Research in Sport: An Introduction (Online Support)

Doctor with Computer



This module (link link for descriptor) is designed to develop your ability to access and analyse information on a sport or fitness related topic. This includes accessing both primary and secondary sources and presenting the findings of the research investigation in an appropriate form.


Key outcome Measures:

  1. Investigate methods and processes involved in research and plan a research investigation on a sport or fitness related topic.

  2. Access and analyse information from a range of primary and secondary sources. 

  3. Present the findings of a research investigation on a sport or fitness related topic in an appropriate form.

Outcome 1

Investigate methods and processes involved in research and plan a research investigation on a sport or fitness related topic.


Necessary Evidence To Demonstrate Understanding


  • Research techniques.

  • Referencing system.

  • Formulation of research objectives.

  • Identification and selection of relevant sources.

  • Personal and project management skills.


You are required to provide evidence which includes: 

  • define an objective for a research investigation on a sport or fitness related topic

  • outline research approaches

  • identify Primary and Secondary sources of information

  • demonstrate time management skills through setting realistic goals and targets


You will be required to complete a planning stage document and it is anticipated that the assessment will be in the region of 300 words.

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Outcome 2

Access and analyse information from a range of primary and secondary sources.


Necessary Evidence To Demonstrate Understanding

  • Literature/background review of research topic.

  • Primary data collection methods.

  • Data handling techniques.

  • Analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.

You are required to provide evidence which includes: 


  • Produce a record of research activity and materials demonstrating that they have accessed a range of relevant sources.

  • Produce a literature/background review by accessing relevant secondary sources of information relevant to the research topic.

 Evidence for this Outcome should be in the form of a portfolio or other record of the materials and information which will underpin and support the presentation for outcome 3. You must produce a literature/background review of the research topic which should be in the region of 300 words or oral equivalent.


Outcome 3.


Present the findings of a research investigation on a sport or fitness related topic in an appropriate form.

Necessary Evidence To Demonstrate Understanding

  • Analytical and evaluative skills.

  • Selection of relevant and accurate information.

  • Effective organisation of information and ideas.

  • Acknowledging sources.

  • Use of presentation software.

  • Effective communication of research results and information

You are required to provide evidence which includes: 


Present your research findings in a poster or another appropriate form where you:

  • Present an introduction to the research topic (literature/background review)

  • Detail the methodology of research

  • Present the results of primary data collected

  • Present an accurate conclusion

  • Acknowledge all sources

Essential Reading (Click image for External Link)

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Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research


From the  first days of college and also university I heard frequent stories concerning the differences between qualitative and quantitative research.  This included how different the research approaches are in theory and practice, the degree to which they create divisions between students and academics, and their impacts on knowledge generation processes are subject to constant debate.  it is important that we  understanding the bases of each approach because it is fundamental in assessing the role of each style of research in contemporary academia.

What Actually Is Research Methodology 


A methodology is an inclusive approach to the accumulation of knowledge centred on theoretical and philosophical doctrines about what can be known by people and how it can be known through specific techniques of knowledge attainment. A method refers to the techniques of knowledge acquisition. The two terms are often used synonymously it is important to consider a method as a subcomponent of one's overall methodology. 

Quantitative methodology is founded on the interconnection between the practice of deductive theory assessment, a belief in objectivism, and the application of positivist methods of research inquiry. Deductive theory testing means using principles derived from theories that describe events, happenings, processes, entities, phenomena in the world as the basis for research. In the deductive approach to research, evidence is collected to assess whether or not pre-existing theoretical concepts are accurate and predictive when applied to ‘real-world’ data. The general credence in objectivism is that it indicates the philosophical idea that the world is organised by general, universal social and biological laws governing life. These laws pattern or structure the world, and exist independently of human subjective interpretation of them. Finally, quantitative researchers ‘distinguish’ the world by gathering data through positivist techniques including large-scale surveys, standardised scales and questionnaires, and through experimental protocols. These techniques assess concepts in the world numerically using statistical analysis of data to test research hypotheses. The goal of quantitative methodology therefore is to study whether or not the research hypotheses (as derived from theory) have any predictive and explanatory value in the world as evidenced by patterns in objective, numeric data. Quantitative methodology is common among sport and exercise physiologists, biomechanists, psychologists and nutritionists.


Qualitative methodology, by contrast, is founded on the interconnection between the goals of inductively evolving theoretical understandings of the world, a belief in constructionism/ subjectivism, and the application of interpretivist methods of research inquiry. Induction refers to the process of collecting data in order to build a theoretical understanding of the world. In the inductive approach to research, academics may commence a study with a fragmented understanding of a subject and develop a more conceptual, general theoretical description of the subject through cautious observation over time. Constructionism or subjectivism refers to a philosophical position that the reality of social (and to a degree social psychological or psychological) experiences is a matter of subjective interpretation. There are no fixed laws governing all life or social processes, but, rather, the realities of life are constructed by people on an ongoing basis. Thus, interpretivist methods are those designed to allow researchers to understand how people construct and understand the realities of their lived experiences. Qualitative  methodologists argue that, to understand others, techniques of data collection such as observation, ethnography, interviewing and narrative analysis are required.

Figure 1.  Quantitative & Qualitative Methodologies

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The nature of a research question itself indicates the researcher's methodological standpoint or preferences. Consider the following examples and identify which methodological camp gives rise to the question:

  • Does the consumption of a caffeine sports drink (250ml) every 25 minutes of competition delay onset of perceived muscle fatigue for elite-level women tennis players during matches lasting two or more sets?


  • What are elite-level women football players' definitions of femininity in the sporting world?

Why Is This Relevant to Me?

You could easily spend the better part of the next year researching and reviewing all that has been written about the evident variances between quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Quantitative methodologies tend to be generalised amongst students as ‘science’, while qualitative methodologists are generally understood as interesting and relevant but biased and unscientific. The key differences are the following:

  • Quantitative data, as numeric, are objective while qualitative data, as words, images and texts, are subjective.

  • Quantitative researchers investigate in ‘unnatural’ or contrived settings, while qualitative researchers conduct studies in the real world.

  • Quantitative research focuses on variables and causal factors while qualitative research studies the meaning of experiences within particular cultures.

  • Quantitative research is always deductive while all qualitative research is inductive.

  • Quantitative research is directed toward the discovery of scientific laws while qualitative research identifies patterns in how people assign meaning to life.

Similar to most mythologies, commonly held beliefs, or general assumptions, there is some empirical truth behind the dichotomies offered above. But the problem with the acknowledgement and reproduction of binaries lies in the ways in which students are asked, if not forced, to develop a ‘this or that’ mentality regarding what counts as appropriate knowledge. Rather than internalising and understanding the long-standing methodological ideology that the method(ology) should follow the question, students often develop a mindset geared towards methodological tunnel vision.

How Do I Use IT

A well-thought-out quantitative study is sophisticated in both design and implementation. If you are an individual who considers the scientific method, and who observes the world as structured by factors, variables and forces, then quantitative methodology is certainly for you. Quantitative research is conducted through  common series of stages. First, a researcher develops a inquisitiveness about the causal relationship between two ‘things’ in the world: say, between the consumption of a caffeinated sports drink and fatigue during long bouts of exercise. Based on bio-physical theory (in this case) the researcher is led to predict that a particular dose of caffeinated  drink will delay fatigue in the body more effectively than water alone (this develops the research hypothesis). From there, the researcher determines the method to measure the effects of drinking the sports drink on fatigue, and how best to observe the process  within the body. Subjects are selected for the study and the researcher's hypothesis is tested in a standardised, controlled manner. The appropriate data are collected and converted into numeric observations, and then analysed through various statistical software. From there, the researcher examines whether or not the numeric data expose any definitive patterns regarding the original hypothesis, and concludes whether or not the theory of how caffeinated sports drinks affect the body is supported by generated evidence. Ultimately, the methodology is simple, clean, focused and effective.


Despite the repute of qualitative research as ‘soft’ or ‘easier’ than quantitative research, the reverse is most likely the case. Conducting qualitative research is more difficult and untidier than quantitative research for multiple reasons. First, qualitative research begins with inquisitiveness about something in the world, but does not commence with the framework of theoretical maxims. Qualitative questions do not start with a extrapolative statement such as ‘I bet this is related to this in this manner’ (like quantitative research questions), but are general and often open-ended. For example ‘How do women football players construct femininity?’, ‘What is it like to live with cancer as a competitive basketball player?’, or ‘How do young people experience medical discourses about obesity?’, are all open-ended qualitative questions. Apparently unguided by extant socio-cultural theories, a researcher who poses a question like ‘How do women football players construct femininity?’, must then select a group of women football players to study. From there, decisions regarding how one actually ‘measures’ their constructions of femininity follow; that is, how can we observe or learn their subjective constructions of femininity (the dominant method of choice is interviewing). Data are collected through a qualitative method, and then openly’ analysed. Using words, phrases, actions or observations made regarding how women construct femininity, a researcher is presented with the task of abstracting concepts and potentially theories about gender from the data. It is indeed the opposite technique to that employed in quantitative research, and requires creativity, analysis and re-analysis of data, reframing the main questions underpinning the study over time. Although this seems insane to students at first, the true (substantive and theoretical) focus of the study may not emerge until midway through or even near the end of a project.

Figure 2.  5 Steps In Quantitative Research

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Figure 3.  6 Steps In Qualitative Research

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Qualitative research is, then, inherently frustrating for many students at first because it is not nearly as ‘structured’ or tightly packaged as quantitative methodology. Measurement procedures can be vague and not guided by templates or rules.

I Still Don't Understand This Concept?

Sometimes students have difficulty understanding what original empirical research refers to when lecturers talk about the papers that appear in academic journals. There is a variety of research articles or papers that appear in a journal. This is either a  sole- or multi-authored summary and analysis of primary research which has been performed by the author(s). A research article's contents commonly follow a similar construct: it introduces the question or idea underpinning the author's research project (e.g. ‘Is there a culture of violence in Scottish football?’); what we know about the subject (in this case, a literature review of other people's research on Scottish football violence or sport violence in general, taken from books and journal articles); how the data or ‘evidence’ were collected within the project (e.g. interviews, experiments, surveys, media analysis, and so on); a theoretical and conceptual analysis of what the researchers think the data they gathered mean, or what the data show related to our research question (e.g. ‘Yes, there is a culture of violence in the sport of ice hockey, and here is how it seems to form’); and a conclusions/ discussion section where the researchers usually summarise what they found and suggest future directions for other researchers.


An academic journal is similar to an ongoing diary where research efforts within a specific field of study that have been identified as important, compelling and revealing are published and debated. In more precise terms, an academic journal is a periodical in which research relating to a particular academic discipline or sub-discipline is regularly distributed. Usually, an academic journal is published anywhere from three to six times yearly and contains a number (anywhere from 2 to 12, or more) of published research articles. Journals often contain theoretical and philosophical essays as well, reviews of books that have been published by academics, meta-reviews of selected published research on a specific topic (i.e. where someone has actually read everything published on a subject like Scottish football violence and then summarised this collectively for us), or statements about ‘research in progress’ authored by a researcher (often refer to as ‘Research Notes’). Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and presentation of research conducted by academics all over the world.


Why Is This Relevant to Me?


Very early on in university (your career ) you  become familiar with articles published in academic journals. They are important tools for the successful completion of your own coursework and research projects. An appropriate use of sport and exercise science literatures in a term paper or report is always impressive. But a review of published research and theory in academic journals is also critical for understanding how to think like a psychologist, economist or historian of sport. Reading and knowing the academic literature relevant to your subdiscipline of interest in sport and exercise sciences are mechanisms of the ‘apprenticeship’ role a student adopts. Journal articles provide you with a more rounded and deeper overview of  the material in your courses, they add flesh to the skeletal structure of ideas presented to you in textbooks, and they unpack and explain the significance of the complex issues you will be exposed to in your studies.


To all intents, reading academic journal articles about a subject of your interest is perhaps the first step you will ever take in conducting research. Reviewing what has been published in academic journals in your essential field of interest is vital in the research process. Furthermore, it is an important hurdle to overcome at first as many journal articles are dense, inaccessible and filled with technological or theoretical language. Because academic journal articles are generally written by and for full-time academics, the style of writing can be distracting and discouraging for college and undergraduate students. This might be one of the reasons why so many students ‘read’ an article by only scanning the article's ‘Abstract’ and/or the ‘Conclusion’ section. Please do not be discouraged if there are many parts of the article that seem overwhelming at first; with time, persistence and experience, you will become familiar with all of the terms and language. Reading and understanding journal articles is a learned skill; and thankfully it does not take the same time and physical effort as learning a physical skill in sport that may require 15,000 repetitions to master.

Essential Reading (Click Image For External Link)

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Please Show Me How It's Used!

In every sub-disciplines in sport and exercise science, there may be several academic journals in which your lecturers strive to publish their own original research findings in. Psychologists of sport, for example, regularly seek to publish in journals such as Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, and the International Journal of Sports Psychology. While there are quite a few journals in every sport or exercise sub-discipline, there are literally hundreds, and in some academic fields thousands, of researchers seeking to publish their findings in the journals. An regular academic journal may be published say four times yearly, and accept only four to eight articles for publication in each of its editions – a total of only 16–32 research articles for the entire year. Hundreds of research papers may have been submitted to the journal for consideration. So, when an article appears in print it has won quite a competitive struggle.


Why Is This Important?


One of the key differences between academic journals and trade publications where research is published (i.e. magazines, newspapers, or even academic books) is that a research paper published in an academic journal has been peer reviewed. To have a significant understanding of why academic journal articles are treated in such high regard, and why researchers use them so frequently, it is important to briefly discuss the peer review process.


For example the Journal of Sport Sciences (JSS) is an often respected by sport and exercise science researcher. The JSS is physically published  and distributed by the book company Routledge, but is organised, administered and managed by members of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), the World Commission of Science and Sports, and the International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry.  Academic societies and associations like BASES are comprised of groups of professors from a particular country, or from around the world, who work in the same field, for instance, sports nutrition or biomechanics. They pay a yearly membership to be in the society, and may frequently meet with other members to discuss their research (often, in academic conferences sponsored by the societies). One of their tasks is to create and manage an academic journal that publishes important,  critical research in their disciplinary area. Any journal, like the JSS, is overseen by an editor and an editorial board comprised of members from BASES who review research papers submitted to the journal by authors.

The number of peer reviewers (or ‘referees’) varies according to each journal's policies – normally, no fewer than two, and usually at least three peers review the article. The editor sends them my paper (without my name or university affiliation anywhere on it), and they are given several weeks to conduct the review. You do not know who is reviewing the paper, nor in some journals do the reviewers know who have written it. This ‘double blind’ process is standard at journals and is critical for ensuring that our own biases and beliefs about a peer or their past work do not get factored into the review process. The editor(s) uses the reviewers' opinions (submitted in the form of standardised reports) in determining whether to publish the article. Typically, an accepted article will not be published until months after its initial submission, while publication after a period of several years is not unknown. What this means is that by the time a published article emerges in print, it has normally went through a  thorough review process, scrutiny, revision and defending. Furthermore, researchers collectively use journals to validate the legitimacy of our research abilities, efforts and findings. Because they have been extensively peer reviewed and critiqued through the submission process, articles become considered among academics as signs of a person's own competence as a researcher.

Essential Reading (Click Image For External Link)

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Literature Review (What A Book Review)?

A good literature review is critical in the research process for a number of reasons. The literature review frames our thinking through all stages of the research process, it shapes our arguments, and it provides an intellectual context for our claims. It is a focal point in our dialogue with other researchers and illustrates our understanding of why a specific research project is important as an evidence seeking, or claims-making, venture. Students often view the literature review as a necessary evil, and colleagues see it as a way of demonstrating one's intense familiarity with a subject.

A literature review is, essentially, an excavation and discussion of the relevant literature in a given area of study. As such, a literature review can be a concise (or very long, in the case of my PhD thesis) and focused overview of the major studies, arguments and established empirical findings about a subject. Academic journals and books are the gold standard sources of information for university and college researchers, but, depending on your subject, informative literature might also come from non-academic published reports, government or other institutional documents, collections in libraries, documentaries, non-academic books, and even anecdotes.

Literature reviews can have different types of viewers, depending on the purpose of the research, so you must always consider why and for whom you are writing a review. For example, a lot of literature reviews are written as a chapter for a thesis or dissertation, so the readers will want to know why your research is important and original – why it should count as a worthwhile exercise in the production of knowledge.  A literature review will, therefore, attempt to demonstrate the academic significance of the proposed project. In contrast, when students are writing a literature review for a course assignment, a lecturer may want you to show that you basically understand what research has been completed, giving you a base of knowledge.

In summary, a literature review has a clear organisational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is an outline of the important information of the articles or sources one reviews, but a synthesis is your personal reorganisation, or a reshuffling, of that information into a narrative whole.

Developing A Research Question

Translating an idea one has into a researchable question is a tough. Carefully thinking through an idea and constructing it into a research question, however, takes quite a bit of work. There is both an art and science of research question development, and producing a researchable question is an essential skill to master early on as an researcher.

i). Descriptive: These questions focus on identifying and outlining common patterns, events, characteristics or trends in bodies, minds and societies. Examples include;

  • How many people living in Glasgow (Scotland) from working-class backgrounds have a form of cancer?

  • What is the growth rate of Active Release therapy certifications in the UK?

  • How many boys play organised tennis in Edinburgh in comparison to girls?

  • What is the risk rate of ankle injury in minor league football in the Scotland for teenagers aged 13–14?

Descriptive questions and the studies they lead to provide important information about the distributional or categorical nature of the phenomenon of interest. Descriptive studies in sport, exercise and physical activity research are almost always quantitative, using numbers, charts and other forms of numerically summative ways to answer a research question.

(ii). Explanatory: These questions are the main characteristics of scientific inquiry. An explanatory question is derived from a theory, whereby the maxims and principles of a theory are used to predict an outcome in the ‘real world’. Explanatory questions are part of the deductive research process. A theory explains how and why something in the world will behave in a particular manner. For instance, if a person swings a golf club at a particular angle and given velocity to a ball lying in a sand trap buried to a specific depth, on a day with wind coming at me from a particular angle and speed. Then theoretical physics and biomechanics theories will predict where the ball will travel too. If these theories have any ‘empirical basis’, then they will be able to predict, with accuracy, where the ball will go. Explanatory questions do not, then, commence by proposing we will eventually explain the nature of a phenomenon under study; explanatory questions propose/predict that we already know how and why things work, and we need to test whether or not our understandings are accurate. A direct explanatory question might be, ‘Is there an optimum golf club loft angle (between 45 and 60 degrees) to maximise accuracy when striking from the sand?’ Here, we would be testing the theoretical concept that specific loft angles produce more accuracy out of sand trap scenarios. Or, it  could be rephrase as, ‘Titanium golf clubs with a loft angle of 60 degrees produce greater accuracy in striking scenarios when the ball is buried 2cm or more in sand by comparison to titanium clubs with a loft angle of 50 degrees.’ Explanatory questions are regularly phrased as definitive statements of relationship; when they adopt such a form, it is called  hypotheses.


(iii). Exploratory: This category of question can be clearly identified at times, while at other times they are tangled with descriptive questions. Exploratory questions form the basis of inductive inquiry, and initiate a programme of investigation intended to ‘flesh out’ a tentative or working understanding of a phenomenon. Here, it might only have a general theoretical or substantive clue about what is going on with respect to a phenomenon and therefore researchers embark on a very loosely structured programme of data collection and analysis to arrive at a tentative understanding. Exploratory research questions are devised at times as the basis of pilot studies in experimental research protocols or survey-based inquiries, but are more typically associated with qualitative or ‘grounded’ empirical investigations. Examples of exploratory questions include, ‘Is there a relationship between gender and violence in sport?’; ‘What are the nutritional strategies of elite rugby players?’; or ‘How do people construct and understand barriers to physical activity participation?’

(iv). Evaluative: ​ These questions can be descriptive, explanatory or exploratory in nature. These questions address whether or not a programme, policy or product developed to produce a result in the world is actually operating as intended. Evaluation-based questions are frequently posed at the request of a public or private group or institution seeking the systematic assessment of one of their initiatives. Quite bluntly, a group may wish to know, ‘Does our programme work?’ For instance, does the creation of a staff exercise facility promote physical activity participation at the worksite? A city council might seek to examine the effects of hosting a major games like the Olympics or Commonwealth Games on healthy active living in the city. When researchers are commissioned or charged with evaluating others' programmes and products, it may be  required to provide descriptive information, informed theoretical explanations of the results, or answers from exploratory frameworks and perspectives.

Essential Reading (Click Image For External Link)

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What Is A Hypotheses

The processes of creating and testing hypotheses are the backbone of scientific research. Scientific research commences from a deductive standpoint. We have many, many theories about why bodies work they way they do, why our minds function in particular manners, and about the observable patterns in social structures and cultures across the planet.

Whenever we set out in a research process to test a theory, or component of a theory, to see if it actually predicts and explains the world in the way it states, we will need to construct hypotheses. A working understanding of where hypotheses come from and their centrality in science is crucial for connecting the various stages in the scientific process. An hypothesis is a testable statement of relationship between two or more variables. There are three essential features of an hypothesis: testability, relationship and variables

Hypotheses can be stated in several ways. 


For example:

  • As a negative relationship between two variables. Negative means the values for the variables included move in opposite directions – as one variable increases the other decreases. In terms of the research on interval training, a negative relationship exists between the amount of interval work during training and finishing time in a marathon: that is, the higher the amount of interval training during one's marathon preparation time, the lower the marathon time. The words inverse or indirect are also used to describe negative relationship.

  • In the form of a positive relationship between variables. Positive means the variables move in the same direction – as one increases so does the other (or by contrast, as one goes down, the other goes down as well). The word direct is also used to describe a positive relationship. A positive or direct hypothesis can be expressed in several ways, such as: ‘As one's Yasso 800m average time per session decreases, one's rate of perceived exertion at mile 20 in a marathon decreases.’ Or you could simply write (but this is not preferred), ‘There is a positive (or direct) relationship between Yasso 800m average times in training and rate of perceived exertion in the marathon.’

  • Some group (A) is different from another group (B). This form of hypothesis occurs when the purpose of research is to find out if two groups are different with respect to some variable. Generally, however, we can go beyond just saying we expect to find some difference. Usually, a hypothesis specifies the direction of the difference by saying that the variable for one group  is larger or smaller than for another group. To illustrate, we could hypothesise that marathon runners who train using Yasso 800 interval sessions have lower marathon times than individuals who do not interval train with the method.

None of the above hypotheses is preferable to the others from a researcher's perspective. However, they are all hypotheses. First, hypotheses contain two well-identified variables.

Remember that a variable is something that can be changed, such as a characteristic or value. Or, stated differently, it is a ‘thing’ that can take on different values for people. Every research hypothesis contains two variables, an independent variable and a dependent variable (see the entry on Variables as a reminder). As a quick reminder, the independent variable is assumed to be the one responsible for changes in the dependent variable. In our running example, interval training is the independent variable and marathon time is the dependent variable. Hypotheses express an expected relationship between an independent and dependent variable. As a matter of syntax, think of an hypothesis as a single sentence with three parts:

1. The subject, which generally is the independent variable.

2. A connecting verb, which defines the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

3. The object, which is the dependent variable. Try to express any hypothesis you write in the same way – as a single sentence with a subject, a connecting verb and an object. Also, since most hypotheses deal with the actions of groups of persons, plural forms are generally used. In addition, because you want to generalise to empirical conditions as they currently exist, hypotheses are generally expressed in the present tense.


The crux of an hypothesis is the proposed, directional statement (positive or inverse) of relationship between the two variables. Embedded in the statement of directionality is a causal and not just a correlational assertion. An hypothesis is a statement derived from a theory predicting how one variables changes another variable. Finally, an hypothesis must be testable: it cannot be dogma, ideology or faith alone. The variables must be measurable (we have to be able to score interval training and marathon performance in quantifiable, reliable and valid ways) through the use of empirical indicators.

Essential Reading (Click Image For External Link)

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