Winning margins are incredibly small and training time is finite. It’s therefore critical that athletes are able to train and recover optimally to be able to deliver their performance potential on the international stage. Consequently, precision and specificity are at the heart of the mission of the Performance Science team. Our aim is to support coaches to develop and deliver programmes that maximise the effectiveness of training and competition performance by providing multidisciplinary support tailored to the needs of the individual or squad. This needs to be specific to the demands of the sport and the training status of the athlete and provide coaches with information that is accurate and precise to enable them to evaluate and plan training.
The Sport Ireland Institute provides access to a range of services that can positively impact on performance both on and off site. These services include Biomechanics, Nutrition, Performance Analysis, Physiology, Psychology and Strength and Conditioning. The SI Institute works closely with sports to ensure that these services are pre-planned and tailored to each sport’s needs and that these services are embedded in to the high performance plans of each sport. Over 50 service providers have been accredited through the Sport Professional Quality Assurance Programme (PQAP) allowing athletes and sports to work with appropriately skilled and qualified service providers.
The SI Institute provides access to a range of services that can positively impact on performance. These services include:
- Performance Analysis
- Strength and Conditioning
Biomechanics, as a science, concentrates on several areas of sport such as how various sports techniques can be modified to suit the physical characteristics of an athlete and how the physical capacities of the athlete can be modified to suit biomechanically sound techniques. It can impact positively on performance by helping athletes develop more effective technique. As the foundations of sports biomechanics are the mechanics and the anatomy of the musculoskeletal system it can also help athlete to avoid injury.
Sports biomechanists use a wide range of tools to enhance athletes and coaches understanding of the mechanics of sporting skills. These could include the use of 3D, high speed and underwater cameras, force platforms and speed gates. Biomechanical analysis can take place in a variety of setting such as the laboratory, during training or while the athlete is in competition.
Food is an easily accessible and enjoyable performance enhancing aid. You need to eat and drink, so why not do it in such a way that it will help your performance? The need for energy (calories) for most athletes is high, especially when the training load is high. The most important nutrient for exercising muscles is carbohydrates, however it remains difficult to persuade athletes that this is the case given the amount of information there is in the public and sports media. Even highly trained athletes will only have enough stores to last up to 70 minutes of medium intensity exercise.
The key issue for athletes is to develop easy to follow eating and drinking plans that will suit their own specific training requirements, meet requirements for all nutrients, take account of the individual needs of sports such as weight gain or loss, suit lifestyle and promote good health. For most athletes the key to success with athletes is finding a simple strategy that suits the way they live their lives and to encourage when possible changes that will benefit performance but also provide them with life skills so the incorporation of the message into practical sessions such as shopping and cooking allow athletes to see how easy the message is.
Most of the nutrition support work takes place within multidisciplinary teams at the Sport Ireland Institute. Whilst this poses some challenges, we work hard to develop fully integrated support to athletes such that nutritional interventions are precisely calibrated to meet the demands of the athlete, in particular partnership with our strength and conditioning team, doctors and physiologists.
The overall aim of sports nutrition is to help maximise an athlete's ability to train and perform to the best of their ability. Accredited sports dietitians are recognised as the most advanced dietitians within their field. They undertake the practical application of sports nutrition and how this applies to everyday food.
Dietary assessment and consultation involves some or all of the following:
- Assessing food and fluid patterns
- Determining the adequacy of the diet in terms of overall energy and specific nutrients
- Menus which fit a particular lifestyle
Advice will be monitored and adjusted as necessary to adapt to changing requirements. All advice given is sports specific advice tailored to individual needs. Sports dietitians can also advise on:
- How to lose / gain / make weight without compromising health or performance
- Pre-competition, post competition strategies
- Diet, fluid and travel
- Vitamin and mineral supplementation
- Off season advice
- Suitable recipes and cooking guidelines
All accredited sports dietitians are either members of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) or its international equivalent.
Dr. Sharon Madigan, Head of Performance Nutrition at the Sport Ireland Institute, gives us a few quick recipes for overnight oats. Produced by the National Dairy Council.
Performance Analysis (PA) is a relatively new area within sport science which has developed as a result of recent technological advances within the areas of IT, digital photography and video analysis software. PA provides objective feedback to athletes and coaches through the use of video analysis and statistical information. It can be used during or after an event to quantify the athletes’ performance in an accurate and reliable manner. The analysis can then be used to:
- Make a permanent record of performance
- Monitor progress
- Track changes in performance related variables
- Identify strengths and weaknesses of both the athlete and opposition
The performance analyst needs to plan the intervention with the coach to ensure that the analysis is tailored to the individual needs of the athlete. Analysis generally takes place in field setting i.e. during training and/or competition. Feedback can be presented to the athlete and coach through reports and the compilations. This allows the coach and athlete to further analyse the performance when required.
Sports physiology is concerned with the assessment, monitoring and evaluation of how the body responds and adapts to single and repeated bouts of physical exercise. Physiological services are provided to Irish High Performance athletes in a practical and relevant manner in various environments such as the laboratory, in the field, at training camps, pre-competition camps and at competitive events.
Physiological services provided at the Sport Ireland Institute are wide-ranging and include:
- Physiological Testing
- Physiological Monitoring
- Monitoring Training Load
- Research and Development
- Development of Individual Strategies
Sports physiology services work best when carried out in the context of a well-structured training and competitive programme. Physiology operates within an interdisciplinary sport science and medical support team. Services aim to support the High Performance Director to achieve strategic objectives. The physiologist works closely with the coach to scientifically develop training and competition strategies that will help the athlete to achieve their sporting goals.
Key Roles of Sports Physiologist
- To identify athletes strengths and weaknesses
- To provide baseline physiological data and help coach to formulate periodised training programme
- Examine new training programmes and evaluate existing training programmes
- Establish appropriate training levels and intensities
- Monitor training load
- Monitor adaptation to training
- Provide objective data regarding physiological response to key training sessions
- Physiological monitoring and support to athletes both home and abroad on training camps and at competitions.
- Assist in peaking at the right time
- Provide objective data that may assist in assessing health status and return of athlete from illness or injury
- Investigate innovative training interventions
- Work with athlete and coach in development of individual training and competition strategies to optimise performance
Head of Performance Physiology, Antonia Rossiter discusses some of the tests which can be carried out in the physiology lab here in the Sport Ireland Institute. Thanks to athlete Eve McCrystal.
Excellence in sport relies as much on mental factors as it does on physical, technical or tactical skills. What an athlete thinks and feels can impact significantly on their sporting performance. Using a combination of individual and group work, sports psychologists can assist athletes and coaches by addressing areas specific to preparation and competition, such as:
- Arousal and attention zone selection
- Motivational cues and triggers
- Focus and relaxation triggers
- Transition management
- Short term injury and setbacks
- Identifying performance inhibitors
Sports psychology uses principals and techniques derived from the science of psychology to help athlete achieve their goals and perform when it matters most. Sports psychologists can also assist athletes with their lifestyle choices as well as equipping them with the necessary skills to cope with the demands of being an elite performer.
In Ireland, sport psychologists have a professional background in Psychology or in Sports Science / Physical Education (or both).
Strength and Conditioning
Strength and Conditioning (S&C) is an integral part of any athlete’s training programme and aims to enhance performance and reduce injury risk. Strength and Conditioning focuses on the physical development of athletes together with injury rehabilitation and prevention in order to improve elite sporting performance. In the IIS all S&C coaches are Professional Members of the Institute.
Our S&C coaches work in partnership with the sports coaches and as part of a sport science and medical multidisciplinary team to design S&C programmes tailored to the sport and the athlete’s individual needs. These programmes focus on the development of a variety of physical capacities, such as strength, speed, plyometric ability, flexibility, power and physical conditioning. The needs of the athlete are targeted through a periodised S&C programme that aims to address the athlete’s weaknesses, develop their strengths and prepare the athlete for optimal sporting performance.
A well planned S&C programme looks at the overall training programme for the athlete and works together with the coach to ensure that the athlete is optimising his/ her training. Such an approach has proven in the Sport Ireland Institute to reduce the risk of injury and enhance sporting success.
Dr. Eamonn Flanagan talks about the velocity measurement device for the weight room used in the Sport Ireland Institute. Thanks to athlete Patrick Monahan.