Real-world impact in High Performance Sport

18 May 2018

PhD student Francesco Sella and Dr Travis McMaster

The impressive performances of the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens at the recent Commonwealth Games were particularly gratifying for the team of sports scientists at the University of Waikato Adams High Performance Centre in Mount Maunganui. With both teams now training full time at the Adams Centre, sports science support is being provided to assist them in their physical preparation.

Dr Travis McMaster, Research Fellow in the University of Waikato Faculty of Health, Sport and Human Performance, assists with the Men’s and Women’s Sevens strength and conditioning, and is an important cog in the University’s high performance sport research programme. Dr McMaster is passionate about the work he does at the Centre and is living his dream of making a difference in high performance sport. “Research conducted in high performance sport must be applicable and make an impact on the ground," he says. “Our purpose is to drive innovative, forward-thinking research that has a positive influence on athlete performance.”

Similarly, the multi-disciplinary research team of Dr Stacy Sims, Associate Professor Holly Thorpe, Dr Brett Smith from Waikato, Black Ferns Sevens nutritionist Dane Baker, and Dr Katherine Back from University of Otago are working directly with the Black Ferns Sevens to better understand the role of nutrition in performance. This cutting-edge research on female athletes’ health, nutrition and performance is crucial as the Black Ferns reach for gold in Toyko 2020.

Besides the national Rugby Sevens teams, the Adams Centre is training home to the Bay of Plenty Steamers who also benefit from the University of Waikato’s sports science support and state-of-the-art facilities, which include an environmental chamber, a high performance gym, and motion capture technology. The interaction between best-practice training systems and innovative applied research creates an exciting environment at the Centre, where Dr Nic Gill is now based. Dr Gill has been combining the roles of scientist and coach for close to 20 years, with 10 of those years as strength and conditioning coach for the All Blacks. He describes his passion as helping athletes achieve their potential, while supervising the next generation of trailblazing sports scientists.

“We are currently offering a number of PhD scholarships in the human performance space, one such scholarship is for a PhD student to study the effects of heat and humidity on the elite athletes based in Tauranga,” he says. “The results of this research will be applied to our teams heading to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 where it will be HOT.” The scholarship has been made possible through a collaboration that includes High Performance Sport New Zealand, NZ Rugby and the University of Waikato.

It is this purposeful, cutting-edge environment that attracts PhD students from all over the world to the Adams Centre – like Francesco Sella (Italy) who is investigating optimal performance in female sevens athletes with Dr Travis McMaster; Ivana Hanzlíková (Czech Republic) who is working with world-renowned biomechanist Dr Kim Hébert-Losier on injury prevention; and Conor McNeill (USA), who is specialising in fatigue monitoring in rugby union with Dr Martyn Beaven.

With real results comes real ambition, and the University of Waikato Adams Centre’s declared aim is to become a world-leading sports science research centre, says Waikato University's Acting FHSHP Dean Dr Kirsten Petrie. "With the calibre and innovative approaches to research that is the focus for our staff and postgrad students, aligned to the aspirations of New Zealand’s world champion teams, the opportunities to ensure we continue to lead the world on and off the field is a real possibility.”

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