Sports science plays a huge role in the success of club and national programmes around the world. British Swimming has been at the forefront of scientific development in the sport thanks to their decision to identify and bring in the leaders in the field to support British swimmers. Gemma Smith was with a full GB team at the BEST Centre in October 2009 and we asked Gemma 10 of the BEST.

1. What is your official job with British Swimming?

Performance scientist at ITC Stirling.

2. What was your background beforeo moving into British Swimming?

5 years at Sport Scotland Institute of Sport workind with various sports but predominantly swimming. They are still my employers but for nearly a year I have worked solely with British Swimming. I was 1 year at the AIS in Canberra at the physiology department then numerous years in the health industry.

3. How did you get into sports science?

I always had a passion for sport so selected my degree based on this interest. The course offered several avenues in sport but the sciences and the learning how the body works and can be altered with training has always fascinated me.

4. What traits in a young swimmer tend to produce a good senior swimmer?

Physical traits: long body, short legs with big hands and feet. Good buoyancy. Good feel for the water.
Mental traits: Determination, commitment, patience and love of the sport.

5. In terms of sports science, how much has British Swimming changed in the past decade?

Considerably!! Significant inroads have been made in the technical side enbabling races to be analysed, compared and monitored. Analysis of techniqye can also be done from various angles, even within the training environment. Physiologically, numerous parameters can be monitored to track training adaptations, peak performance and health. Nutrition and psychology are now starting to make a greater impact in the sport too.

6. What is the plan up to London 2012?

In terms of sports science, it is to work more intensively with the coaches and athletes as well as other providers, to aid the coaching processs to a greater degree in order to generate healthy, faster swimmers. This will invovle regularly monitoring training and competitions as well as looking at areas that will offer the greatest impact going forward.

7. What can British Swimmers most improve on from a sports science perspective?

Visual feedback of performance and technique is often more powerful than descriptive feedback, thus within training, footage will be crucial. Physiological testing has its place if conducted in the right manne. However, it is the arenas of nutrition and psychology that i feel we need to tap into more, with the manipulations of the former to achiever both training and competing goals being critical. Providing the swimmer with knowledge of: their technique, physiology in response to certain training environments, dietary requirements, psychological goals, etc. can only empower them to become stronger, fitter and faster athletes.

8. What specific testing or exercise would you recommend a swim coach do on a daily basis?

Difficult one! However, in an age where blood monitoring is still rather intrusive and somewhat costly, that old chestnut of resting supine heart rate first thing in the morning woudl be a fairly good test. And perhaps develping that to the orthostatic test if time permits. AS for an exercise other than swimming itself, i would say that stretching with some Pilates exercises, as this is often neglected yet is crucial for an elite swimmer.

9. What can swimming learn from other sports and coaching methods?

Cross fertilisation of ideas does not just have to come as result of swimming providers and coaches communicating, but also from providers and coaches communicating with those in other sports. These opportunities are often limited but when they do, they can often be inspiring, enlightening, whether it be a new monitoring or tracking device or a different way of achieving maximum speed through cross training, it stimulates us into thinking what could or could not work in swimming. In this way, the coach can make more informed choices as well as potentially offering greater variety in to their programme.

10. What three pieces of advice would you give to a young swimmer that wants to reach the top?

Believe in yourself. Swim because you enjoy it and want to be the best in your sport. Learn something from every swimming session or experience and use it to keep improving yourself to become a better swimmer.