… and Wile E. Coyote caught the Road Runner
Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2019 Mar 1;14(3):277-278
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“Near the dawn of time, the story goes, Coyote saved the creatures of Earth. According to the mythology of Idaho’s Nez Perce people, the monster Kamiah had stalked into the region and was gobbling up the animals one by one. The crafty Coyote evaded Kamiah but didn’t want to lose his friends, so he let himself be swallowed. From inside the beast, Coyote severed Kamiah’s heart and freed his fellow animals. Then he chopped up Kamiah and threw the pieces to the winds, where they gave birth to the peoples of the planet”.1 The reason why the ordinary Wile E. coyote has managed to succeed (i.e., survival and reproduction in the animal reign) where many other creatures have suffered, is likely his incredible capacity of adaptation.1 This includes, over the past 2 centuries, changes in body dimensions, metabolism and diet, which allowed him to survive and have more offspring in new regions under varying terrains and climate, from the prairies of central North America, to farms in Mexico or even Rock Creek Park in Washington! Put it differently, the coyote stands out as the master of adaptation – and I use this example of microevolution to comment on our practices in business, elite sports and academia.
In reality, the determinants of a successful career in our modern world aren’t very far from the theory of the evolution. While the ‘survival of the fittest’ analogy may be a bit extreme, the ability to adjust an organization’s internal systems to conform to other external environmental factors such as raw material availability and economic variables is a necessity for businessmen, entrepreneurs, or managers. Adaptation is believed to be compulsory for business sustainability and likely reduces the risk of suffering an organizational crisis. In elite sports, practitioners’ ability to adapt their behaviour and actions to the context they operate in is mandatory to deliver top programs and maintain fit and healthy athletes.2 Most people having worked in the elite performance setting for more than a few years would agree that what makes them successful (or not) often has nothing to do with what they learnt at school.2 In other terms, an individual’s knowledge and skillset is rarely the most important asset making them a good or bad practitioner. While a minimum level of (academic) qualification is obviously needed, real-time capacity to adapt to a new/specific situation3 and the application of pragmatism,4 are by far more valued attributes in the high performance setting.5 At the personal level also, the ability to organize our daily rituals around short and long-terms goals and immediate context is also required to make work deadlines and preserve a balanced social life.6 Overall, combined with a Type-3 archetype (opened minded, proactive and driven),7 coyote-type practitioners likely present the best personal traits to succeed in business, life and elite performance.
As far as academic research is concerned, the same reasoning applies. How many times have I received emails from young sport scientists asking for directions for their research (i.e., “what shall I study?”)? Most of the time, my response is, “it depends on your context!” In fact, there are likely as many research foci and strategies as there are sport scientists and research groups, since most of the time the questions to be answered, the cohort or population to study, the facilities and tools at disposal, and the analytical methods mastered, vary dramatically. So, how do we chose what to research? By knowing which questions need to be answered,8 of course, but adaptation to context and using pragmatism are clearly important too. No need for all to publish in Experimental Physiology, but either IJSPP! Difficulties in recruiting subjects? Limited on budget to buy fancy enzyme analysers or transmagnetic stimulators? Let’s conduct a systematic review or a meta-analysis, which have the advantage of standing on the top of the pyramid of the evidence,9 while not requiring any practical investigation. Can’t collect data yourself for some reasons? Partner with another University, research institute, sporting organization or a club and offer them help with the analytics and writing!8 Get access to elite athletes and monitor their load daily? Work on training responses or injury surveillance! As shown in Figure 1, there is always an optimal scenario for each researcher in relation to his specific context. The point that I make here is that often researchers may gain advantage from researching what they can and what matters (as discussed in depth previously2,8), rather than what they want. To seize the best publication opportunities, young sport scientists may need to prepare themselves ahead and develop a wide range of academic skills (e.g., knowledge of different study designs, technology, data analysis, statistics, writing, and referencing) that may allow them to adapt their investigations and focus on the right research projects – in relation to the type of data available and the useful questions that can be answered with those opportunities (Figure 1). If researching and publishing is our main job, how could we afford to not optimize all these process!?
In the business, elite sports or academic setting, there is never only one way to complete a task, but there is usually a better way -or often a least bad option- for a given context.7 Our old friend Wile E. coyote has taught us that the determinants of success are unlikely in the knowledge and the skills per se, but rather in our capacity to adapt our behaviour and actions (often on the fly) to suit a specific situation. That’s how he finally caught the Road Runner!
Figure 1. Decision tree when it comes to selecting the most appropriate research strategy as a function of the context, i.e., adapting research means and focus to data availability, population and tools available. Note that while RCT (randomized controlled trial) can obviously also be performed when researchers have fancy tools, without tools it becomes very difficult to publish if the study design is not advanced (i.e., favouring interventional study, and RCT if possible). BM: body mass. Wile E. source: http://clipart-library.com/clipart/400567.htm.
- Levy S. Rise of the coyote: The new top dog. Nature, 2012;485(7398):296-7.
- Buchheit M. Chasing the 0.2. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2016;11(4):417-418.
- Buchheit M, Content is king, but context is god. Https://hiitscience.Com/content-is-king-but-context-is-god/, in HIIT Science Blog. 2018.
- Buchheit M, The hands that help are far better than lips that pray. Https://hiitscience.Com/the-hands-that-help-are-far-better-than-lips-that-pray/, in HIIT Science Blog. 2018.
- Jovanovic M, High intensity interval training and agile periodization, ed. B. Mann and M. Thome. 2018.
- Buchheit M, Daily morning rituals, making or ruining the day? Https://hiitscience.Com/daily-morning-rituals-winning-or-ruining-the-day/, in HIIT Science Blog. 2018.
- Buchheit M. Outside the box. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2017;12(8):1001-1002.
- Buchheit M. Houston, we still have a problem. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2017;12(8):1111-1114.
- Harbour R and Miller J. A new system for grading recommendations in evidence based guidelines. Bmj, 2001;323(7308):334-6.