Scientific Method Research:
Limitations in Sport Performance

Scientific method research is a systematic way to gain new facts and test theories, but real-world sport performance poses challenges for researchers. While researchers try their best to maintain control in studies, there are many limitations when it comes to athletes. It is important for coaches to take research results with a "grain of salt".

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is a system for finding facts and testing theories. It is the very basic structure for conducting research. It follows the five basic steps traditionally used in experiments.

1. Define the problem. You must pinpoint exactly what it is that you will test and figure out how you will observe and measure it.

2. State a hypothesis or question. A hypothesis offers a tentative explanation that you can test. In survey research, you might ask a question instead.

3. Reason the outcome. Through deductive reasoning, decide what you will find out if the hypothesis is true.

4. Collect your data. Gather information through observation, testing, or experimentation.

5. Confirm or reject the hypothesis. Your data analysis tells you whether or not your hypothesis is true.

The Problem with Studying Human Performance

Research in sports deals with athletes. Any research that involves human performance poses certain challenges because people are complex and hard to observe (vs. chemicals and frogs that don't get attitudes). You might not get the same results every time. Limitations include:

1. Observation. Much is often subjective and open to interpretation. Values and attitudes are not directly observable. Plus, athletes have individual differences. And they function differently in various settings and conditions.

2. Replication. It is hard to set up the same study in the very same way in different settings to observe human behavior.

3. Interaction. Just having a researcher observe athletes in a study might influence the findings. The famous Hawthorne effect occurred because workers knew that they were singled out to be studies.

4. Control. Humans are very complex and much goes on simultaneously, making it very difficult for researchers to isolate exactly what it is that they are studying.

5. Measurement. Because of difficulties controlling and observing people, it is difficult to take accurate measurements. Researchers are careful not to make generalizations about results until several studies are conducted.

These limitations of scientific method research are main reasons why scientists never use the world "prove". Terms such as "demonstrated" or "provided evidence" are more accurate.

Given these limitations, coaches should take caution in accepting the results of a single study as the basis for making training decisions.


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