#TuksSport: Q&A with Linda Sikweza at SEMLI, her major interest in biomechanics and passion for sports science as a whole

Posted on December 12, 2022

Linda Sikweza joined the Sport, Exercise Medicine and Lifestyle Institute - SEMLI at the University of Pretoria in 2020 as a Sport Science Intern. She holds a BA Honours in Sport Science qualification obtained at the University of Johannesburg. Having worked her way up, to date, she is a Junior Sport Scientist at SEMLI.

Since then, she has been in high-performance programmes and exposed herself to different areas of sport science. Last year, Sikweza was a Sport Scientist for the President's XII at the SPAR Challenge Series in Cape Town.

This year in August, her TuksSport High School learner-athletes (Sanele Zixunge and Sphesihle Khoza) who are middle-distance runners were selected to represent South Africa at the 2022 World Athletics U20 Championships in Colombia. This month, she served as a Sport Scientist of TuksTennis at the 2022 USSA Tennis Championships in Potchefstroom.

Here, Sikweza tells us more about her role at SEMLI, 2021 SPAR Challenge Series experience, her major interest in biomechanics, etc.

1. Who is Linda Sikweza within the field of sport science?

Sport science, by definition, is the art of helping an athlete get to their “individualized peak physical performance” while prioritizing injury prevention. Inherently, where there is movement, there is a risk of injury. Therefore, I can’t prevent injuries completely. An analogy I like to use is of thinking about myself as a mechanic and my athlete as a car. If I build a car from scratch, putting everything together, I would first need to ensure all the different components are working together. The engine works, the wheels turn smoothly, the steering wheel controls the turning of the wheels, and the brakes are working. Once all this is working, I must practice consistently, not once or twice. If something is not working as well as it should, I go back to step one (move well) for that component. Again, once I have thoroughly tested my car and am confident it is ready to race, I can get it competing. That is who I am in the sport science field as a whole. 

2. What are your duties and responsibilities as a Junior Sport Scientist at SEMLI? What are the sporting codes of your specialisation?

Within the field of sport science, specifically at SEMLI, my primary role is to assist TuksSport High School, and the University of Pretoria athletes to achieve their best athletic performance by applying my knowledge and techniques of physiology, strength and conditioning and biomechanics. As a Junior Sport Scientist, I work mainly with TuksSport High School middle distance, race-walking learner-athletes, PGA Golf at TuksGolf and TuksTennis.

Though, it currently seems I am mainly in individual sports; I do have a keen interest in team sports, particularly volleyball, netball, basketball and football. My primary responsibilities include sport science support, interventions encompassing sport physiology, biomechanics and strength and conditioning to athletes and coaches, athlete monitoring and “somewhat” contributing to research outputs of the Sport Science Unit. 

3. What have you learned about the environment at the University of Pretoria?

I have been exposed to a high-performance environment at different levels (i.e., High School, University and National levels). Though I studied at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), I was fortunate enough to get employed by SEMLI (University of Pretoria). Firstly, both environments have been entirely different but similar in that I have worked around hardworking and respected Sport Scientists. The transition from UJ to Tuks forced me out of my comfort zone, I got comfortable with specific techniques and levels of training, and that had to change. The exposure to young athletes exposed me to a field of youth athletic development I had not often been used to. The Tuks environment is one of winning, which not only applies to athletes and their respective sporting codes but also to everyone working behind the scenes, from your Sport Scientists, to your Physios, etc., not neglecting senior management.

4. In 2021, you were a Sport Scientist for the President's XII at the SPAR Challenge Series. What were your key lessons from this experience and role as a whole?

With Tuks arguably a leading high-performance institute, most coaches are involved with national teams. I was fortunate enough to work with the President’s XII at the SPAR Challenge Series in 2021. My role on this tour was more of an assistive part to support Charne Britz (SPAR Proteas Sport Scientist at that time). Charne had done most of the necessary conditioning in the build-up to the tournament, so I mainly assisted during the competition mainly with recovery.

The late American professional and college football coach, Bill Walsh, once said, “As the leader, part of the job is to be visible and willing to communicate with everyone.” This quote sums up a key lesson from the tour, in that, through communicating and being visible, you learn from the support staff and the players. You aim to broaden your experience and knowledge by exposing yourself to various areas of sport, with biomechanics being an area of interest.

5. Why a major interest in biomechanics?

There are three main broad areas in sport science: Sports Physiology, Strength and Conditioning and Sports Biomechanics. I feel Biomechanics is the one area most Sport Scientists, myself included, have not fully explored. As a Sport Scientist, part of my role is to assist athletes in achieving the best possible performance, and I feel neglecting one area in sports science not only limits my growth as a Sport Scientist but that of my athletes as well. Understanding Biomechanics and applying its principles is the foundation for a technique for all sports; with the sporting codes, I mainly work on being process driven. I know my athletes would benefit from my acquiring biomechanical knowledge and skills.

6. Why are you passionate about sports science?

Honestly, I am not the best player you would want on your team. However, I have equipped myself with various sporting codes, strategies and knowledge so that you can wish to see me behind the scenes in your group. Because sports performance and sports science are ever-changing, you cannot confine yourself to one facet of sport science, hence, the yearning to broaden my biomechanics knowledge. This ever-changing environment and the adrenaline rush I get during competitions make me passionate about sports science and want to improve my knowledge further.

- Author Bhekani Bright Ndebele

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