Grad Student Experience

Meredith's POSTS: Why Research

Why is Research Important?

When I came to UF to start my Master’s, I didn’t even know what research was. When I went to undergrad (in the 90’s), we had to search for information on microfiche (Google it).

After college, I was a coach for 20 years; I still am. In my first coaching jobs, I took everything I learned as a player and threw it into my “style”. It turned out that my “style” was to do my very best to ruin children or college athletes. I was fired several times - wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. Over the years, through simple trial and error, I learned strategies that helped me connect with players and to construct environments that maximized their potential. The experiments through which I developed the strategies helped to shape me into a much more prepared and successful coach who didn’t get fired. It also helped that I had the benefit of having a couple of mentors who helped me understand that my experiences as a player didn’t mean anything (today I would say that my experiences represented a single data point). It took me years to understand the mantra of my most influential mentor: “It’s not about you”. Please appreciate the irony that I am now telling you my story.

For a long time, my coaching was driven by my passion, my desire to win, my competitiveness, and my vision of what the game should look like. When I finally came to understand that “it wasn’t about me”, my perspective shifted from what I wanted/needed to what the players wanted/needed. I began to frame my coaching in terms of what the individual or team needed at any single point in time – a total evolution for me. The cool part was that, once I coached based on what the players needed, everything I had struggled to produce fell into place with ease. I started to experiment with different types of communication, different goals and objectives for the players and teams, and different team structures. For years, I worked on perfecting the right formula for an environment in which players prospered and teams were successful.

What I didn’t know is that an entire body of knowledge on the magic formula already existed – I had never been exposed to it. I spent decades muddling through single data point experiments with players and teams, only to find out that I could have read 4 research articles on Google Scholar (which I also didn’t know existed) and skipped all of my mini trial-and-error experiments. The most disheartening element of this is the number of kids I failed with the “error” cases in my learning curve.

After I came to UF to start work on my MS, my first classes in Sport Management introduced me to these fun things called “theory” and “research”. When the different explanations for behavior were laid out before me, I felt like I had been handed the short stick in all of my years in coaching. I stormed into my advisor’s office and demanded to know why I had never been told that all of this knowledge already existed; I had spent YEARS trying to figure it out. My advisor said that “academic research” needed to be translated for coaches because most, if not all, can’t take the information and convert it into practice (which I can certainly recognize in many coaches-  those who don’t accept (or can’t see) that “it’s not about you”). I would argue that many don’t even get the chance to decide that, because they don’t know that the knowledge is out there.

That’s why research is important. That’s why theories are proposed and tested to the hilt. In my time spent working toward my PhD, I have found that there is a massive lag in the information that academics know and accept to be truths, and what the practitioners on the front lines know and are able to implement. Some say that the “gap needs to be bridged”, and I get that. However, I wouldn’t characterize the discrepancy between what academics have found and what information is provided to practitioners as a “gap”; it is more like a continental divide. I was on the small end for far too long. Research and theory matter because there are so many practitioners out there, like I was, trying to reinvent the wheel.