Can sport teach science about excellence ?

Science knowledge has improved sport performance in many ways. New training and recovery programs plus advances in equipment have led to new heights of achievement. Is it time for science to learn from sport?

When I was considering grad school, a mentor told me:

A working scientist needs to be 2 of these 3: smart, lucky, and hardworking. A successful scientist works hard and is smart enough to create luck by recognizing opportunities.

I remembered this conversation when talking with my friend who is a professional hockey player about his career. He said that to get to the NHL, a player needs: talent, discipline, drive, and the support from family and friends. Success in hockey sounds a lot like success in science – could science take lessons in training from hockey?

Career Journeys in Hockey and Science

In Canada, there is a ‘farm system’ of hockey. Players with talent are recognized early and given opportunities to play in competitive leagues. As they progress, the options require more dedication and many players leave home in their early teens to play for the best teams. Scouts for pro hockey watch these leagues for talent and some players will enter various junior leagues where NHL teams recruit players.

Do you see any parallels with science training? We work hard and there are drop-outs at each stage (BSc, MSc, PhD, post-doc, etc.) plus many of us go to new cities to train. A few will become a tenured professor. As in hockey, many are happy to step down at an earlier stage, using their skills in related careers.

While talking with my hockey friend, I was stuck by the support of the community in his childhood training. Should we do something similar for budding scientists?

Moving beyond ‘interest in science’

There are many programs to spark an interest in science. I’ve been involved in several programs over the past decade and am a big believer in outreach programs. But many of these programs are too limited – they initiate excitement or students complete one challenge but there isn’t long term support. Students who have an interest may have nowhere to go with this excitement.

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