By Carl Valle
It’s time to give praise to the people involved with sports performance who don’t always get the love they deserve—the scientists. This is a tribute to all the sport scientists who are helping us improve and spotlights ten important people who’ve had an impact on me. If you’re a coach involved with performance, these professionals have a body of work that demands your attention. Each expert has specialized information worth the time and effort to learn, and I guarantee you’ll become better by reading their research and attending their lectures.
About the List of Sport Scientists
The list considers not only impact but also innovation, creativity, dedication, and values. It’s recognition for researchers who may not be aware they are making a difference. I’m not ranking these scientists, nor am I creating a top ten list.
These are great people who deserve some praise. In addition to their research, many have changed how coaches test, monitor, train, and understand what they do with their athletes. This list includes some legends and others who are secret weapons.
Sport scientists are growing more important and are now working with professional teams, not only universities. While many sport scientists do research and lecture at colleges, they also help companies build better products and help many populations, including astronauts, stay healthy.
I’ve interviewed many sport scientists in the past for Friday Five, including Dr. Cardinale and Dr. Stone. I’ve recommended books as good starting references written by such scientists as Inigo Mujika and Dr. Cometti. Finally, there are many researchers not mentioned who aren’t formally sport scientists but who apply the research so well they’re truly artists, including Henk Kraaijenhof and Hakan Andersson. For the sport scientists who have helped me who I don’t mention, remember this is not a list of who I like the most.
Give Thanks by Applying Their Science
If you want to make a sport scientist’s day, send a workout or a competition video showing how you used their expertise to help an athlete. They’ll be happy to see you applying their research, and many of them are curious to know how we use their findings to help their future research.
Sport scientists don’t hide in a lab all day. They often lecture in the classroom and work with teams and coaches, and many are helping coaches advance their training methods. Some of the new studies in sports medicine deserve a list as well. These experts, including surgeons and physical therapists, would be excellent addendums to this article.
Antti Mero—Sprint Research Pioneer
Dr. Mero is one of the top experts in sprinting. His work is similar to Ralph Mann, but because he doesn’t have as much of a following in the United States, I want to give him more exposure. There are many great minds in speed, but Antti has delivered some amazing research since the mid-1980s.Antti Mero is a top sprinting expert and turned Finland into a leader in sport science.CLICK TO TWEET
Antti single-handedly helped Finland become one of the leading countries in sport science, and his use of EMG and overspeed research 30 years ago still has value today. Several researchers are essentially repeating much of the work done in the 1990s and earlier. It’s great to see refinements, but what matters is how novel the early findings are compared to the current studies.
Antii is also an expert in areas other than speed, such as sports supplementation and hormones. Like many sport scientists, he’s helping with aging and health. Most of his research is available through online sources. His sprint book, though, is a rare find. If you can find it in any language, get a copy and translate it. I didn’t include it in my book lists because it’s very rare, but it’s a masterpiece.
Carmelo Bosco—Field Testing Innovator
Carmelo Bosco made sports science accessible to coaches and spent many years making advanced concepts practical for coaches. Several sport scientists are working on field tests and other useful evaluation methods, but Carmelo did this in the early 1980s, an impressive feat when not much technology was available.Carmelo Bosco made advanced concepts in sports science accessible and practical for coaches.CLICK TO TWEET
Carmelo is well known for his jump assessment and for mentoring Dr. Marco Cardinale. He was very vocal if he didn’t agree with someone, including other scientists. His work with the stretch-shortening cycle was instrumental in moving coaches into the realm of plyometric science, not just jump exercises.
In addition to testing, Carmelo connected many dots, including hormones and muscle fiber types. Several experts have taken the next step beyond simple jump tests, but what they’ve accomplished is not much further along than what Carmelo achieved years ago. We have a lot to thank him for.
Lorena Torres Ronda—A Talent in Applied Sciences for Team Sport
Even if I’m biased since I’m Iberian, Lorena Torres Ronda is a secret weapon who is not as well known as she should be. She’s a great resource for many areas in sport science and is currently with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
Why Lorena? First and most important, she has a wide range of research that is practical and important to coaches. Lorena, with her husband Xavi Schelling, are producing very interesting research in basketball and other sports. I had the honor of having some great Boston seafood when they were in town for the ACSM meeting years ago.Lorena Torres Ronda is a secret weapon for coaches in sport science research and technology.CLICK TO TWEET
Both are important leaders in ensuring sports technology is used properly. Their stance a year ago was important because technology companies are out of control with outlandish claims, and they need policing. Finally, Lorena and Xavi produced a fine paper on hydrotherapy and conditioning, an essential part of training athletes. Lorena’s work in other sports such as golf and synchronized swimming is very applied and well-researched.
Milan Coh—Master of Sport Performance Analysis and Reporting
Some of my favorite reads in sport science come from Milan Coh, a genius investigating track and field data. His reports are so detailed and wide-ranging, they push the boundaries of kinetic and kinematic fusion. Any coach who wants to appreciate speed and power should read Milan’s studies.Milan Coh slices a movement pattern into digestible parts for everyone, not just other researchers.CLICK TO TWEET
Milan’s work in events like javelin and ski jumping are fascinating and demonstrate what research studies should include. His modeling and presentation of data are more than beautiful charts and data tables—he slices a movement pattern into digestible parts for everyone, not just other researchers.
My personal favorites are Milan’s work with Colin Jackson and his sprint start findings from twenty years ago. Other important work includes his research using EMG with jump training and jumping vents. What he does with his studies, especially showing a lot of information without overload, is simply outstanding. Even if you’re not a fan of track and field and you work with team sports, look at how he presents data. He is a master.
Brad DeWeese—The Future of Hybrid Sport Scientists
Dr. Brad DeWeese is a track and strength coach who happens to do research and teach, and he’s the first American on this list. He wears a lot of hats, and he does just fine with both the quality of research and the results he gets on the ice and track. He has expanded his reach with other sports and is among the crown jewels along with Mike Stone and the rest of his colleagues at East Tennessee State University.
I included Brad because he demonstrates leadership by showing how true coaching therapy can be scientific and practical; many coaches and sport scientists experience a disconnect between the pure science and the coaching science.
And his testing and data-driven methods are working. Involving athletes intermittently with sport science makes the science more valid and credible, not just relevant. The better the intervention strategy, the more useful the research.
Brad is also a leader in periodization, ensuring we don’t jump to conclusions about what is true and what is theoretical without strong evidence.
Keijo Häkkinen—A Legend in Power and Endocrine Science
Dr. Keijo Häkkinen is a living legend in strength and conditioning research. He’s one of the first sport scientists I read, and I became a fan. Although Dr. Costill and Dr. Brooks are also legends, they’ve dealt more with physiology and less with speed and power, and their impact on conditioning in team sport isn’t as strong.
Keijo’s recent article on the rate of force development was featured in Science for Sport: The Performance Digest because it teases out important factors that make athletes explosive. His massive volume of studies, over 600 to be specific, and his contributions in conferences and symposiums are impressive and can’t be discounted.
I grew up reading Keijo, and if you care about deep adaptations you should read him too. While more genetic and cellular mechanisms are in vogue now, his work serves as the backbone of much of the progress made in sports performance over the last few decades.
This entire list is biased slightly toward power and the endocrine systems of strength athletes. Conditioning seems to be less accessible for team sport outside of David Bishop’s fine work on repeated sprint ability. Other great team endurance-focused sport science experts like Martin Buchheit are ultra-talented. I didn’t include him, though, because he is well known, and I’ve shared his work dozens of times in the past.
Sophia Nimphius—The Contemporary Expert in Sports Performance
Sophia Nimphius is a rising star who has earned every accolade she’s received. What I love about her change of direction and agility research is that she understands testing and training. Agility, specifically change of direction, is an area where Sophia leads the show. She’s involved with an array of sports, including soccer, softball, and surfing.
Some of her collaborations with Dr. Haff regarding cluster workouts is super valuable for coaches, and they defend practitioners in their observations by confirming the value of coaching innovation. She is also very literate in technology and one of the first to use Moticon’s in-shoe testing with sports that are hard to quantify and understand. Flywheel training, dancers, and even cricket science are better now because of her collaborations.
Finally, Sophia’s also doing great work with hypertrophy and body composition adaptations, areas we still need help with to this day. A native of the Bay area in Florida, she’s making the United States proud, letting the world know we are not only consumers of sport science, but also making science.
William Sands—A Leader in Monitoring and Technology
Known as Bill in his small circles, Dr. William Sands is the bulldog for coaches. William is on the list because he fights to make sure everyone involved in helping athletes is on the same page. William is one of the fathers of monitoring training, and his classic work decades ago still has influence today. My first experience with William was at a USATF Level 3 school, and at the BSMPG I heard his amazing talk about recovery.
William is very progressive and uses technology in a way that solves problems, not just reinvents a new way to achieve the same solution. The range of his research is extensive in width, and he has spent decades making sure the gap between coaching science and true biological science is not tainted.
He is a defender of pure sport science and doesn’t let voodoo or cargo cult science interfere with quality coaching education, and he’s one of the most candid scientists available. He alone helped bring credit to the United States and was part of the transformation of sports science in this country.
Israel Halperin—The Watchdog for Coaches in Strength and Conditioning
Dr. Israel Halperin is a former fighter who became an expert in both combat sports and sport science. Two of his papers that had an impact on me called for the need for case studies and the interaction of confounding variables. His depth of thinking is a mile deep even though his volume of research isn’t high.
The call for longitudinal and wide data for individual athletes is the most important step for us to grow as a profession. Organic information is far more demonstrative of applied sport science than 8-week artificial trials that are incomplete. The research available now is useful, but we still have a long way to go with the science.
Israel’s research is both powerful and creative, as he tackles tough subjects like validity and provides insight on everyday topics like using mirrors in training. His wide variety of topics is fresh and enlightening, and I highly recommend downloading all of it to discover the subjects useful to you.
I also enjoy Israel’s mix of conditioning and power development. He sees the full picture instead of a sliver of what’s happening. Read his work—it’s progressive and down to earth.
Prue Cormie—Strength and Power Load Investigator
Dr. Prue Cormie is a trailblazer, and her work in strength and conditioning as well as cancer is truly a gift to the field. She’s the only Australian listed, ironic since the land down under has produced some amazing people including David Pyne and Tony Blazevich.
The key is the quality of her research on explosive strength, and she deserves mention for her past work in strength and power. Like any research, some will be timeless, and some will have conflicting information, but the main value rests in the question it asks on coaches’ behalf. I love the questions and the research she spearheaded and assisted with. Though much of her current work deals with tackling cancer, she still provides great insight for strength and conditioning coaches.
How to Learn more about the Scientists and Their Discoveries
Sport science covers more than research. It’s a living process where we can learn directly by working with and talking to the professionals. Many coaches go on to PhD work and elect to have sport scientist mentors. Some scientists work on product development and help companies improve products. Many of these researchers also work with teams and national organizations to improve athlete performance and health.
If you want to learn more about the researchers, do your homework on their science by going to ResearchGate. More than a thousand studies can be downloaded free of charge by these great people. Sometimes sport scientists update book chapters, and they often update entire texts, leading the curriculum of future exercise and sport science students. Regardless of their involvement in education directly, they’re all worth learning from. Their work has certainly helped me.