Challenges for African sports scientists: Bridging the gap between theory and practice

  • LO Amusa
Keywords: African sports scientists, theory, practice, performance factors, multidisciplinary approach


Africa has a long history and tradition of sport participation when viewed from the perspectives of pre-colonial, colonial and independent Africa. The continent has contributed immensely to the field of sport, be it athletes or personnel. The marvelous performances in sprint events by athletes from the west coasts, the domination of the middle and long distance events by athletes from East Africa (Kenya in particular), Ethiopia and Magreb states (Morroco and Tunisia), the excellent performances in boxing (South Africa) and swimming by athletes from South Africa and Egypt are few of the notable achievements in the World of Sport. The reasons for these remarkable achievements have not been fully scientifically studied until recently when some discernible efforts were made at studying African athletes by African Sports Scientists (Coetzer, et al, 1993; de Ridder & Amusa, 1997; Noakes, 1997; Amusa, 2003; Toriola et al, 2003). What makes a successful African athlete could be understood by employing the discipline of sports sciences. In Africa Sports Science is still in its infancy. Its resource base is essentially situated at tertiary institutions where researches have traditionally been targetted at internationally recognised athletes. This discipline involves the development and integration of well organised and institutionalised programmes of testing and training, and the collaboration of such other disciplines like medicine, physiology, nutrition, psychology and biomechanics to mention just a few. Backed by reliable statistics on performance results and achievements of African athletes in major world competitions, this paper discusses the collaborations in the fields of sport science to unravel the unsolved issues surrounding the African athletes. The paper benchmarks sport science practices in developed countries like (East) Germany, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada with success stories at the scientific development of athletes. This paper also raises serious concern regarding the low level of expertise of African coaches and technical support staff in applying the limited findings of sports research, and in translating theory into practice. This probably reduces the potential of sports persons to benefit from the scientific and medical research findings. The paper finally recommends four main areas of focus in sport science practices in Africa. These are: (1) The need to develop strategies to study the uniqueness of African athletes, (2) the quest to establish Research Training/Sport Science Institutes/Centres comparable in functions with those of Germany, Australia and U.S.A., (3) the need to determine the underlying factors that have contributed so far to the success of African athletes, and (4) the need to develop key performance areas in Sports Science Research in Africa. These needs call for harmonious integration of diverse Applied Science disciplines, collaborative/interdisciplinary approaches, and initiatives by Africa sports scientists and sports physicians with a view to produce far better results, athletes, coaches and technical persons who will be better equipped with relevant current knowledge and skills in the science of sports.

Key Words: African sports scientists, theory, practice, performance factors, multidisciplinary approach.

AJPHERD. Vol.10(1) 2004: 1-19

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eISSN: 1117-4315