Alison Macpherson explains why research is key to helping British athletes succeed in London 2012 and beyond.
Raise Your Game: What is your job?
Alison Macpherson: My job is to manage the Paralympic science and technology programme for UK Sport which helps to find, source and deliver performance solutions to Paralympic athletes.
I also manage the Ideas and Innovations programme for UK Sport which involves getting young people and creative thinkers from the British public to be inspired by London 2012 and come up with new ideas that will have an impact on British athletes.
RYG: What does this role involve?
AM: My role on a day-to-day basis is very much about project management and horizon scanning to see what the other nations and the university sectors are doing in terms of research in sport. The Paralympic budget is limited so I've got to be fairly creative with what I do.
RYG: What elements do you look for in a creative idea?
AM: We like to look for ideas outside the norm and in areas where you wouldn't necessarily think your skill set would be applicable. Perhaps you're a physiologist, a biochemist or an engineer. Mechanical engineering is very important in the Paralympic sports because the athletes are relying on their equipment. We're looking for new ideas from people who aren't normally involved in the sporting world.
RYG: How important is research for sport?
AM: Research is crucial in terms of elite sports and nations all over the world are doing it. If you improve 100 things by 1%, you can make a difference. We're looking for marginal gains to keep athletes on top of the podium. Anything you can do in terms of adjusting training programmes and equipment can make the difference between taking gold or silver.
RYG: How important is the team in making research successful?
AM: Teamwork is key to successful research. It's crucial that we have a collaborative approach at the start of a project to bring together the right partners and expertise to produce the end result. It's not just the athletes who are at the front end. It's the support staff, the strength and conditioning coaches and the nutritionists.
RYG: What wider skills has this career given you?
AM: Good communication skills are a must for working in sport because you work with such a diverse group of people. You've got massive technical and engineering challenges and you have to be able to translate those developments into something that's meaningful to an athlete. Unless you take the athlete with you on that journey through the research, the chances of them using and benefiting from the outcome is quite slim.
I have developed strong project management skills in dealing with a large number of people and projects. Time moves quickly, even when you are preparing years ahead of an Olympic or Paralympic games. I set myself milestones to make sure I meet each target.
RYG: What are the highlights for you?
AM: I love my job! I've got a medical engineering background, but my passion has always been Paralympic sport because it's challenging and the benefits are real. To have a job where you can see what you're aiming for and the impact that you can have is inspiring.
RYG: Any lowlights?
AM: It's frustrating that I can't help everyone! Much of my work is elite athlete and podium focused. I often think it's a shame that I can't help those coming through at the grassroots level because unless they're given decent equipment and decent coaching, it'll be more difficult for them to keep on that path to the elite end of their sport.
RYG: What would be your message to any young people looking to launch their career in sport?
AM: Don't be put off by the fact that you might not have the right skill set now. You don't know where your role in your job may take you and the skills that you gain over time can be transferred into sport.
Through the various partnerships that we form, there are plenty of opportunities to work with big companies in many different fields. Believe in your dream and if you're prepared to be focused, driven and challenged, elite sport might be for you.
It's important to have a balance to your life, regardless of what you're doing.
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