. The results should guide us to our next problem or to a re-framing of our original hypothesis.     

This isn’t to say that every method we implement must be tested through this formal process. However, adding some structure and beginning to think more like a scientist can help us progress forward and cut through the mass of information that reaches us everyday in order to develop a better understanding of what we do. It can also help us to marry scientific evidence and our intuition.

Our friend, Dr. Matt Jordan explains further:  

“In a performance environment we need to think like a scientist in terms of our scrutiny of testing methods, requirement for evidence, maintenance of a healthy degree of skepticism, and a working knowledge that life is a probability statement (not a statement of certainty). As practitioners, we need to hone our powers of observation, our intuition, and our instincts. As we will see, we need to be nurturing our instincts but searching for facts. And when we find facts that don’t conform to our beliefs, we need to change our beliefs to fit with the facts and not the other way around. This is why it is so vitally important that you have confidence in your data. You may very well make new discoveries that are totally counterintuitive and change how you think. Once you have confidence in your data, you can let it guide your instincts.”

– Dr Matt Jordan.

Beginning with a system for evaluation, while knowing that it’s only the starting point, will, at the very least, provide us with solid ground to stand on while we explore the complexities of the performance environment. Science doesn’t have all the solutions and the scientific method may not always be practical to implement. But if we can adopt and adapt this way of thinking, it could greatly accelerate our learning – guiding the development of our observational skills and intuition in the process.

“As practitioners, we need to hone our powers of observation, our intuition, and our instincts.” – Dr Matt Jordan

Coming soon from the living lab

We will have more updates in the near future as we get the wheels turning on our in-house research and monitoring. Several of our initial projects of interest include:

  • Categorization of athletes  
  • Individual athlete responses to training
  • The impact of kinematics on injury and performance

These topics are purposefully broad – We want to start with a basis of important problems that can grow and develop into more detailed areas as our lab progresses. We are also looking forward to forming partnerships with other labs so we can cover more ground in specific areas. Our vision is a community of ‘Living Labs’ that can collaborate to improve the practice of sport science in applied settings. We would love to hear feedback from you as well, about the most pressing issues you face in your environment. This will allow us to contribute meaningful information that is useful to a wide range of coaches and athletes.

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