Soviet Sport - Research

Here are a few extracts from the book Soviet Training and Recovery
Methods (Brunner and Tabachnik, 1990):

Research, Research, And More Research.
Thirty to forty years ago, sport performances were much less than
they are today. Athletes could get away with training only 4-5 times
a week and still achieve good results. However, the Soviet sport
program observed that sport success at higher levels demanded much
more sophisticated research into the methods of training and
recovery. From this reasoning the Soviet UniDO developed the first
scientifically founded sport program.
The Soviet Union conducts well over ten times as much research in
ways to develop atbletes as do westem countries. In the National
Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow alone, there are over 1,000
researchers who devote their time solely to making atbletes better.
In Leningrad there are another 500 research scientists. There are an
additional thirty institutes of
physical culture throughout the USSR, and over 5,000 researchers who
work with the elite national teams. These centers have also produced
hundreds of Ph.D’ s which are very specialized in their research. For
example, there are Ph.D degrees bestowed in speed-endurance,
wrestling techniques, the clean and jerk in weight lifting, and pote
vault just to name a few. With such specialization, how could one not
do better?
Research students as candidates for advanced masters and doctorate
degrees in sport biochemistry, pharmacology, and physiology also work
toward making the national team athletes the very best. This combined
effort is unheard of in the west….

(Soviet national team has its own research group researches for the
best methods of developing top athletes in a particular sport. For
example, because of its diversity,
and field has five such groups: sprint and hurdle, jumps, endurance,
and decathlon, heptathlon. During the ‘s, Ben was head of the Soviet
national team research charge of sprint. He had thirty top level
scientists who with him in afeas of biomechanics, biochemistry,
pharmacology, and sport psychology. Their task provide the head coach
of the national team with an athletes condition before, during, and
training and competition, to supply new research information on speed
development, and to help coaches improve their skill level. In
addition to passing out information to athletes and coaches, sport
scientists also actively participate in the athletes’ training and
development . It is common for research scientists to travel with the
national team to competitions where they closely analyze the athletes
competitive state. Sport psychologists for example are noted for
their close contact with each athlete for many years, even to the
extent of living with the athlete for a long period of time. Only in
this way can they make proper recommendations to coaches as well as
directly improve the psychological state of the athlete. Not only
does the Soviet national team have such a group of top scientists,
each republic such as the Ukraine, Belo-Russia, etc., has their own
research group for every sport. In training camps it is common to
have up to 30 research scientists from different fields which assist
upwards of ten coaches in training fifty athletes. During high level
competitions, research scientists analyze each Soviet athletes

Standardized Coaching And Education
A big difference in sport development between the USA and the USSR is
in the training of coaches. In. the USSR there are two different
degrees given, one for coaching and one for
teaching. In. the USA we do not have a strong emphasis on developing
coaches. Parents, physical education majors, usually find their way
into coaching, many willing but unprepared to absorb the many
techniques and methods which must be used as a complex in order to
optimize each athlete’ s potential. In. the USA, physical education
majors commonly receive only two years of general education and two
years of majar subjects such as learning technique in basketball,
baseball, football, crack and field, etc. Top westem coaches are self-
made, often not learning the best techniques from American textbooks,
but rather from reading foreign publications and watching
intemational competitions on their own. In. the Soviet UniDO,
students receive four years in a specific chosen sport, complete with
learning by lecture as well as practical coaching. In. the USA,
students receive a brief introduction to many sports which have less
value for future use.

The Soviet UniDO has many specialized sport schools which train
coaches in individual sports such as crack and field, weight lifting,
soccer, swimming, etc. Even the best Soviet athletes, Olympic and
world champions, must attend these schools before being permitted to
coach. In. addition, a four year specialized school only allows you
to coach at sport…

Here are a few more extracts from Riordan (1980):

"Talent is a much debated quality. In societies where consideration
is given to the bright rather than to the dim, to the gifted few
rather than to the average many, to those with means rather than to
those without, it is natural that there should be a healthy
scepticism about so-called talento It is not easy to get the balance
right, especially in an economy of relative scarcity, between the
amount of attention raid to the average and that devoted to the above
average (or even the below average). Nor is it easy to make the one
complementary to the other. It is not obvious, even les s generally
accepted, what talent is, how to find it or what to do with it once
it has been discovered. Not everyone would agree that sporting talent
should be treated in the same way as artistic and intellectual

Controversies apart - and they are equally fierce in the communist
world - it does seem to be accepted that the Soviet Union and some
other co.rnmunist nations, most notably Cuba and the German
Democratic Republic, are reasonably successful in spotting and
developing talent in sport, as in ballet, music and mathematics.
In the official Soviet view, the principle of sport for all has
always taken precedence ayer the training of the talented few. And it
would be wrong to imagine that scarce resources are lavished upon the
gifted minority to the deprivation of the mediocre masses. But ever
since the late 1920s ‘leaders’ in ever walk of life have be en valued
highly in Soviet society - whether they have be en exemplary coal
miners, scientists or sportsmen. There would seem to be three main
reasons why the USSR displays such concern for its gifted athletes,
its potential sports leaders.

First, sportsmen are held in high esteem for the skill, grace and
strength by which they inspire young and old alike to be active and
to join in at alllevels of sport. They also help to instil a pride in
one’s team, nationality and country, and even in the political system
that can produce such world-beaters. The conduct of sports
personalities is therefore expected to be exemplary, an inspiration
to an. Second, Soviet sport follows foreign policy and has important
functions to discharge. These functions include winning support for
the USSR and its policies among developing nations; maintaining and
reinforcing the unity of the socialist countries; gaining recognition
and prestige in the world generally; and, most important of all,
demonstrating the advantages of the communist way of life. As a
consequence, besides winning World Championships and Olympic medals,
talented Soviet athletes are expected to be ambassadors of good will
and models of propriety in the arenas and forums of the world.

Third, there is a strong belief in the USSR in the parity of mental
and physical culture in human development, and a conviction that
talent in sport should be treated no differently from talent in art,
music or science. In other words, budding gymnasts, say, should be
regarded in the same way as promising ball_t dancers: they must be
given every opportunity to develop their gifts. Furthermore, unlike
the early administrators of amateur sport in the West, the Soviet
leadership has never been constrained by the notion that sport is an
unworthy profession or career.

Given this philosophy, it is logical that the USSR should have an
extensive screening system in schools and in clubs designed to sift
out talent at an early age. In some sports where talent blossoms
early, as in swimming and gymnastics…

There is no place here to examine how talent is spotted and tested
for its future potential. Obviously, the methods used vary according
to the demands of each particular sport. Suffice it to say that tests
are normally extensive and cover such elements as respiratory
capacity, musc1e tissue, blood and urine, proportionate development
of musc1es and body parts (finger size, forearm, neck, calf and so

The spotting and the nurturing of talent are aided considerably by
the concerted efforts of all branches of the state system, in
particular the research institutes and sports medicine. It is the
task of the physical education research institutes, for example, to
develop special testing devices to measure potential talent, to
develop new training methods and equipment for the top teams (and
even individual athletes) to compile textbooks and manuals and to
publish learned artic1es on sport. They were instrumental, for
example, in discovering the ‘right’ partner for the champ
ion figure skater lrina Rodnina after the departure of her previous
partner Ulyanov. It carne as a surprise to some in the West that a
relatively unknown, inexperienced and slightly built young man,
Alexander Zaitsev, was chosen out of several hundred candidates who
underwent many months of thorough testing. Yet the pair became the
most successful figure skaters in the sport, ideally suited both in
physical skills and psychological temperament (to the extent, even,
of becoming marriage partners). Another example of intensive research
applied to talent-spotting was the discovery of the sprinter Valery
Borzov. Once again, he was found after extensive tests among
literally hundreds of promising sprinters. His subsequent success as
the first Soviet athlete to win both the 100 metres and the 200
metres at the 1972 Olympics was right1y regarded as vindication of
the meticulous research methods. It is worthy of note that in the
twilight of his active race career Borzov himself is a postgraduate
student at the Kiev Physical Culture Institute and is writing a
dissertation (1979) on ‘Starting Techniques in Sprinting’; his coach,
Dr V. V. Petrovsky, is a Candidate of Biological Science and author
of several scientific treatises."

Here are a few extracts from the book Soviet Training and Recovery Methods (Brunner and Tabachnik, 1990):

The Soviet Union conducts more sport research than all other
countries in fue world combined. They know more about American
athletes than American coaches and scientists, and are constantly
searching for the best ways to train their athletes. We mentioned the
advantage of having hundreds of sport research scientists within
dozens of institutes and universities, ayer 1,000 within the Moscow
Institute ofPhysical Culture alone. The trouble is, about 80% of this
research becomes unused by Soviet coaches. There are several reasons
for this.

While a research institute may have 500 researchers, there are
no “middlemen” who are responsible for passing this information on to
coaches. What is needed are about 25 such people who bridge the gap
between science and practice. Does this sound familiar? 1t is true
same thing that happens in fue USA. America has very capable
researchers in its universities, but one big shortcorning is that
most researchers do not communicate with coaches. Again, the East
German sport system proves that when research is applied, great sport
success happens. How else could a country with less people than the
state of California field an Olympic team that places second in
medals at fue 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul? The secret is just plain
common sense. We must conduct investigative laboratory research on
athletes, apply this research in actual field trials, and then pul
fue best methods leamed into practice by cornmunicating to coaches
and athletes on a regular and non-scientific basis.

The system or organization of coaching and sport science development
is not as good as it should be…