Engineering The Sports

Sports are just for fun, it is studies that are going to make a career for you. Each of us must have heard this line at least a thousand times from our parents. But do you agree with this?

I don’t. Sports are so much popular in every part of the world that a huge investment is made to commercialize different types of sports. And where money, craze and passion come in technology automatically finds its ways. Every one wants their team’s performance to be best and world-class performance needs high-end equipments. This need gave rise to a specialized field called sports engineering.

In essence, sports engineering is concerned with the research and development of technologies for the sports industry.  The field is very broad and encompasses a wide range of activity. The subject is fundamentally technical in its nature and attempts to quantify the performance gains that might be achieved through a particular design or method. Sports engineers are typically involved in the following activities:

Equipment design: this is basically designing and building new equipment based on the requirements of athletes. An interesting example is spiked shoes for athletes and footballers.

Lab experiments and testing: it involves testing of equipment for its compatibility with the athlete in certain environment. It includes measuring traction of shoes and tyres for checking their grip on sloppy surface.

Computational modelling: simulates the forces acting on athletes and their equipment. It also conducts the analysis of airflow around equipment. e.g. racing car aerodynamic analysis

Field testing: It includes recording the behaviour of sports equipment in a match environment. One such type of work is high-speed video recording of tennis players hitting the ball

Working with governing bodies: It is mainly concerned with assessing the effects of rule changes or understanding injury risks.

Working with athletes: It involves working together with players to improve their performance.

Unlike a sports scientist a sports engineer is not concerned with what is happening inside a player while playing. He is only concerned with the equipments. Sports gear design mainly seems to be mechanical engineer’s domain. But certainly it is not the only route that can be taken. Backgrounds in material sciences, mathematics and pure sciences also find their application in sports engineering. As the sports industry goes progressively high-tech electronics and software engineers have become more involved in the discipline. Because sports engineering encompasses such a broad spectrum of activity, individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds can be very successful. Nonetheless, a common trait is apparent in all successful sports engineers, and that trait is a love for sport that can only be revealed by their obsession for science and technology.

Over the past decade, a great many new undergraduate courses in sports engineering have appeared in university prospectuses, particularly in the UK. This trend reflects the maturity of sports engineering as an established academic field and a growing sports equipment industry that is driven by technical performance

The majority of sports engineering research is done in universities such as Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam, Loughborough, Bath, Strathclyde and Queen Mary’s (London). Sheffield Hallam University (UK) offers an M.Sc in Sports Engineering. In Australia a sports engineering degree was launched at The University of Adelaide in 2008, shortly after which Griffith University and, Victoria University launched an electrical and mechanical based sports engineering course as part of a new major for the bachelor of engineering science. In United States, The University of Southern Mississippi started a sports and high performance materials degree in 2006 with a focus on integrating materials science with human performance. A lot of these universities also provide an online program for distance learning.

If you are thinking of starting an undergraduate degree in sports engineering it is very important to know what type of course you are looking at. Important questions to enquire about are as follows:

Have graduates been successful in gaining employment within the sports equipment industry?

Are the skills that one will be developing on the course transferable to other sectors?

Jobs in sports engineering are real. Some of the top recruiters are Adidas, Nike, Puma, etc which are core sports gear companies. Apart from these a ton of automobile companies such as Ferrari and Honda also recruit sports engineers in their car or bike development team. Gymming equipment companies such as TGO mainly contain sports engineers. Sports engineers also find their need in various government sports organisations and sports clubs.

Average salary in this sector is somewhere around $30,000 P.A. Jobs in this industry are fascinating but are less abundant than other streams of engineering. Not everyone may be able to get his dream job. So chances of getting into other sectors mainly depend upon one’s technical knowhow. Many individuals assume that just because they love sport they have the necessary attributes to become a successful sports engineer. The reality is that sport is a competitive business and only the best engineers are selected to conduct research and development.

Graduating in a main stream and selecting sports engineering during PG may be a good option as it will keep the others ends open as well. There is no formula for becoming a sports engineer and unfortunately no university course can guarantee you success in your ambitions. Ultimately it comes down to perseverance and making the most of every opportunity.

Ambuj Jain