Bridging the gap between sports performance researchers and practitioners – Alan Griffin

In the area of sports performance, researchers and practitioners are two vital cogs in achieving the most productive and safest environment for athletes to develop and perform. They should go together like a horse and carriage. The goal of any sports performance researcher is ideally to have their work applied and progress practices in the real-world. Similarly, practitioners should aim to apply the most relevant and up-to-date research to their practices. One should inform the other and both should work in tandem. However, despite having the same goal, sometimes a disconnect occurs. In our recent research, we found a gap of this nature and this will be the basis of my blog post.

Despite the vast majority of athletes playing at the amateur level, the bulk of the research is conducted in the professional setting. There are some obvious reasons for this, the main being that performing research with professional athletes is much more controllable and therefore less susceptible to attrition (e.g. subject drop-out). This ultimately results in practitioners working with amateur teams trying to adapt the research to fit their practices which can sometimes end up being a case of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. We have seen evidence of this in our recent research that will shortly be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning. In this study, we surveyed 33 strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches working with Rugby Union teams playing at the highest national amateur level, with the purpose of exploring their training load (TL) monitoring practices and their rationale for using such.

The most common method of recording TL was the session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE), used in 83% of monitoring systems. However, no respondent used sRPE after match-play. Thirty-three percent of the S&C coaches surveyed used the sRPE data to calculate the acute:chronic workload ratio (ACWR) for highlighting when players are at risk of injury. However, without post-match sRPE data, weekly TL and ACWR cannot be accurately calculated. Consequently, TL prescription based on these data and calculations are inaccurate.

The findings are a good example of a disconnect between previously published research information and its practical application. Additionally, we found that the majority of coaches (81%) reported using academic journals for information. This demonstrates that S&C coaches attempt to take an evidence based approach to monitoring TL. However, it is possible that practitioners are unable to appropriately evaluate peer-reviewed research and therefore continue with erroneous practices (Judge and Craig, 2014) and this may underlie their misunderstanding in calculating ACWR. This again highlights the need for researchers to prioritise clear dissemination of the practical applications of their work.

Visual representation of the sports performance researcher and practitioner tandem
Figure 1: Visual representation of the sports performance researcher and practitioner tandem

Developing a network of knowledgeable coaches is key going forward and the responsibility may lay at the feet of the various sporting associations to bridge this gap. Initiatives such as the IRFU Conditioning Coach Course and the GAA Coach Education Programme create a forum for both researchers and coaches to come together and learn from each other. It creates a mutually beneficial opportunity for coaches to advance their practices based on the best research and allows researchers to gain an understanding of some of the current issues occurring in the real-world (Buchheit, 2017). In Figure 1, I have created a visual representation of the tandem procedure required for improving sports performance through research and practice. Essentially, the real-world practices should be guided by the research and the research should be guided by what is occurring in the real-world. It is vital however,  that both parties understand they have a duty to learn from each other. Only then will gaps such as that found in our study between sports performance researchers and practitioners be bridged.


  • Buchheit, M. Houston, we still have a problem. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 12: 111-114, 2017. DOI: 10.1123/ijspp.2017-0422.
  • Judge LW, Craig B. The disconnect between research and current coaching practices. Strength Cond J 36: 46–51, 2014. DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000027.


Alan Griffin is a PhD Candidate on the Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) project in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences in the University of Limerick. His primary research interests are in the area of Strength and Conditioning. He is currently undertaking research into the development of injury prevention measures in amateur Rugby Union through the examination of training load. Contact Alan via email at or view his profile on LinkedIn, Twitter and ResearchGate


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