How I made it to be Head of Sports Science with IRFU
We were delighted to have Shane Malone, Head of Sports Science with the IRFU in to speak with our sports degree students about his own academic journey and how he made the step of graduate to Sports Scientist.
Shane always had a love for sports and knew he wanted to work in the sector in some capacity, and the science part was something that always interested him when he was at school, but he wasn’t quite sure how to go about getting a job in this area or what he needed to do.
A love of rugby was always his thing, but an ACL injury meant Shane couldn’t play anymore so being involved in sport in some form was even more important to him now. By his own admission, he wasn’t very good at Rugby anyway so playing pro was never his calling.
Shane was always interested in how you train players from assessment stage through to taking them to the pitch ready for play and keeping them at peak performance, so the area of sports science started to look more interesting to him as a career option.
Enrolling on a degree in Sports Science with Tallaght IT was the first step for him. Getting low points in his Leaving Certificate didn’t stop him following his dream as his points were just enough to secure his place on the degree programme. “You never know where your journey will take you” said Shane. “Originally I wanted to be a Personal Trainer but now I am a data geek with a PhD and I have written over 48 papers on the area of Sports Science”.
Knowing his career choice was going to be an uphill struggle to start with Shane took matters into his own hands and started knocking on doors. Writing to every club both here and in the UK seeking out CPD opportunities, he took on everything that came his way. In his 3rd year Shane had already started working with football teams and by now he had got a taste of GPS tracking in sport when working with Kildare. Knocking on doors finally paid off when he got a call from premier football club Everton offering him a 2 day CPD training with the club which in Shane's words "blew my mind" in terms of what could be achieved throught research and tech.
“The biggest challenge of any sports scientist is to marry up the relationship between the physio, the strength and conditioning coach and the sports scientist” says Shane. “You are dealing with very strong characters who are all excellent in their specialised areas but you must have conviction when presenting your scientific research. Sometimes your ideas get thrown out and you have to go back to the drawing board, so you need to take an agile approach in this job. You first carry our a needs analysis, read the environment, look to see what the best option might be, what are the opportunities available. You need to be able to educate the coaches who at times can be against sports science and try and break down those barriers. In the same vain, sometimes you need to let go too as there have been situations where your ideas are completely over-looked. When you give all the stats a coach can simply say where is the change of play? – well GPS can’t show that so although you have the hard data proof a coach can still override the stats you give them and play the game and his players how he sees fit” says Shane.
Shane was quick to point out you have to love what you do to have the stamina to succeed as a lot of long hours and hard work goes into the role of sports science as you are working around the availability of the team players and you may not always have access to them. He was once given the advice from someone in the sector that you need sacrifice your 20’s to gain from your career in your 30’s and although he thought this was crazy at the time, he now stands by this as he can already seen the rewards of the opportunities he has taken along his journey start to pay off. “it’s a small industry so grab every opportunity presented to you as it may lead to other work down the road. I am now in a position that teams are coming to me for advice”.
Finishing off the session Shane highlighted "through all the hard work and long hours, working with the Sevens is unbelievable and I get so much job satisfaction, I wouldn’t change my job for the world. I love what I do. It beats the normal 9 – 5 working in an office which just isn’t for me. You're not going to get everything right all the time but through research, scientific plans and testing you will be consistent in your approach and believe in what you are delivering".