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Sports science: Tom Holden, BASES

Research is the backbone of the sports industry, providing the basis for decisionmaking. Steph Eaves talks to Tom Holden, executive director of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences about how the organisation supports this important work

by Steph Eaves, Health Club Management and Sports Management | Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 1
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Tom Holden
Tom Holden

What’s your background?
My background is in research, evaluation and project management. My first role in sport was within the Insight Directorate at Sport England. That really opened my eyes to the power of research to inform and guide public policy and initiatives designed to get more people physically active and playing sport.

My current role at the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES)felt like a natural progression from this; I have a wider remit, but many of the same principles apply. There are some fascinating – yet challenging – issues that the sport and exercise sector is facing right now, and being involved in an organisation that’s helping to provide solutions in response to these challenges is really exciting.

What is BASES?
BASES is the professional membership body that represents sport and exercise sciences in the UK. Sport and exercise scientists apply scientific principles to the promotion, maintenance and enhancement of sport- and exercise-related behaviours, incorporating one or more of the core disciplines of physiology, biomechanics and psychology.

BASES is involved in a variety of activities. We develop and administer a range of professional standards to ensure that sport and exercise scientists have the knowledge, expertise and experience to practice safely, ethically and to a high standard.

We provide grants to support research and run a variety of events, including workshops, webinars and conferences, which provide forums for learning, knowledge sharing and professional development.

BASES also produces a quarterly publication for its members, The Sport and Exercise Scientist, which provides sector news and information, discusses topics of interest and tackles important issues and challenges faced by the sector.

Who are your members?
The BASES membership reflects the varied roles and settings in which sport and exercise science is applied and practiced. This includes researchers and academics working in universities; applied practitioners working in elite sport at organisations like UK Sport and the home nation’s Institutes of Sport (English Institute of Sport, sportscotland Institute of Sport, Sport Wales, Sport Northern Ireland); and a range of other professions in clinical exercise and health, teaching, coaching and sport and exercise support services.

Which other organisations do you work closely with?
BASES works with other NGOs and professional bodies in the sport and exercise sector, both in the UK and abroad, sharing knowledge and resources to support shared objectives. For example, we’re currently working with the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), supporting the delivery of Sport England’s workforce strategy for the sport and physical activity sector.

BASES partners with the English Premier League and the English Institute of Sport to implement professional standards for their sport and exercise science employees.

Why is it important to be constantly conducting new research?
Compared to some disciplines, sport and exercise science is relatively young and is a fast-growing area of research. There remain so many important questions – from how to reduce the incidence of injuries in professional sports, to tackle the increasing prevalence of sedentary lifestyles – that require scientific research in order to be better understood. There are benefits for all of society in enhancing our scientific knowledge about sport and exercise, from improving athlete and team performances on the world stage to finding new and innovative ways of helping us live more active, healthy lives.

What are the latest trends and focuses within the field?
The potential of technology to enable increasingly sophisticated and effective methods of monitoring and analysing performance in professional and elite sport is a research area with a lot of current focus. Also being explored is the potential role of ‘wearable tech’, and everyday devices like smartphones, in increasing mass participation in sport and physical activity.

In sport psychology, there’s been a growing focus on athlete health, wellbeing and development, with studies on resilience, life skills, personal development and how athletes can successfully transition through sport.

Have there been any recent breakthroughs in the field?
The use of big data (for example, statistical performance analytics) and data mining in sport and exercise science is a fast-growing area of both research and practice that is changing some of the ways in which sport and exercise science is applied, particularly in elite sport settings. These continuous streams of data provide personalised feedback on performance and wellbeing, enabling more advanced and tailored support for sportspeople.

Can you tell us about your work with UK Anti-Doping?
BASES is committed to clean sport and we work in partnership with UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) to ensure that the integrity of sport is protected. BASES has worked closely with UKAD to develop education and information programmes that help current and future sport and exercise science practitioners to contribute to clean sport though their own actions and those of their athletes.

In addition to the creation of a BASES Clean Sport Interest Group, we’ve published a position statement on supplement use in sport and recently published an expert statement on inadvertent doping in sport, which provides information and practical guidance to help support and protect athletes and sport science practitioners.

What are the biggest challenges facing the field?
Finding effective ways to empower people to change their behaviour and become more physically active is a very topical and important issue that impacts all of us. If we are able to just nudge members of the population to be a little more active we could realise massive health benefits, reductions in health care costs and greater independent living in older adulthood.

How can sporting bodies become more aware of current research?
There are many ways that sporting bodies and individuals studying or working in sport and exercise can engage with BASES. Our website is a good place to start, to understand more about what we do and read the latest news and opinions on contemporary issues in the field.

We’re always open to developing partnerships with organisations that share our interest and commitment to developing and promoting sport and exercise science and we have a range of membership categories for individuals starting from just £29 a year. BASES members receive a range of benefits that help them keep up-to-date with the latest news, research and contemporary issues in sport and exercise science via our monthly newsletter and quarterly publication.

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