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The English Institute of Sport & Disability Swimming

The English Institute of Sport & Disability Swimming [137 KB]

Delivering performance impacting sport science and sport medicine

Delivering performance impacting sport science and sport medicine to Disability Swimming

Disability Swimming is one of Great Britain’s most successful paralympic sports and won 51 medals at Beijing 2008.  British Disability Swimming has a team of practitioners which support athletes and coaches on the World Class programmes.  The support team consists of British Disability Swimming staff, external consultants as well as EIS practitioners who all work in a coach-led and athlete-centred manner to deliver performance impacting sport science and sport medicine support.  This support on-deck and the project-based research is led and coordinated by the Sport Science & Medicine Manager, Catherine Gilby, who works directly with the discipline leads. 

The scope and type of delivery reflects the way in which EIS practitioners work with many Olympic sports; it includes elements that are fundamentally the same as the service delivered to non-disabled swimmers and elements that are more individualised and reflect the specific needs of the athlete resulting from his or her impairment.

Developing a race model

Among the team that work with Disability Swimming is Performance Analyst, Joe Taylor, who works with over 40 athletes at a number of sites around the UK, and uses video-based technology and statistical analysis to support the team.

Joe’s primary role is to help the athletes and coaches to develop their ‘race model’ and works with them to look at the competition schedule and develop an idea what they would like their ideal race to be like.

The approach works by breaking the race down into various parts, such as starts, clean swimming and turns, and then using technology and analysis to measure the different elements and develop an understanding of the technical changes the athlete needs to make to produce their ideal race.

Central to this is the use of underwater and above-water cameras that can be analysed and watched-back. This allows the coaches and athletes to see for themselves the things they are doing well and the areas they can improve and enables the swimmers to develop a reference model that they can compare themselves against.

The ability to look at technique and develop ways of improving it to support a swimmers race plan has delivered significant performance improvements as has an analysis is starts and turns, where valuable time can be won and lost.

According to Joe: “The work I do with Disability Swimming is fundamentally the same as that I would do if I were working with a non-disabled swimmer.  Ultimately my objective is to deliver support than enables athletes to develop their technique, maximise their ability to achieve their targeted performance (i.e. execute their race model) and allow them to effectively evaluate their performance after an event.”

Optimising training programmes

Working with Joe and the team on Disability Swimming is Physiologist Nicola Rowley whose work is focused on ensuring the athletes are optimising and maximising their training outcomes and working towards being in peak condition for the major competitions.

Much of this work involves testing the athletes aerobic and anaerobic capacity capabilities through a series of measures that create a picture of how they are responding to training and whether the ‘sets’ they are doing are working for them.  This information is given to the coaches and provides objective indicators that enable the coach and athlete to understand how the athlete’s body is responding to their training programme and help to inform race plans.

Whilst much of this is the same as work that a physiologist would do with non-disabled athletes, the particular nature of some disabilities means it does require specific knowledge and a degree of individualisation.  For example athletes with disabilities such as cerebral palsy or conditions that affect the body’s degree of function, may tire more easily in key training sets so the physiological tests that accompany these may need to be adjusted to recognise these impairments.

“We are working to achieve exactly the same outcome as what we would be looking for from a non-disabled swimmer,” says Nicola Rowley. “It is just that our method of doing that needs to reflect the specific needs of the individual and outcomes of the test conducted and to do that slight adaptions and tweaks sometimes need to be made.”

A bespoke approach to recovery

One area where Nicola is using her specialist knowledge is in the field of recovery where she is working on the development of bespoke compression garments to aid blood flow and recovery in Paralympic athletes.

This reflects the fact that people with different body shapes or amputees will exert pressure in different parts of the body so require different compression garments to ease this and stimulate blood flow to speed-up recovery after training and in-competition.

“We have worked with a number of athletes for whom standardised compression garments are not suitable for purpose so we are looking to develop bespoke garments,” explains Nicola. 

“It uses our knowledge of compression garments and pressure gradients to help develop something that can be tailored to a specific limb and is also comfortable to wear.  The garments enable us to optimise the athlete’s recovery and improve the quality of training and, ultimately, their performance in competition.”

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