Sascha Ketelhut, how did you become a sport scientist?
Sascha Ketelhut: Well, I am passionate about sport myself. And my interest in sport gave me the idea of turning my passion into my job. I started out in athletics and during training I always asked myself: Why do you train one particular aspect in a certain way and not in a different way? Why do some people swear by certain training content and others don’t – and what are the effects of these different approaches?
Can you investigate these questions in your research?
Yes, because our research is very practice-oriented. Like myself, a lot of sport scientists have a personal connection to sport. And that’s why the ideas for research projects often come from practice. The subdisciplines in Sport Science are widely spread and range from Sports Psychology and Sport Pedagogy to Sport Medicine. We focus on human beings, a complex being as everyone knows. To be able to investigate human beings in interaction with the environment, you have to take lots of things into account which necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. This diversity means we are constantly having to think outside the box.
How do you collect your data?
The research methods vary considerably depending on the area. While sport psychologists often work with questionnaires, I collect physiological data in the health sciences sector in the lab. I want to use this data to find out what happens in and with our bodies when we move. A device I almost always use in my investigations is a heart rate monitor: The heartbeat is the central indicator to be able to assess the strain and stress on the body and make it visible.
What other instruments do you have in your lab?
Along with various sports devices, such as treadmills and bicycle ergometers, we have various measuring systems to make physiological reactions in the body visible, for example heartbeat, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and metabolic rate.
What is the focus of your current research?
Among other things, I am currently investigating the effectiveness of exergames. These are interactive video games in which players control the game with bodily activity. For this project, we have set up an ExerCube in the lab. In this game, the test person is surrounded by three walls onto which we project a game scenario. During the game, the player navigates an avatar on a hoverboard along a virtual racetrack and while they are doing that, they have to carry out various motor-cognitive tasks for the avatar to overcome different obstacles. We measure what happens physiologically in this game and how the body reacts to that long term. If the training effect is as great as in endurance training, this type of physical activity would be an alternative for people who are not interested in conventional sports like jogging and keep-fit.
So you don’t only look into the performance of sportsmen and women?
Not at all, I focus on children, older people, younger people, sporty people and couch potatoes. As a passionate sportsperson, I had to learn to be sensitive to the issues of the latter and also learn to accept that not everyone likes moving to keep fit. We do, however, incorporate sport science findings into the promotion of health and physical activity. As a scientist, it is important to me that my research results are relevant to practice and that you can derive something from them in terms of how to treat your body. That is where I see the value of my work.
Does the University of Bern give you the space to implement your ideas?
I came to the University of Bern as a postdoctoral researcher in April 2020. I am relatively free to define my own research focus and am given support in my projects. Alongside my research, I also do some teaching. During the semester, this constitutes around half my workload
What do you particularly value about your area of research?
I particularly like its interdisciplinary nature and the high practical relevance. Besides, I meet lots of different people through my work as I work with test persons. Sometimes, collecting data with the help of voluntary participants accounts for 40 percent of my work. This intense contact is unusual. In comparison to other subjects, we all have a friendly and relaxed attitude toward one another – like in sport, too.