“How To Support A Champion” Part 1: Book Review

If you are a sport scientist, applied practitioner, sports medicine professional, coach, athlete or any other human interested in sports and capable of using Twitter and LinkedIn, you would have been hard pressed to miss the hype surrounding the recent release of Dr Steve Ingham’s new (and first) book, “How To Support A Champion: The Art Of Applying Science To The Elite Athlete”. And for good reason. As Steve says in the preface, “there aren’t any books that tell you how to work with elite athletes” and he is exactly right; those in the industry know that it was only through years of trial and error (mostly error) in practise, tight-rope walking through negotiations with coaches and athletes, and generally fumbling our way through the obstacle course of our early years, that we eventually became decent applied practitioners. Steve was also in this basket, and so he decided to take the experiences from his early years of development in providing scientific support to some of the world’s greatest athletes and coaches, and share them with us in an effort to extract and summarise the lessons learned throughout this process.

Before I lose you, I must clarify that this is by no means a dusty old textbook, but instead an honest and humorous recount of life “in the trenches” in the service to elite sport, the lessons to be learned after experiencing such situations (both positive and negative), and simple yet insightful take-home messages to reflect upon later over a cup of tea. This book is brilliant for 2 reasons: first, the main goal is to use these real-life examples to give university graduates an insight into what life (and work) is actually like in elite sport – it is not all glitter and glory; nor is it waving a journal article in the face of a coach as “proof” for your idea. The lessons to be learned are real and should be taken seriously by every sport science student if they are determined to work in high performance sport. Second, these same examples encourage current practitioners to stop, reflect on their own methods, and identify potential areas of weakness that could do with a bit of polishing up. As such, the scope of How To Support A Champion covers the whole spectrum from university graduate/aspiring scientist, to the experienced practitioner who has been around the mulberry bush a couple of times.

How To Support A Champion is a difficult book to put down once you’ve started reading, and as I wrote in my review it is certainly a 5 star read. I have included my review of the book below, otherwise you can view it and all of the other reviews (if you don’t take my word for it) and purchase the book directly either as an eBook or paperback on Amazon.

In Part 2 of this series, I have the privilege of interviewing Dr Steve Ingham on How To Support A Champion and other concepts related to the development of students and graduates for a career in high performance sport. Keep an eye out for what will certainly be another excellent read (Steve’s interview, not my blog!) in the next few days, but for now, I encourage you to enjoy the book!

“How To Support A Champion: The Art of Applying Science To The Elite Athlete” by Dr Steve Ingham

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Steve Ingham’s new book, How To Support A Champion, ever since he announced it’s existence. Needless to say, it was a brilliant, thought-provoking read which served to up-end my current mode of thinking and practising as an applied sport scientist.

Far from being a dry step-by-step textbook guide on how to develop sport science practitioner skills, Steve’s highly entertaining narration makes it feel like he’s sitting there in your living room regaling you with accounts of his journey as a sport scientist. The examples used to demonstrate the many crucial, pivotal moments of learning throughout his practitioner career are brutally honest, dissecting successes and failures and their subsequent consequences in equal measure. What makes this book so impactful are the sharp, detailed descriptions of those ‘cold shiver’ moments in every practitioner’s career, in which coaches launch questions at you that make the floor fall out of your safe, comfortable university-educated world and catapult you into the land of accountability, responsibility and discomfort – ready or not! Highlighting the need to extract the learnings from every situation, and adapting personal and professional skills to match the continually evolving environment of high performance sport, this book clearly demonstrates how the act of applying science to elite athletes really is an art.

How To Support A Champion provides numerous excellent examples of stepping out of the safety zone of sport science dogma and challenging oneself and the status quo by using practical evidence, logic and first principles as the guide to creating and implementing novel physiological practises for real performance solutions. These successful examples of breaking the mould and pushing the limits of applied science opened my mind to a whole new, freer level of thinking, one without fear, constraint or conformity to the norm, which I am eager to explore further and test out in future practise.

The extraordinary level of critical analysis and self-reflection demonstrated by Steve in those countless trying situations, invokes that exact same need for self-reflection on ones’ own practitioner skills. And although it may make for slower reading, it is clearly an essential skill to learn and critical for career development, efficacy as a practitioner, and cultivating relationships with coaches and athletes. Every page mentally challenged, critiqued and inspired me to become a better professional – a better practitioner worthy of supporting elite athletes and coaches on their quest for excellence. No matter what stage we are at in our career, How to Support A Champion drives home the need for continual practitioner development, through self-analysis, self-reflection and adaptation, to remain effective in developing athletes and supporting them on their long and arduous journeys to success.

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