Minister hears how collaboration in sports science research can have wider benefits

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Swansea’s research in sports science and the wider benefits this can bring were in the spotlight during a visit to campus by Welsh Government deputy minister for culture, sport and tourism Ken Skates AM.

Swansea University’s A-STEM research group is ranked 5th in the UK for impact, according to the latest research excellence framework (REF 2014).   The minister was at the University to hear about how A-STEM researchers are fostering collaboration between Welsh academics, businesses and sport, with the overall objective of enhancing performance in all these areas.
 
Visit to sports science by minister Ken Skates AMPictured at Swansea University (l-r):  Mr Brian Davies (High performance manager, Sport Wales), Dr Liam Kilduff (WEPSIN project lead), Mr Ken Skates (deputy minister), Dr David Shearer (University of South Wales), Dr Camilla Knight (Swansea University), Dr Joy Bringer (Sport Wales) and Mrs Clare Henson (Swansea University).

One such collaboration is WEPSIN, the Welsh Elite Performance Sport Innovation Network.  Led by Swansea University, WEPSIN was established to build on the success achieved by Welsh athletes in the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and London Olympics 2012. It is supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

An example of the benefits that WEPSIN has delivered are the hi-tech Blizzard jackets worn by Welsh athletes in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which were designed to keep their muscles and body at the optimum temperature for competition.  While a warm-up is a staple part of an athlete’s routine, the time before an event starts can see a significant loss of heat that could reduce muscle power and increase the risk of injury.  WEPSIN worked with Sport Wales and Welsh-based company Blizzard Protection Systems Ltd to develop the jackets and tackle the problem.

Welsh Institute for Performance Solutions - developing sports science in Wales

The minister also heard about a new research initiative, again led by Swansea, in partnership with Bangor University, University of South Wales and Sport Wales: the Welsh Institute for Performance Solutions (WIPS).

WIPS will become the performance solutions arm for Sport Wales. Its role is to further develop sport science in Wales, train future scientists, enhance the application of science in Welsh sports, and increase collaboration between Welsh sport, academia and business.

The launch of WIPS follows the recent news that Swansea moved up into the top 30 of UK universities for research in the Research Excellence Framework (REF), with other Welsh universities also performing well. 

400 x 286Pictured:  Swansea swimmer and Commonwealth gold medallist Jazz Carlin

Ken Skates AM, Welsh Government deputy minister for culture, sport and tourism, said:
 
”It was great to visit the A-STEM research group and hear about some of the exciting developments underway here, supported by the Welsh Government and Sport Wales.

The work of WEPSIN has already benefited Welsh Athletes like Commonwealth Gold medallist Jazz Carlin but the applied research they undertake has the potential to benefit the health sector as well as Welsh business, bringing much wider benefits to Wales, its people and communities.”

Wider benefits to sports science research

At the heart of sports science research is the emphasis on finding wider benefits.   For instance, Swansea sports science researchers have been supporting the 65 Degrees North team, which in May will be aiming to complete the world’s first unsupported crossing of the Greenland ice cap by an amputee.

‌‌Dr Liam Kilduff, director of WEPSIN and WIPS, and associate professor in A-STEM at Swansea University, explained:
 
“Elite sport provides a unique testbed for research, leading to all kinds of wider benefits.  Research carried out in the field of sport really can drive forward developments in other areas.
 
An example of this is methods of controlling muscle damage.   Research like this is often pioneered with elite athletes, but can end up being used to improve treatment for patients.  
 
It shows how sports science research here at Swansea, carried out with our partners through these networks, can have a much wider impact than just improving performance on the sports field.”

Alongside Dr Kilduff, key figures in these pan-Wales partnerships are Dr Camilla Knight of Swansea University sports science department, Dr David Shearer (University of South Wales) and Prof Christian Cook (Bangor University).

Pictured (l-r) Pete Bowker & Dr Meinir Jones (65 Degrees North); Dr Steve Mellalieu, Dr Liam Kilduff, Dr Melitta McNarry and Dr Kelly Mackintosh (Swansea University sports science)

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See how Swansea research is supporting 65 Degrees North

Find out about studying sports science at Swansea University