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Jobs 101: Sports Physiologist

Youth.SG talks to a sports physiologist from the Singapore Sports School to find out what it takes to train the next generation of national athletes!

Paul Leng


Published: 16 August 2012, 1:28 AM


Behind every successful professional athlete is not only a successful coach, but also a team of support staff which includes physiotherapists, psychologists and sports physiologists. In the modern sporting world, more emphasis has been placed on science and how it can be used to make our athletes faster, fitter and stronger. How does a sport physiologist contribute to the victory? Youth.SG speaks to one to find out more.

WHO: Dr Low Chee Yong, 32
OCCUPATION: Senior sport physiologist at the Singapore Sports School
STUDIED: PhD in Sports Physiology, University of Western Australia

As the senior sport physiologist at the Singapore Sports School, Chee Yong uses a wide array of machines to make sure that the student-athletes are performing at peak fitness.

Tell us more about yourself. Do you have any hobbies that you pursue in your free time?

In our line, our passion is always about how the body moves in sports. I like to play different sports like basketball, and this is actually one of the factors that influenced me to become a sports physiologist.

Tell us more about what a sport physiologist does.

We help the athlete train better by looking at how they respond to training physiologically, and give the coaches information so they can gauge how the athlete is responding to training.

For example, we can use blood markers to see what type of fuel an athlete is using when they are training, or their heart rate, to measure the intensity of the exercises that the athletes perform.

How and why did you become a sports physiologist?

I chose physiology as it is a systematic study. I find it interesting to understand how one part of an athlete’s body affects another, and then try to modify certain things about the athlete’s training or diet to help us get the desired results to help the athletes perform.

Describe a typical day at work.

I usually start work at 8.15am. The first thing I do is clear my emails, then spend about two hours reading journals as a sports physiologist always has to be up to date with the latest developments in sports science.

After that, I have lunch, and spend about two hours preparing for the students’ afternoon training session. In the afternoon, I will be attached to one team for testing or to observe the training session.

Here are a few photos of Chee Yong at work:

 

Chee Yong attaches a mask to measure the way the student-athlete breathes as he administers a VO2 MAX test

 

The student athlete starts running on a treadmill

 

Getting the program ready

 

The computer calculates the data of the test and it is shown on the screen

 

Chee Yong performs a blood lactate test by taking a drop of blood from the subject

 

A device then measures the lactate value of the subject’s blood.

 

What are some of the memorable experiences you had as a sports physiologist?

When Scott Ang was chosen for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) last year, we needed to make sure that he had his best showing.

We tried to find ways to help him enhance his competition capacity, and to overcome Singapore’s hot and humid climate. To help him in that area, we created an ice slushy, which was a carbohydrate beverage that we made ourselves, with ingredients like Gatorade. Every time he had the slushy, he would tell us that he felt so much better. In fact, he achieved his best timing ever in the YOG.

I would not say that it was the slushy that made the big difference, but rather a combination of all the sport science services we gave him.

This was memorable as the time frame we had was really short and the situation really called for us to improvise. It is nice to see our efforts produce results in an athlete.

What motivates you in your work?

The wonder of how people move. If you appreciate a ballet, you will tend to look at how the ballerinas move with grace and poise. It’s the same with sport – we don’t tend to look at it as a sport per se, but we look at the movement involved and understand the intricacies between the movement and why the sport demands that specific type of movement.

That is always different for each and every sport, and that means my job allows me to try different things all the time. That freshness is hard to come by in any regular job.

How long have you been in this industry and how has it changed over the years?

Just like every science-related industry in Singapore, science has started to take on a bigger stage.

Previously, it was harder to tell the coaches about what we think is important because coaches are, after all, masters of their own sport. Now, the use of science and technology is catching on with coaches and they are more receptive to seeing science being applied to enhance the sport.

What are some of the toughest challenges you face?

Science is always changing, and sometimes the things that we believed to be true for many years can be proven wrong tomorrow.

My biggest challenge is to keep abreast of the latest information and if needed, have the courage to say that what we have done was wrong. After that, I have to comprehend the information that I have gathered and succinctly put it in an applied manner so that coaches and laymen can use it.

Are there any sacrifices you have to make for the job?

Our job is very service oriented. Thus, if the athletes are training at 5am, we have to be there. If they are training in the rain, we have to be there, in the rain. That means we have to put in a lot of time and effort.

What advice do you have for youths who want to explore a career as a sports physiologist?

If you are interested in sports, it is good to have a generic degree in sports science. Be open minded, as that is the way you will discover which area you want to be in. Be a big advocate of sport, and this will add on to your experience.

I would encourage youths to try all of the sport science specialisations that are very much sought after if you go to a good degree course.

Educational requirements: A degree or honours in sports science allows you to be a sport scientist, but a specialization in sports physiology would require at least a masters or a PhD.

Qualities needed: A keen eye for observing and monitoring.

Working hours: Around seven to eight hours a day. Start and end times vary, as a sport physiologist has to be around to observe the athletes when they are training.

Salary range: This depends on your qualifications. The starting pay can be around $2,400 for a graduate and $4,500 for a PhD.

Specialisations: A sports physiologist is a specialisation. Normally, one would start out as a sport scientist, and specialise in areas such as physiotherapy and biomechanics.


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