ESSA’s Sports Science Accreditation Story
Words taken from Activate, June 2018 issue
As we look back at 30 years of ESSA, a section of our industry that has had significant growth is our Sports Scientist and High Performance Managers, who have also helped to shape the sporting landscape throughout Australia and internationally over the last decade and beyond.
Australia has been early adopters of the idea of sports science professionals in sporting organisations. With the success of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), there has been pioneers in the industry leading the way from the very beginning. This has allowed for the profession’s sports science practices and safe innovations to be built in to sporting codes both in Australia and internationally.
“Sports scientists were always the people behind the scenes
,” says Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive Officer.
Although there was a lot of work to get the previous accreditation scheme for sports scientists recognised, aimed at how they will meet minimum standards, with a code of ethics and professional development requirements, this was met with push back that this is what their employers were doing and that they can look after themselves in employing appropriate professionals. No one wanted to pay to get a certification to do their jobs, and not many in the wider profession could see a need for it...
And then Essendon happened
The ‘darkest day in Australian sport’ had impacted on the positioning of sports science and how it looked externally; it had impacted the conditions and trust in the profession. That’s when the wider industry decided it was time to do something and looked to ESSA as an industry leader for a solution.
"We were were concerned that individuals describing themselves as sports scientists (where title protection had not been available) were performing a role within sporting organisations and clubs without appropriate qualifications, accreditation by an independent and recognised organisation, or statutory control,
" adds Anita.
In May of 2013, the Greens secured a Senate Inquiry into the practice of sports science in Australia, with the Senates Committee report being released in July. With legal cases starting, there was a lot of hesitation from the industry in letting due course be run before the government became involved. ESSA then stood up to take responsibility for the establishment of quality assurance requirements and regulatory processes for sports scientists within an individual code or sporting organisations. However, ESSA was careful that change was driven and truly led by the industry and its needs.
An advisory group of stakeholders, including Distinguished Professor Aaron Coutts, was formed to start reviewing the current ESSA Sports Science Standards and accreditation process. In April 2014, a roundtable meeting was held at the MCG in Melbourne, where 25 key people from diverse backgrounds in the sports science area were brought together. There were sports scientists, those who employed sports scientists, and academics, all from a range of different sports, who discussed the open-ended question of, ‘what is needed?’ With all the major sporting organisations represented at the first meeting, or providing feedback in offline meetings, all the sporting codes provided input into a new sports science accreditation system, which was announced by ESSA in February 2016.
“Sports science is different to other ESSA accreditations as its industry is led by its standards and competencies, which is why the three-tiered accreditation system was eventually put in place – Accredited Sports Scientist Level 1, Level 2, and Accredited High Performance Manager
,” explains Aaron.
ESSA believed that there needed to be immediate registration, but how could the experienced professionals, who had been practicing for 20+ years, be looked after? To ensure they would get on board, and the process wouldn’t be difficult, the Grandfathering pathway process was put in place (until February 2021). This process, for the first time, was a pathway that didn’t require evidence of exercise science experience, which was a big adjustment for ESSA and its National Board, highlighting the promise that ESSA were putting the needs of the industry first.
Anita confesses that, “It’s been a very difficult journey, as it has put a lot of challenges up, but most importantly, ESSA has sat back and listened to the industry and provided an accreditation based on industry necessity