Ted Polglaze - Sports Physiologist, Western Australian Institute of Sport

Ted Polglaze
'I've never wanted to work nine til five or have to wear a tie to work. Some days, I might start really early out on the water with the rowing team, and other days I'll be on tour.'

A keen athlete himself, the emerging world of sport science struck Ted as an ideal career path. As the 2008 Olympics approaches, all of Ted's hard work over the last four years will be put into practice as his athletes head over to Beijing in search of gold.




How did you start out in sport science?

I did a physical education degree at the University of Western Australia. I started that degree back in 1986 when there weren't any specific sport science courses. I literally heard about the career in my first week. I found out that it involved working with elite athletes and I concentrated on that line from then on in. Back then, the career itself was only a few years old and there would have been only a handful of sport scientists in the whole of Australia.

Did you play sport yourself?

Yes. I represented the state in athletics and was a member of the Australian bobsleigh team for seven years, including the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. The first few years of my career, I was training as an international athlete. The fact that I understand sport from an athlete's point of view is part of what I bring to the job.

How has sport science changed since you started out? Is it an evolving thing?

Absolutely. Back when I started, sport science was something that happened in the laboratory, because we were working with big heavy machines that took a long time to analyse blood or break down information. The athletes would come to the lab and we would do controlled testing there. Now we can put little sensors on them and collect information as they train and compete.

What are the different elements of your job?

Dealing with different sports and coaches. Each sport has its own culture and philosophy on the way of doing things, so you can't just revert back to your textbook. You have to respect the way things happen in rowing versus hockey versus athletics. There are many roads to Rome and there are many ways to win a gold medal.

Do you have a typical day?

Not really and that's one of the things I like about the job. I've never wanted to work nine til five or have to wear a tie to work. Some days, I might start really early out on the water with the rowing team, and other days I'll be on tour. Sometimes I'm at competitions, then other days at training camps or selection trials.

How much opportunity do you get to think outside the square?

You are always trying to think of better ways to do things, but that doesn't necessarily mean throwing away what you've been doing. Some people want to come up with the latest, greatest and fanciest way of doing things, however in my experience the best impact a sport scientist can have is to make sure that all the mundane things are done perfectly all of the time.

What parts of an athlete's preparation are your responsibility?

I'm a physiologist, so my role is focused on the physical side of training. I liaise with coaches to help design, monitor and adjust training programs where appropriate. My job is to make sure athletes are doing the right amount and type of training throughout the week, so that they are fit and fresh for competition. The other disciplines in sport science are biomechanics, nutrition and psychology.

What are you doing in the lead-up to Beijing?

I just got back from three weeks away with the rowing team, because they had two World Cup regattas in Italy and Poland. The men's hockey team just got back from winning the Champions Trophy in Holland. The good news with both those sports is that all the hard work is done by now. It's now about smart training rather than hard training, and sharpening up on the teamwork.

Are you going to Beijing?

No, my job is done in the preparation. The Olympics is really tight with the number of additional staff who are allowed to accompany the team, so I have to ensure all the work is done properly beforehand and make sure that the people who are going will be able to look after the recovery and cooling strategies. Then I can sit back and watch it on TV.

Is that one of the best things about your job?

Literally our whole job is focused on two weeks that happen every four years. In some ways that's pretty hard, because after the Olympics finish there is a month or so of wind-down time, and then the four-year plans will be in place to start preparing for London. My whole four years are judged on that particular moment. That can be tough, but it's what sport is about.

What are the bad points about being a sports physiologist?

It's a lot of hours and you couldn't do it if you weren't absolutely passionate about elite sport. Other countries don't stop training because there is a public holiday in Australia. At the same time, I didn't want a nine til five, clock-in clock-out, get-on-the-treadmill job.

What are your future career ambitions?

Career progression in sport science is pretty flat. You would most likely start at one of the institutes in a junior development program for one of the minor sports and then work your way up to the national programs in the priority sports. Ideally, I would like to work with two sports at a national level and really look after those two sports.

What's your advice for someone who wants to follow in your career footsteps?

If you don't do a sport already, then get involved in one either as an athlete or coach. You don't necessarily have to reach an elite level of performance, but by going through the process you get to understand how the information you learnt in a lecture works in practice. While you're at uni, get the theoretical knowledge to understand the nuts and bolts of the career. When you get into the workforce that will be your bread and butter to allow you to give coaches good advice.

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