Q & A with a Sports Sciences Expert

Rishabh Jaiswal is the Managing Director of Sporting Ethos, founded in 2012, a first of its kind Sports Sciences and Medicine Centre in India. The centre aims to develop high-performance athletes from their initial years to the elite level in an individualized and scientific manner. Rishabh and his team of experts, over the last 5 years, have gained a thorough understanding of the challenges faced by the Indian athletes, and they continue to refine their approach towards athlete development while creating awareness about the same. He also focuses on encouraging young talent to pursue a career in the field of Sports Sciences through internships and short-term projects at his centre. He is available as a mentor with Careers Infinite and can also be reached through his website at www.sportingethos.com.

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Could you explain to us what the field of Sports Sciences encompasses?

Sports Sciences comprise various fields which themselves become career options later on. Some of them are Sports Medicine, Sports Psychology, Sports Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, Strength & Conditioning, Sports Biomechanics and Sports Biochemistry. Sports Medicine is probably a popular one, which deals typically with prevention and management of sports injury; however, it is just one of the many disciplines of Sports Sciences.

What educational background is required to enter Sports Sciences?

I think that it depends on which discipline the individual’s interest lies in. There are Bachelors courses in Sports Sciences. If one wants to pursue Sports Physiotherapy or Sports Medicine, it would be mandatory to take an undergraduate course in Physiotherapy or Medicine. If one is interested in Psychology, they have the option of pursuing a Bachelors in Sports Sciences or Psychology and a Master in Sports Psychology. In the case of a Strength & Conditioning trainer, Sports Nutritionist or Sports Biomechanists, they can do a Bachelors in Sports Sciences and then decide how to proceed. To specialize further, Masters courses are available in the respective fields. In some cases, getting a certification from a reputed institution is a better option than a Masters. In our centre, we prefer our Sports Psychologist to have a Masters in Sports Psychology; whereas for Physiotherapists, a Masters degree is preferred though we may have openings for individuals with Bachelors degree from time to time. To have one’s options open, they can take up a Bachelors in Sports Sciences. But switching from other fields to a specialization in Sports Sciences is also an option. It is quite flexible!

Which colleges offer Sports Sciences courses?

There has been a Bachelors in physical education offered by the Sports Authority of India. As far as I know, a Bachelors course in Sports Sciences is offered in Rani Lakshmibai College in Gwalior and a couple of private institution in Chennai and Pune. In the case of Sports Medicine, one can choose to be a Sports Physician or an orthopedic surgeon. There are about 4 or 5 colleges across India that offer MD Sports Medicine, though they may have only 4-5 seats every year. Orthopedic surgeons can specialize in arthroscopy as well.

The certification in Strength & Conditioning (CSCS: Certified Strength & Conditioning specialist) is offered by the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association), which is a US-based non-profit organization. It is highly competitive and recognized internationally. One also has to keep updating their education at regular intervals to keep their certification.

Sporting Ethos hires only experts with Masters or CSCS. Other certifications are recognized in India but are not as popular as NSCA. There’s also ASCA (Australian Strength & conditioning Association) and NASM (National Academy for sports medicine which is also US-based). NASM offers good courses in injury prevention, but CSCS is the best, in my opinion. Most trainers in India go for the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) certification, which is more generalized training that may be a good option for recreational gym trainers.

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Sports Nutritionists can get a certification through the Sports Nutrition Program from the International Olympics Council, which is full-time 2-year program, almost like a Masters course. There is also the International Society for Sports Nutrition’s (ISSN) certification in Sports Nutrition. The course is updated based on latest research updates and is considered the gold standard.

There are a few centres in Mumbai that offer certifications, in India; however, they are still developing. The National Skills Development Corporation is trying to bring out a set of standards for the certifications offered in India. My opinion is that, instead of developing the certifications, we may as well start getting certified by existing agencies abroad and start doing the work. Our trained experts are smart enough to adapt their training to the Indian context.

With respect to psychologists, in India, we mostly find individuals with a Masters in Clinical Psychology also work with sports personnel. But, the fact is that Clinical Psychology and Sports Psychology are totally different.

What was your motivation to start Sporting Ethos?

I was always passionate about sports in school, and it has been something which makes me very happy about. I also had the desire to start up something on my own. I came to realize that I had to pursue my passion and personal interests. Basically, I am a management graduate from IIM, Ahmedabad. I have the basic knowledge of every Sports Science field, but I haven’t specialized in any in particular. At present, along with running the company, I double as a High-Performance Manager, coordinating the work of our experts with athletes. Therefore, I like to be in touch with all the fields in Sports Sciences.

What are some of the challenges you face in this career?

The awareness about Sports Sciences among athletes and players in India is very low. Most players, despite their best intentions and efforts, are following unscientific methods, hoping that the more they compete, the better they get. Most of our struggle has been in educating people on what is the right method to train and what is scientific for the long term. Most of the approach applied in Indian Sport today is unfortunately short-term oriented.

Another challenge is the financial sustenance. People entering this field must be aware of and prepared to face the first few years when they can only expect to earn enough to sustain.

From Sporting Ethos, we regularly reach out to schools and colleges and talk to them about career opportunities in Sports Sciences, because there’s a huge demand for these qualified experts in our country. There are only about 30-35 certified Strength and Conditioning trainers and about 15 Sports Psychologists and Sports Nutritionist each, in our country. We need a lot more students to opt for these careers in order to make Indian sports better.

How many years does it take to settle down in this career?

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This also depends on what field of Sport Sciences they’re interested in. On average, consider 3-4 years of Undergraduate and 2 years of Master’s degree courses, so it would take about 4 to 6 years to enter the workforce. Certifications may vary between 5-6 months and 2 years, depending on what the subject is. Once they start working, they can also keep upgrading themselves based on the current methods.

Does this career offer a good work-life balance?

Yes. It does. In our centre, it’s mostly a 9-hour day for 6 days a week, which includes dedicating considerable time to improve our processes and innovate different ways to get the message. It is not a conventional job, but you will have job satisfaction. In comparison to a management or engineering professional, you may be working a few more hours, yet you will feel satisfied here.

What is your advice to students interested in the Sports Sciences field?

Make sure you know that you want to do this, that you are very passionate about this field. Or else, you’ll burn out. Day after day, you will tell clients the same thing, but they don’t listen, which might lead to demotivation. It’s also important to be aware of the financial aspect. However, the truth is that there’s a huge demand for these professionals. About 3-4 lakh Indian athletes need Sports Science experts in the order of 1000s. A lot of people from abroad are also showing interest in our training. So, things are looking good for the future.

Can you share a few words on your mentors?

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During college, we tend to look up to our professors for mentorship. I have a few mentors who are industry professionals with the technical know-how and people in the management of different sports companies who have the perspective of the clients. It is always important to know what the clients, athletes, coaches and parents, want and deliver. It is not sufficient to do just what you want to do.

From the business point of view, a professor from IIM, Ahmedabad, has been an important mentor for me. He is also a very successful entrepreneur and motivator for a number of IIM graduates turning entrepreneurs. For this particular field of Sports Sciences, I was lucky to have as a mentor one of the senior-most Sports Physicians in the country. He is a retired head of the department in the National Institute of Sports Sciences in Patiala. He has been encouraging us right from the beginning and giving us counsel and guidance regularly.