New research institute aims for top performance for Welsh sport

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A new research institute, which combines expertise from Sport Wales, academia and industry, is to focus on further enhancing the performance of Welsh athletes, while at the same time supporting Welsh business and ensuring the research of Welsh academics is having the greatest potential impact.

Following excellent Welsh performances at major competitions, the pressure was on to identify other avenues to exploit to support Welsh sporting stars.  The development and formation of the Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS) is one such avenue.  It will serve as a hub to provide Welsh athletes, coaches and practitioners with access to the latest research in the field of sporting performance. 

600 x 338 Picture: Welsh Tae Kwon Do athlete Jade Jones, who won gold for Britain at the London 2012 Olympics.

Swansea University leads the academic side of the new Institute, working with colleagues from Bangor, Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan and the University of South Wales.

However, the founding principle is that the new Institute brings together not just academic researchers, but also businesses in a wide range of fields and Sport Wales, which is responsible for developing and promoting sport and physical activity in Wales.

‌There are big potential benefits that could stem from close working links between elite sport and business.  Top-level Welsh athletes can benefit from the latest products and services that are aimed at improving performance, and companies can benefit in turn if those products catch on with a larger audience.

‌An example is the Blizzard jacket, wor‌n by Welsh athletes in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which was 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. Sports science experts from Swansea University worked with Sport Wales and Welsh-based company Blizzard Protection Systems Ltd to develop the jackets and tackle the problem.

Jazz Carlin wearnig Blizzard Jacket

Picture:  Welsh swimmer Jazz Carlin wearing the Blizzard jacket, which was devised by business, Sport Wales and academia working together

Encouraging more successful collaborations like this is one of the primary objectives of WIPS. The overall mission of the Welsh Institute of Performance Science is to further develop sport science in Wales, train future sport scientists, enhance the application of science in Welsh sports, and increase collaboration between Welsh sport, academia and business.

The launch of WIPS is especially timely given that 2016 will see Welsh athletes competing for places in the Great Britain squad for the Olympics, which take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.

Professor Liam Kilduff of the A-STEM research centre at Swansea University, who will chair both the research steering group and the strategic management board of WIPS, said:

"As other countries have shown, we need dedicated research expertise if we are to succeed in improving performance for Welsh athletes.  That’s what WIPS will provide.  Our job is to support the practitioners and athletes as they strive for success on the world stage.  

But our work will also support Welsh businesses in the field, extending the market for their products.   And in supporting athletes at the elite level, we’re also hoping to inspire more people to take part in sport at all levels. 

As academics it’s pivotal that our research is used by our primary end user (e.g. athletes and practitioners).  This project will ensure elite and professional sport research has maximum impact on the international stage." 

In addition to Professor Kilduff, Dr Camilla Knight and Dr Thomas Love have been central in developing this initiative and currently sit on the research steering group.

Visit to sports science by minister Ken Skates AM

Picture: Ken Skates, Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism (third from left) with members of the WEPSIN project, from sports science, Sport Wales, and business, which led to the establishment of the new Institute.

Ken Skates AM, the Welsh Government Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said:

“I welcome this innovative partnership that is bringing together sport, academic institutions and the private sector. If Welsh athletes are to continue to succeed on the world stage our Elite sport system needs to explore and harness the latest cutting-edge developments and innovations in order to achieve those crucial extra seconds and metres.

The Initial programme (WEPSIN) that Welsh Government and Sport Wales helped put in place prior to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games has evolved and matured, and the resultant Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS) now encompasses the majority of Higher Education institutions in Wales.

It’s a great example of multi-agency collaboration, joined-up thinking and efficient use of resources which will provide a clear competitive edge for Welsh sports and athletes.”   

Brian Davies, Sport Wales’ Director of Elite Sport, said:

“We have an ambitious mission of being the number one Commonwealth Games sporting nation and increasing the number and quality of athletes on UK World Class Programmes. 

Collaborating with the Welsh Institute of Performance Science allows us to tap into a strong academic community in Wales to create practical solutions to help our athletes excel on the world stage. 

Thanks to this partnership, we have developed a strategic and insight-driven approach, aided by research and European funding, to ensure better performance at the Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic Games – which is key to sustaining Welsh success at an international level.” 

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Picture:  Pete Bowker and Meinir Jones (blue t-shirts), from the 65 Degrees North team, who successfully completed the first solo trek across Greenland by an amputee; pictured with some of the Sports Science experts at Swansea, whose research supported the 65 Degrees North team.