Given thought to working in the world of high performance sport and sport science? Got a passion for the way the human body works? Always looking to expand your knowledge and comfort zone? Physiology might be the career for you!
We asked four EIS Physiologists; Co-Heads of Physiology Esme Matthew and Emma Ross, Technical Lead Laura Needham and Lead Lab Physiologist Dave Green about their top tips for working in the discipline.
1. Curiosity and Passion for Physiology
You have to love Physiology and be curious about how the human body works and how that knowledge can be used to improve the performance of an athlete.
When you read a research article, ask the question ‘so what?’ How does this work in an applied setting? What has been compromised during the research process e.g. level of participants, and what will you have to compromise on when you apply the research to the athletes you’re working with? Unfortunately, you can’t copy and paste and expect the same results, an applied physiologist works with humans and they are complex and multifactorial!
2. Actions speak louder than words
Don’t just talk about physiology, get out of the lab and into the field, and try to make a difference to someone’s performance. This doesn’t necessarily have to be with elite athletes, you could gain experience with a local team, or with your friends. Maybe you know someone running a marathon, help them assess their physiological capabilities, find out what their goals are, and how you can help them getting closer to achieving that goal through your knowledge of physiology. Put an intervention in place and measure its success in the real world during a competition.
3. Get to grips with the basics
It goes without saying that you need to study and gain the qualifications necessary to carry out the role of an applied physiologist, this includes an undergraduate and Masters degree on a relevant course. Importantly it’s not just about the certificate, you need to know and understand the fundamentals of human physiology and be able to apply it to athletes in any sport to be successful in this role.
4. Develop your Expertise
You’ve gained the qualifications you need, and you have the fundamental knowledge of physiology required, but developing an expertise in an area of physiology will help you progress in your career, showing your passion for developing in depth knowledge.
5. Apply for the right job
Don’t apply for a physiology post just because you want to work in elite sport. If you want to be an S&C coach or a nutritionist, focus on developing your knowledge and skills in that discipline. If you want to be a Physiologist show us your passion and enthusiasm for Physiology! Tell us why you love it and show us through your experience that you’ve been working at developing the knowledge and skills you need. In your application/interview tell us how your knowledge/intervention helped to improve the performance of an athlete.
6. Be creative
As an applied physiologist you need to be creative with your knowledge, no sport is the same, and no athlete within that sport is the same, so you need to be able to adapt your knowledge and experience to help the coach and athlete problem-solve. There isn’t a single test or intervention that will provide all the answers, so try to get experience using different ways to approach a performance problem.
7. Working as part of a team
Your role within a team is to help others, that could be anything from providing data directly to a coach or athlete, to giving another member of the team data to help enhance their role. You should have a good grasp on your strengths, but stay within the boundaries of your expertise, you’re not supposed to be the fountain of all knowledge for an athlete, you’re there to enhance what others can offer.
8. Practitioner Skills
Having a good grasp on the fundamental knowledge of physiology is important but being able to apply that knowledge is just as important. Develop an understanding of yourself, what are your strengths and weaknesses in a work environment?
As a physiologist you need to be able to listen, look at problems from another point of view, and work towards a common goal as part of a team. Self-awareness in all its forms is vital. From knowing the effect your behaviours and approach has on others, to understanding why others effect you in the way they do. Know your values and how they influence the decisions you make and how you work, and understand your philosophy as a practitioner (even if it is still in development).
Don’t underestimate the benefit of experiences outside of sport and science to help you develop your self-awareness – whether it’s a job in the service industry where you have to work closely with other people and discover the best way to communicate, or travelling the world – problem solving, logistics, independence – getting off the traditional rat route to a career (undergraduate, post graduate, job), try and accumulate experiences that will contribute to your life experience and roundedness as a person, and help you identify your strengths and areas for development.
9. Be Flexible
Roles in elite sport don’t come up very open, so be open to working in a sport that isn’t your passion, or isn’t within your comfort zone. You should be able to apply your knowledge to any sport, and you will gain experience that will help you get your dream role in the future.
10. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
Just because you know how to complete a range of physiology tests, it doesn’t mean that’s the first thing you should do. Work from performance backwards. What are the physiological demands of the sport, and work towards optimising this for each athlete. This takes creativity and an open mind, challenge your own pre-conceptions about traditional physiology testing, use your imagination and work towards helping improve performance.