Reporting on science and sport in 2012

With the difference between success and failure in elite sport often decided by the slimmest of margins, athletes have increasingly turned to sport science to help improve their performances and fitness.

But the link between science and fitness is important for all of us, not just professional athletes - and it can also provide a great starting point for your reporting for School Report!

Inspired by London 2012, and supported by Olympic legend Sir Steve Redgrave, the Wellcome Trust's In The Zone initiative has sent out an experiment kit to every school in the country, containing instruments to measure data like blood pressure, pulse rate and lung capacity.

We've come up with a few ideas for stories and reporting, based on and inspired by the project so why not see what you could be getting up to?

Finger on the pulse

One of the items available in the experiment box is a pulse oximeter - this allows you to measure your pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in your blood.

Have a go at collecting and recording the data - at rest and then after vigorous exercise. It might be for your class, your year or even your whole school! Generally speaking, the bigger the sample size, more useful the data.

Try not to jump to assumptions, but use it as a starting point for an investigation into the issues that are related to health and fitness.

How does data like this fit in with widely reported stories in the media about childhood obesity and body image? Or the recent story about girls being put off PE at school? Is the media narrative about young people being less active than before correct or a generalisation?

You may find it useful to refer back to School Report's lesson plan on turning statistics into stories.

This gives tips about looking for a "top line" - this is what journalists call the most exciting or interesting aspect of a story, something that will draw your audience in and make then eager to hear more.

But, of course, you must make sure that what you report is accurate and not twisting the statistics. Ignore the old adage of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story!

As well as pulse rate, you can also measure various other data relating to fitness such as peak flow levels - check out the experiment box and the In the Zone website for more details and ideas.

Thinking about Fitness

What does fitness actually mean? Is there one universal definition of it? Or does it vary from person to person and sport to sport?

For instance, would a champion weightlifter - with explosive muscular strength - be regarded as fit when it came to playing five-a-side football? Or would their bulk actually be a disadvantage when it came to such an intense aerobic activity?

Sport Age & sex Squats (in 1 min) Press-ups (in 1 min) Pulse (rest) Pulse (1 min after 2 mins of exercise)
Rower 19, male 52 35 74 90
Skier 15, female 58 48 74 122
Gymnast 14, female 69 83 86 98
Triathlete 25, male 42 40 52 86
Mountain biker 23, male 40 26 46 60

Similarly, what do you think would be the main differences between the results for a 100m sprinter and a marathon runner?

In The Zone has collected and recorded the data of some top young sportsmen and women - and that of five-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave - so you can compare and contrast their results - and see how you measure up.

The table highlights some of the athletes and their results, but for more detail and more case studies, have a look at the Live Data Zone on the In the Zone website.

Training for the top

Do you have any sporting stars or coaches in your area? Or outstanding athletes in your school?

Why not sharpen up your interviewing skills by finding out about their training regimes? You could ask about how much science goes into their thinking when they are drawing up a training programme.

Read our guide to how to get sportsmen and women involved in School Report, it's full of tips for getting hold of your interview targets.

Remember the essentials of interviewing:

  • do some research before the interview so you are well informed and can ask probing questions
  • try to ask 'open' questions that will get you interesting answers rather than yes/no responses
  • always keep in mind the 5 W's - who, what, where, when and why (plus how!). If you can get some sort of answer for all these questions, you're well on your way to a good story!
  • think about what the point of the interview is. What information do you really want to find out?
  • and make sure you listen to the answers! Be prepared to go 'off-script' if your interviewee says something really interesting or that you feel needs more explanation

Are they thinking about issues such as muscle strength and blood oxygen levels? Do they ever take inspiration from other sports? What do they find most difficult in their training and why do they think that is the case? How does it all relate back to the science of sport?

Or why not research how elite athletes like sprinter Usain Bolt or middle distance runner Mo Farah train for their events.

Have a look at School Report's tips for researching in the gathering news part of our teacher resources.

Take it further!

There are so many ways that science and sport cross over, and the In the Zone website is full of more ideas and suggestions for ways to investigate it further.

And why not upload your data to see how it compares to the averages.

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