Fatigue, recovery and performance in youth international Rugby Union: a coopetition project
PhD spotlight | Carlos Ramirez
Originally a medical doctor, Carlos made a career change into sports science in high-performance sport. Carlos completed his medical degree in his native Guatemala, a Masters in sports science and medicine at the University of Glasgow, and most recently a PhD in sports science at Leeds Beckett University. He has previously worked with Olympic sports, football and rugby. Currently, Carlos works as a post-doctoral research fellow at Leeds Beckett University and as a sports scientist for England Rugby League.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your path into the PhD programme
Back in 2012 when I graduated from medical school, the goal was to become an orthopaedic surgeon and work in professional sport. Completing a Masters in sports science and medicine was my first step towards my goal of registering as a trainee in the UK.
I applied to and enrolled in a Masters in 2014, but it did not take long during my degree until I was exposed to sports science and applied research in elite sport; a whole new world that I had never considered before. After loads of deliberation, and many hours of thinking and discussions with friends and family, I decided that it was time for a career change and ended up redirecting my Masters journey towards applied sports science and away from clinical practice. I knew that enrolling in a PhD was the next step to take to continue my development.
Why did you choose Leeds Beckett University?
Whilst working for the Guatemalan Olympic Committee in 2016, I met a group of South African researchers at the Swimming World Championship in Canada. Despite their eagerness to discuss a PhD candidature, this wasn’t feasible for their group at the time. Instead, they introduced me to the rapidly growing Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) group led by Professors Ben Jones and Kevin Till at Leeds Beckett. I applied for a PhD position in the CARR group, and I was successful, bringing my personal Guatemala – UK connection to a full circle with a couple of stops in Canada and South Africa in between.
The PhD role followed the researcher-practitioner model developed by Ben and his colleagues. I was embedded in the academy of Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Club as a sport scientist, and strength and conditioning coach. This is the place where I developed as a practitioner and as an applied researcher, but unfortunately, the club ceased to exist in 2019 after a series of unfortunate events.
What is your research about and what makes you passionate about it?
I investigated the post-match recovery kinetics of youth rugby players during the U18 Six Nations tournament and its relationships with technical-tactical performance. We found some very interesting findings and at the same time challenged some aspects of applied sports science. For example, we went from the ‘what?’ to the ‘so, what?’ when we attempted to link recovery metrics to a tangible outcome such as individual player performance, something that was never done before in rugby union. But I guess one of the most rewarding outputs came as a result of conducting research in collaboration with five rival national unions (England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France). They were all happy to share data and a standardised testing battery, even when they were competing against each other. From this, we built a methodological framework and adapted the concept of ‘coopetition’, which is used in business and management, and basically means cooperation between competitors. I believe this will open the door to improve applied research designs with elite athletes where sample sizes are usually small.
How have you applied what you’ve learned from your work at Carnegie School of Sport?
I was fortunate enough that I secured a post-doc research position within the CARR group. Even having completed my PhD I know there’s always space to keep growing. I’m now using the research skills that I’ve acquired, not only to help younger members of the group, but also to continue working on my own research agenda. Now I’m investigating head contacts in rugby league and I’m also interested in further developing my work in technical-tactical performance. I believe that applied sports science designs should relate to tangible outcomes such as injury or performance and I’ll keep working hard to get researchers thinking ‘so, what?’
Also, I developed loads as a practitioner by being embedded with Yorkshire Carnegie during my PhD. Applied research is all about navigating between research and practice, understanding researcher and practitioners’ needs but overall understanding what works and what doesn’t work in the ‘real world’ of high-performance sport. My PhD at Beckett allowed me to do just that and set me up for the next steps on my career. Currently, I work as a sports scientist with England Rugby League with one eye on the World Cup at the end of this year.
What has been your favourite experience at Leeds Beckett?
This is a hard question! It’s not easy to point out a single experience but I’ll have to mention the social side of the CARR group within the School of Sport. We’re like a small family of researchers and there’s always someone to support you whenever you need it the most. I also have to mention the city, which is fantastic, and it’s finally going back to its normal self after what has been a strange couple of years during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last but not least, passing my viva examination has to be one of my proudest moments to date.
Originally a medical doctor, Carlos made a career change into sports science in high-performance sport. Carlos completed his medical degree in his native Guatemala, a Masters in sports science and medicine at the University of Glasgow, and most recently a PhD in sports science at Leeds Beckett University.