On National Biomechanics Day 2019, we asked two EIS biomechanists Liam Sanders and Paul Worsfold for their top tips on how to develop into a top biomechanist.
1. Reasoning from first principles – First-principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse-engineer complex biomechanics problems and unleash creative possibility. Sometimes called reasoning from first principles or deterministic modelling, the purpose is to break down sporting disciplines or task into its basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up.
Reasoning from first principles allows us to step outside of history and conventional wisdom and see what is possible. This is very useful when you are 1) understanding a sporting task for the first time, 2) dealing with complexity, and 3) trying to understand a discipline that you’re having problems with.
Reasoning by first principles removes the impurity of assumptions and conventions, leaving only the essentials which will allow you to see where reasoning by analogy might lead you astray. Whether you are an expert practitioner or new to a sport, this way of working is one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results.
2. Transferring first principles to real world application – It is important to understand the theoretical components and first principles that help explain human movement; however, it is then essential to then understand how these theories transfer to athletes in the real world.
Due to the wide range of variables influencing human movement, some theoretical concepts do not always transfer that well. For example, a projectile will travel furthest when launched at 45 degrees, however for a long jumper to take-off at this angle they would need to alter their mechanics and decelerate their approach speed which would reduce their jump distance! The skill therefore is to understand the foundations (physics) of the movement but then to quantify how the individual component parts of the athlete interact as a dynamic system to complete the task.
3. Space to think – The elite sport landscape never stands still. There are training sessions and competitions to support, meetings to be held and committees to be filled, etc. To reason from first principles, the applied biomechanist requires solid lengths of time to think, so that when you’re putting ideas together, the dots can be joined efficiently and accurately. This doesn’t mean you are being selfish and avoiding other key support streams, it’s recognising the time required to be a world class practitioner and accelerate performance. Work smarter, not harder
4. Ask for feedback – Elite sport can be a complex world to work in. Here at the EIS, we support up to 44 Olympic and Paralympic sports across the British high-performance system. This means we are working daily with a highly diverse range of athletes, coaches and support staff and therefore are required to flex our ways of working and support.
No one is perfect. All of us learn as we go, even towards the end of our career. Ask your coaching or support team for feedback: how you can improve you support process, what do you need to change to be more effective, how can you better communicate with to the wider team, etc. And when the feedback is provided, accept it with grace and humility. It is never easy to hear constructive feedback, but it helps you improve as a practitioner and as a professional in elite sport.
5. Translating knowledge – Collecting valid and reliable force and movement data from an athlete is not the challenge it once was. The challenge biomechanists now face is being able interpret these large data-sets from various sources and identify the most important parts of the information to optimise performance. Once the key components of the data are identified we often then need to translate the data into something more meaningful for a coach or athlete.
6. Competency – Coaches, athletes and fellow support staff have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable. Elite sport is a rapidly evolving world, particularly with the onset of new technologies and data capture methodologies. The applied biomechanist needs to stay humble and maintain on their learning journey, sourcing new and novel ways of supporting their athletes and coaching staff whilst staying current on ideas and trends. Conversely a “been there done that” attitude prevents you from growth, compromising others’ confidence and trust in you. There is always more to learn, so make a habit of reading, learning, and listening to fresh information.