Date of release: Thursday, June 18, 2015

An Interview with Professor Ian Swaine

Professor Ian Swaine joined the University of Greenwich Science in March this year, as the Head of the Sports Science Section of the Dept of Life and Sports Sciences in the Faculty of Engineering and Science. We met with him this week to ask him why he was so attracted to the post.

Why did you join the University of Greenwich?
I felt that there was a perfect match between my science background (from my schooldays and subsequently from my early adult years in Sports Science) and the science reputation of the University. I knew that Sports Science had a good reputation here, long before my joining. I've always fundamentally had an interest in science, first and foremost and this University offers a good context of science and engineering, for Sports Science.

What are your main objectives as Head of Sports Science?
My main objectives are to expand the undergraduate provision in sports science through better student recruitment and perhaps through programme development, such as, venturing into 'exercise and health' ... I'm a great believer in always looking for ways to improve the student experience and in having employability as a core principle: employability and good student experience is the key.

I am hoping to create a new identity for the Research Group within Sports Science by creating a Centre for Science and Medicine in Sport and Exercise. We have good links to local hospital clinicians such as surgeons and physiotherapists, who have an interest in Sports Science (and hence, Medicine). …… I think that there is a lot to be gained from raising the profile of 'health-related exercise' within Sport Science. Many other Universities already do it to great effect!

How does sports science link with engineering?
As with science, generally, developments in Sports Science are often heralded by new technology or equipment. I've always been mindful of this and I've often sought to invent new technology and equipment to answer questions in Sports Science, that can't be answered any other way, other than inventing something new. Consequently, I have developed a whole body swimming machine for training and assessment of swimming efficiency. Sometimes measuring things on land is the only way to answer questions about the way in which people perform their sport, even if some of the 'original sporting context' is lost. Swimming presents some very difficult measurement challenges, not only because things get wet, but also because water moves as you apply force. So, it's very difficult to quantify swimming-related forces in water.

What makes science and sport attractive?
The whole scientific basis of sport holds a fascination and curiosity at the same time. After spending years training and competing in international swimming, I have had plenty of opportunity to explore my fascination with science in sport. After completing my undergraduate degree I became a swimming coach and began to realise how important science was to me - so I started to look for a PhD. I ended-up studying at Leeds University, within Clinical Medicine, and this really 'lit my fire' in relation to the health-related aspects of Sports Science.

Define sport science!

There are many definitions but the simplest is probably to say 'Using science to better understand the world of sport and exercise'. Science can create quite strong evidence on which to base decisions and choices about training and development. So, the application of Sports Science in the field, should be evidence-based, in my view.

What is your passion?
My passion is first and foremost scientific problem-solving. I love a good forensic science murder mystery ! Of course I still like to swim but I really like running and cycling as well. I love to watch any accomplished sports-related human performance. It can be so aesthetically pleasing.....And anyone who overcomes physical challenge or adversity through exceeding and excelling and pushing the boundaries of human performance, captures my attention. Whether it is about going faster, getting stronger or achieving higher (as for example in the Olympic Ideal) or whether it is for health and wellbeing purposes, I like to see it happening in our society. Of course, I am also committed to the idea of putting something back into the sport you love, by trying to encourage young people to enjoy participating.

The science before the sport
You talk about putting the science before the sport - what does this mean?
This is the way that Sports Science was always put across to me, when I started my degree all those years ago. It is a subject that is first and foremost about Science. The 'scientific approach' then gives a framework within which to experience Sport at its best.

So we were convinced! Find out more about our sports science programmes here: