Knowledge exchange: a winning formula for High Performance Sport innovation

As Great Britain basks in the glory of Olympics success, a Welsh university has announced a new initiative to enhance elite sport performance and expand business enterprise in Wales through the exchange of expertise.

The ‘Science, Medicine and Technology Innovation for High Performance Sport’ project, led by Swansea University in collaboration with the University of Glamorgan, will provide cutting edge technology and business solutions to issues identified by Welsh sport. 

The project is supported by a £57.5K grant from the Welsh Government’s European funded Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) programme and has the key aim of encouraging knowledge exchange between Welsh business, academia, and sport.

It was established to build on the success achieved by Welsh athletes in the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, which emphasised the country’s capacity for sporting excellence.

The initiative will support the ambitious goals for the next Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 and beyond – enhancing Welsh athletes’ performance and medal prospects, providing a sustainable legacy of knowledge for future generations of athletes and coaches in Wales, and stimulating economic opportunities for Welsh businesses.

The project is led by Dr Liam Kilduff, from the Applied Sports Technology Exercise and Medicine Research Centre (A-STEM) in the University’s College of Engineering, working with Dr Nick Owen and Dr Steve Mellalieu, also of A-STEM, and Dr David Shearer from the University of Glamorgan’s Faculty of Business and Society.

Business Minister Edwina Hart said the project would support the drive to encourage innovation in Wales and help businesses enter the sport equipment market.

She said: "This project brings together three sectors within Wales – business, academia and sport – to provide cutting edge technology and business solutions to issues identified by Welsh sport. The aim is to provide economic opportunities for Welsh businesses while enhancing the performance of Welsh athletes’ performance.

"Companies and businesses not normally associated with sport will be given the opportunity to learn from experts in the field of sport science and medicine to develop innovative new products that will help increase their long term sustainability."

Dr Liam Kilduff, the project’s leader, said: “The award of this Welsh Government grant shows the strong reputation we have here in Swansea University in the area of elite sport.

“Our main objectives are to stimulate creative and innovative research for elite sport performance, and participation in sport across all ages and standards, using existing expertise in Welsh Universities and businesses, and by attracting and nurturing young talented Welsh researchers.

“This aims to provide Welsh sports, their coaches, and respective athletes with sport-specific innovative answers in key performance areas, to provide a better understanding of athletic performance – ultimately result in performance gains on the world stage.

“The project also aims to build effective collaborations with Welsh Sports Governing Bodies, Sport Wales, Welsh universities, and businesses, to accelerate knowledge transfer between researchers and industry.

“This is a unique and exciting project – to use the environment of elite sport as a unique test-bed for the successful interaction between sport, education and business within Wales, which we feel will have real impact within the elite sport and business sectors.”

The first phase of the project involves a series of needs analysis seminars and scoping discussion workshops with the key sports identified by Sport Wales.  

It is also envisaged there will be at least one Sport Science Conference organised for Welsh Sports Governing Bodies and their respective coaches and support staff, where a number of experts in the area of Applied Sports Science research will present their ideas.

This will allow for a ‘challenge’ workshop, to ensure both the academic partners and respective sports get the full benefit from this unique conference and knowledge exchange opportunity.

Further to the successful completion of the project’s first phase, the Welsh Government will then give consideration to funding two additional proposed stages of the project.

The second phase will focus on the academics’ engagement with Welsh businesses that may have the relevant expertise and capabilities to add significantly to the elite and recreational sport model.

The third phase of the project will bringing together all three sectors in a series of ‘challenge’ workshops, centred around the key performance and technology questions posed by the respective sports, to seek to develop innovative solutions to the issues presenting.

Professor Noel Thompson, Swansea University Pro-Vice-Chancellor, said: “This is a prime example of how research here in Swansea can have direct impact on one of the main industry providers in Wales.

“Sport plays a pivotal role in society and Swansea University is committed to conducting research that has real meaning at both the elite and recreation ends of sports participation.”

Monica Gibson-Sweet, Dean of the University of Glamorgan’s Faculty of Business and Society, said: “This is an innovative project that will combine the two universities’ expertise with various Welsh businesses and companies, to help provide Wales with a real competitive edge in sport and its associated industries.”

Brian Davies, Sport Wales Institute High Performance Manager said: “The recent Sport Wales Elite Sport Strategy 2010-16 recognises the significant role the Higher Education sector could play in delivering the main goals set out for performance sport.

“We are seeing in the most successful sports that success is built on a partnership between a talented athlete and coach making marginal gains through science, technology, medicine and facilities.

“This project focuses on the role that science and technology can make in giving Welsh performers those vital marginal gains.”