David James, Deputy Director, Centre for Sports Engineering Research, c University speaks to Sanchayan Bhattacharjee about opportunities, work portfolios and the market for a career in sports engineering.
Q: What is sports engineering?
A: Sports engineering involves anything that entails a combination between technology and sports. So the design of a running shoe, the traction, the interaction with the biomechanics of movement, how it helps minimise injury to the athlete etc. would just be one small part of sports engineering. Other domains could include the design of a tennis racquet, bike, developing goal line technology etc. It combines mechanical engineering, electronics, computer science, biomechanics, physiology and even aspects of psychology since you cannot ignore the human aspect in sport. Fundamentally, it is the interaction of humans, who look to perform at a certain level with technology. The aim is to help sport move forward with the help of different innovations.
Q: What qualifications are required to be a part of this industry? Is it necessary to have prior knowledge of sport?
A: Since people working in the industry deal with computer algorithms, Math and sports equipment material, we look for students with technical background. This knowledge coupled with a passion for sport is ideal. However, in-depth sports knowledge is not necessary, sometimes, it is good to be an outsider, and not have too many preconceived notions about a sport. It brings fresh, unbiased ideas to the table.
Q: Why must students opt for a course like sports engineering?
A: If you are passionate about sports and want to work in an intensely dynamic industry, sports engineering is ideal. While working on the goal line technology programme during the FIFA World Cup, I got a chance to visit all the football stadiums in Brazil, which was a dream come true. Also the technology component is interesting. In sport, you can bring new ideas and products into the market quickly. As compared to aerospace or medicine, sport is still quite unregulated, thus allowing much scope for innovation.
Q: What different courses in sports engineering are offered at your University?
A: We have a three year undergraduate course in sports technology which gives students a basic grounding of the science, engineering, design etc. used in this industry. We then have a year-long Masters course in sports engineering for people who have already done their engineering or are working as an engineer, but want to be involved in sport. We also have 20 full time salaried PhD students who are part of our research centre. These students work on different projects, often with actual clients.
Q: How does a career in the sports industry pan out in terms of opportunities and growth? What about the Indian scenario?
A: Globally, the sports industry is almost one trillion pounds a year, out of which apparels and sports equipment make up 200 billion pounds a year, which is massive. There are a number of opportunities like being part of the sports innovation team for leading brands or even governments. These opportunities are available all over the globe, given the popularity of sport. Blending science and sport was a relatively new idea in India until about 2009. Since then, a number of sporting events, technological developments in the country have contributed to a growth in sport innovation.