“At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along”
“Hello. Nice to meet you. Welcome to the performance centre”. In this moment, my professional career began though I felt anything but professional. That dawning moment of my career was overwhelming. The sense of incompetence, the absence of a reference point for what success looked like, the lack of vicarious role-models to learn from, the deluge of factors to consider when trying to engage with someone and portray confidence in my skills.
This was a feeling I hope would be a one off, yet all through my career, at pivot points of change, climax points of competition, elevation points of job promotion – I have experienced similar feelings, questioning the what, how, why, who and when of my work. I have been educated to ‘know’ but throughout my career I have been required to use ‘know-how’, to support and champion others through the solutions I create. For 25 years now I have been an APPLIED professional, but for a long time I’ve not know what that is and what to expect.
So, what does being APPLIED mean? And what does it mean to your sports science careers? What does it mean for your philosophy, skills and contribution. While there are a myriad of perspectives and dynamics (see no. 4, below) here are 9 principles that can help guide an applied professional.
1. Client focused – it is not about you
To be client focused you must have specific skills and tools to cut to the heart of the matter. Needs analysis, questioning skills, formulation are all techniques that you need to learn so that you can best support the person in front of you. So many people see encounters as an opportunity to show off what they know – these are people that put their own needs above the person they said they could help. Applied professionals focus on the client.
2. Breadth – it is not about your specialist topic
In a single encounter with an athlete and coach you’re likely to cover a multitude of topics of which the one topic you happen to know lots about, might not come up. Possessing a broad understanding of the topics, dynamics and applications you’re likely to encounter and will be experienced by your client, is critical. This is freeing in that you can read and develop broadly, but you might feel conflicted to the educational pull towards a narrowing specialism. If you are focused on principle 1. you will pride yourself on developing breadth.
3. Un-academic – this is about being prioritised
The very term, “Isn’t that just academic?” alludes to knowledge that is not of practical relevance to your needs. You need a laser like focus on the things that truly matter. This means that you’ll be de-prioritising quite a bit of knowledge that you’ve spent a long time sweating to learn. This will jar in your mind and perhaps with your identity. Added to this the processes that you’ve been schooled, while useful, are not what you’re going to be utilising most. This will feel less rigorous & controlled, so you need to embrace principle 4.
4. Complex and contextual – things are messy, deal with it
The lack of rigour and control is known as real-life. Tiredness, exams, relocating, rivals, de-selection, personality traits, injury, group dynamics, pressure, communication skills, dickheads, trust, acceptance, mood, the list goes on. We’re a psycho-social species, these are not factors to get frustrated about – they’re dynamics to work with and unless you do, your impact and influence will be severely limited.
5. Future focused – start with the end in mind
Having a goal orientation, with a time and a date and a standard you’re aiming for is useful to provide you with direction. In reality it can give you so much more, a) a decision making filter that can help with principle 3; b) basis for discussion and debate; c) a framework for what to work on, i.e. “If we’re aiming for X at time point Y, then we need to do Z today. Questions that unearth the future state of your client are amongst the most powerful.
6. Engagement – the ‘how’ as much as the ‘what’
Selection of the best solution, proposition of the best advice, development of sound knowledge are all essential to your work. But the ‘what’ is not nearly as important as the ‘how’. If you have the right answers but you’re difficult to be around, your stock diminishes quickly. How you turn up, how you empower, how you communicate, how you regulate when you’re having a lull, how you bounce back, how you lift up a fellow team member, how you feedback, how you adapt, how you reflect, how you enthuse – are all examples of your craft. Developing your ‘how’ makes you impactful and valued.
7. Add data and observation – testing and learning needs good information
I encourage people to collect data and scores, both objective and subjective to provide a comparative reference point and at the very least a basis for discussion. If you’re using software to process data it is essential that you know your way around the underlying assumptions and calculations so that you can spot errors and not over-interpret based upon a secretive algorithm that you can’t access or understand. Knowing the long-hand version or using simple spreadsheet tracking solutions means you’re in control, not a black box.
8. Hammers – a tool is not a solution
There is an almost universal bias that with a sprinkling of tech or a little skill development with a tool, people start seeing situations as an outlet for their new gadget and technique. There will be some tools that facilitate the solution for a high proportion of people but having a clear sense of ‘what is in the best interest of the client’ means you should be willing to reject the knee-jerk idea or the most popular tool and create bespoke solutions based on their needs (perhaps the worst example of this I’ve seen was a printed report, all nicely laid out and visualised. I asked “Who is it for?”, the practitioner replied “A visually impaired judo player!” 🤦🏼♂️ )
9. Career traps – your decisions today will effect your later career
In the rush for impact, influence and results, little attention is given to the frameworks of timing, ethical practice, safety and quality assurance. The latter might sound boring, but they are the road to career long impact, influence and results. All too often practitioners are under pressure to take shortcuts, compromise, flying too close to the line – all in the name of innovation, pushing the envelope yet this is not what defines applied practice. You can have quality work going hand in hand with novel, solutions focused, ingenious interventions.
Applied Pro Practitioner Courses
These 9 principles are the foundation for you to create applied, performance focused success for the athletes and coaches you work with. They’re also the foundation upon which myself, Chris Marshall, Rebecca Levett, Sophie Killer, Sian Allen and Nick Grantham have developed the Applied Pro Practitioner courses for;
We know that being applied is tricky, we know that going alone or dealing with the multitude of dynamics is confusing.
These courses are designed specifically to help you gain clarity, focus on what matters and create impact!
The courses start soon*. Sign up if you want to learn what it takes to be applied!
*18th October for PA, all other courses start 1st November 2021