In 1998 Professor Steve Haake set up the International Sports Engineering Association (ISEA), establishing Sports Engineering as a recognised academic discipline. Despite the ISEA now being over 15 years old, the question ‘what is sports engineering?’ still gets asked.
1) Sports = A ‘winnable’ activity which requires a physical intervention
2) Engineering = Technical application of maths and physics to solve problems
Sports engineering can be thought of as the technical application of maths and physics to solve sporting problems. These might include: designing equipment, building facilities, analysing athlete performance, regulating standards, ensuring safety requirements are met, developing coaching tools, etc.
Many of our members come from a mechanical engineering background, but Sports Engineering is not limited to this field and can often also be linked to disciplines such as physics, mathematics, biomechanics, computer science and aeronautical engineering to name a few. The common factor is that all of our members are applying their research skills and background knowledge in the world of sport.
People often get confused between sport scientists and sports engineers. Whilst there is often a lot of cross over, a somewhat simplified explanation is that a sport scientist is interested what is going on inside the athlete – how much oxygen they are using, which muscles are working the most etc. whereas as sports engineers, we are interested in the external factors – i.e. how the athlete may interact with the equipment or the environment. An obvious overlap comes in biomechanics where sports engineers develop motion capture systems to quantify an athlete’s movement; this data is then interpreted by sports scientists to fully understand the athlete’s performance.
If you are interested in becoming a Sports Engineer, please read our article by Dr David James, a Senior Sports Engineer from Sheffield Hallam University.