Going for gold: Welsh athletes to have the latest performance research behind them

Welsh Elite Performance Sports Innovation Network with Ken Skates

With a busy sporting year ahead for Wales, including the Six Nations, the European Football Championships, and the Rio Olympics and Paralympics in August, a new institute is being launched which will look at how we can apply the latest research to help boost our athletes’ performance.  

The Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS), which combines expertise from Sport Wales, academia and industry, will serve as a hub to provide Welsh athletes, coaches and practitioners with access to the latest research in the field of sporting performance. 

Countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which set high standards in sporting excellence, already have research hubs like this.  Now Wales is to adopt the same approach. 

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

Jazz Carlin wearing the Blizzard Jacket - Blizzard Protection Systems and Swansea University

‌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.  Sports science experts from Swansea University worked with Sport Wales and Welsh-based company Blizzard Protection Systems Ltd to develop the jackets.

David Shearer, Reader in Sports Pyschology at the University of South Wales is the Performance Psychology Lead on the WIPS research group. He said:

“I’m really pleased to be part of WIPS and to be working with fellow researchers to develop and support elite athletes. We are already working on a number of interesting projects to explore how psychological behaviours can impact on an athlete’s performance. For example we are working with Swim Wales to look at pre-race behaviours ahead of the Olympics in Rio this summer and the Commonwealth Games in 2018.”

Martin Steggall, Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences and Education at the University of South Wales, said:

“We are pleased to be a part of the new Welsh Institute for Professional Sport and to be contributing the expertise of our staff at USW to develop elite athletes. It’s a great opportunity for research expertise to be shared between colleagues and institutions and put into practice to assist athletes to perform.”

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. 

"This project will ensure elite and professional sport research has maximum impact on the international stage." 

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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