Sports science focuses on improving athletic performances through the applications of psychology, physiology and biomechanics principles and techniques. Sports scientists observe and monitor athletes to design performance-improving exercise and training programs. They also design treatment programs to help injured athletes recover and return to competition. Sports scientists might find work in clinical or academic settings, or work for health clubs, fitness centers or sports organizations.
Mastering the Skills
Sports scientists need strong analytical skills, attention to detail and decision making skills to be successful. For example, when assessing the condition of an injured athlete, sports scientists must make accurate observations of external symptoms of the injury and analyze and interpret the data correctly to determine the extent of the injury. Decision-making skills help sports scientists make informed choices that can improve the health and performance of a client, such as selecting the right exercise and nutrition programs.
The main duty of sports scientists is to help athletes optimize their health and performance. They may develop custom training programs that focus on strengthening specific muscles in the body, or help the body adapt to various environmental conditions. For a runner preparing for a race in a high altitude area, for example, a sports scientist may develop breathing exercises that can adjust the body to perform at competitive levels without sufficient oxygen in the muscles and blood. Sports scientists might also help clients overcome psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, and refer serious injury cases to medical specialists.
When they are not directly working with athletes, sports scientists may engage in research projects to gather new information on a wide variety of sports-related topics. For example, they might conduct experiments to identify the effects of barefoot running in training, the impact of environmental pollution on sports performances, or the negative effects of ice baths after workouts. These scientists may communicate their findings to coaches and athletes and publish them in industry and professional journals.
Getting In and Getting On
At a minimum, aspiring sports scientists must obtain a bachelor’s degree in sports science. Because sports science is multidisciplinary, sports scientists can pursue various career paths, including sports nutrition, sports physiology and sports psychology. Professional certifications are a must have for sports scientists looking for employment. The American Board of Sport Psychology and the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer are some of the organizations that provide professional certifications for sports scientists in various fields. Sports scientists can earn a master’s degree in Sports Science to qualify for leadership positions in sport and recreation management. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a job category for sports scientists. However, it reports that exercise physiologists earned median salary of $44,770 a year as of May 2012.