Definitions and Benefits of Commonly used Sports Related Terminology

As with many other disciplines, sport is filled with a number of terms that we as parents don’t always fully understand. We have compiled a list of these terms to help you get to grips with the subject and to be able to understand your child’s and his/her coach’s language.

Biokineticist A Biokineticist is a health care professional that focuses on improving a person’s physical condition and quality of life by means of physical assessment and physical activity prescription (exercise specialist). It would be beneficial to consult with a biokineticist if your child has a sports injury and requires rehabilitation or if your child has postural or biomechanical deviations that could benefit from physical therapy.
Chiropractor Chiropractor is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system and the effects of these disorders on general health. The most common therapeutic procedure performed by doctors of chiropractic is known as “spinal manipulation”. Your child could benefit from the services of a chiropractor if he or she has an injury or postural deviations that could benefit from “spinal manipulation” such as conditions that affect the back or neck for example Sciatica.
Occupational Therapist An occupational therapist is a health care professional concerned with helping people achieve independence as well as meaning and satisfaction in all aspects of their lives. If your child is having problems with performing activities of daily living that is negatively influencing their functioning in society not necessarily only their sports performance an occupational therapist can be of assistance.
Physiotherapist A physiotherapist is a health care professional concerned with human function and movement usually making use of various modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound and massage. If your child has a sports injury a physiotherapist can assist to create and ideal environment for healing and recovery to take place by means of the various modalities. Physiotherapists also often prescribe exercise programmes especially for the initial phases of the injury rehabilitation.
Podiatrist Podiatry is the specialized field of dealing with the study of the care of the foot. Many podiatrists are trained in surgical procedures, foot biomechanics, and the fitting and construction of orthotic devices for the shoe. Your child would benefit from consulting with a podiatrist if he or she is having problems with their feet that could be affecting their sports performance.
Sports Physician A sports physician is a medical doctor that specialises in the treatment of sports/physical activity injuries and illnesses. They diagnose and treat medical problems that may result from physical activity or sport, e.g. amenorrhea resulting from over-exercising in adolescent girls. Thus, if your child has an injury or illness as a result of sports or physical activity participation such as Ilio-tibial band friction syndrome, a sports physician will be best equipped to diagnose and treat the injury.
Biomechanics Biomechanics is the study of the mechanics of a living body especially of the forces exerted by muscles and gravity on the skeletal structure. With regards to sports participation a biomechanist can play an important role in analysing sports movements by means of advanced equipment in order to make recommendations on how movement technique can be improved to prevent injury and enhance performance.
Conditioning Conditioning is the process of training to become physically fit. It is important that all athletes follow an individualised conditioning programme in order to prevent injuries and enhance the sports performance of the athlete.
Periodisation Periodisation is an approach to conditioning that brings about peak performance while reducing injuries and overtraining in the athlete through a conditioning programme that is followed throughout the various seasons. Therefore, an athlete focuses on different aspects of training during the various seasons for example aerobic fitness or technique. Furthermore, the intensity of the training varies according to which season the training is taking place in. Periodisation is particularly important in elite athletes. Periodisation of nutritional intake should shadow the training periodization programme.
Sports Scientist A sport Scientist is a professional that implements scientific principles and techniques with the aim of improving sports performance. The sports scientist usually works very closely with the coach to ensure inputs of both professionals are complementary. A sport scientist could assist your child in achieving optimal sports performance by means of doing various assessments and tests to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your child and then prescribing an individualised training and conditioning programme.
Tapering In the context of sport, tapering refers to the practice of reducing or tapering off exercise in the days just before an important competition. In order to ensure that athletes perform optimally at important tournaments or competitions it is important that athletes reduce their training close to the event, this ensures the athlete will not be fatigued and will be able to perform at their best when required to do so. Tapering is particularly important in elite athletes.
Burnout Burnout can be subdivided into psychological and physical burnout. 

Psychological burnout: The experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest usually as a result of excessive stress and work.

Physical burnout: Physical burnout or overtraining is a condition that results if an individual trains excessively without giving the body sufficient time to recuperate. As a result the individual’s sport or activity performance will be negatively influenced.

It is important to recognise the symptoms of overtraining such as fatigue, depression and weight-loss as soon as possible so that corrective measures can be taken so as not to cause health complications or long-term sports performance decreases. 

If you suspect that your child is suffering from burn out consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Sports Psychology Sports psychology is the field of psychology that aims to improve an athlete’s performance or assist an athlete psychologically through the rehabilitation process after an injury by means of skills training such as visualization, relaxation and goal setting. If your child is dealing with issues such as confidence, motivation, burn out, performing under pressure amongst others they could benefit from the services of a sport psychologist.
Carbohydrate This group of nutrient is composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It includes complex (e.g. bread, rice and oats) and simple sugars (e.g. fruit, syrup, sweets and jams). The primary function of carbohydrate is the supply of energy. Adequate supply of energy in the form of carbohydrates is important for athletes to keep up with the demands of their sport.
Fat Fats, like carbohydrates are organic compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Some fats also contain the elements phosphorus and nitrogen. Like carbohydrates their primary function is that of supplying energy however fats have an energy potential more than double that of carbohydrates. Food sources of fats can be divided into animal (e.g. butter, cream and meat fats) and vegetable fats (Cooking oils, olives and avocado pear).
Hydration Hydration is the process of providing an adequate amount of fluid or liquid to the bodily tissues so that the body can function optimally. It is essential that athletes consume the correct amount of fluid not only so that their bodies can function properly but also so that they can perform optimally. Water plays very important functions in the body but too much or too little water can be detrimental to an athlete. The amount of water an athlete should consume is dependent on a number of factors such as training intensity, training conditions (hot / cold / humid), body size and clothing worn. 

A rule of thumb is for an athlete to drink when they are thirsty.

Over-Hydration Over-hydration is excessive fluid or liquid intake that can result in medical complications. Signs of over-hydration are nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, respiratory distress, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, oedema (watches and shoes may feel tight), coma and seizures.
Under-Hydration/Dehydration Under-hydration is inadequate fluid or liquid intake that can result in medical complications. Early signs of dehydration are headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, flushed skin, heat intolerance, light headedness, dry mouth and eyes, and dark urine with a strong odour.
Minerals A mineral is an inorganic element such as calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, or zinc that is essential to the nutrition of humans, animals and plants. Minerals elements are constituents of enzymes, hormones and vitamins. The most important minerals to be concerned about in young athletes are iron, calcium and zinc.
Protein Proteins are complex nitrogenous organic compounds in which amino acids are the units of structure. The body utilises protein mainly for the formation of new tissue and the maintenance thereof. Sources of protein include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk and nuts. Sufficient protein in the diet is essential for athletes specifically in terms of forming muscle tissue and aiding in post-training recovery.
Supplement A dietary or food supplement is a preparation intended to supplement the diet and provide nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that may be missing or may not be consumed in sufficient quantities in a person’s diet. Sometimes a dietary supplement may be necessary for athletes especially those that follow a vigorous training schedule and may not follow a well-balanced diet. Supplements should be used with extreme caution and only after consulting with a dietician or doctor.
Sustenance Sustenance refers to a means of sustaining life, which can refer to nourishment (food and drink). For health reasons it is essential that all individuals follow a well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet that fits the nutritional and energy requirements of athletes is essential not only for health but also optimal sports performance and recovery. A dietician can assist you with compiling an individualised nutritional plan that compliments your child’s health and sports requirements.
Vitamins Any of a group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet. Vitamins can be classified into fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and water-soluble vitamins (C and B-complex). As long as your child is eating a well-planned and varied diet they should be receiving an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals to meet their energy requirements.
Banned Substance A banned substance is one that has been listed as such by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) due to the fact that it may have performance enhancing effects. The majority of sporting codes prohibit the use of such substances. It is important for you as a parent to ensure that your child is not taking any prohibited substances even if prescribed by a medical professional. Your child’s “normal” medication could in fact inadvertently contain a banned substance. It is the responsibility of the athlete to ensure that they know which substances are banned. For a complete list of such substances you can check out the Drug Free Sport web site ( or the WADA web site (
Doping Doping is the use of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly those forbidden by organizations that regulate competitions. Doping in sport is increasing as the pressures on athletes become greater. Athlete education is one of the important strategies required to prevent doping or decrease the incidence of doping in sport. Drugs can have detrimental consequences on an athlete’s health if not required for the treatment of a specific medical condition especially if the drug is taken over a long period of time.
Therapeutic use exemption (TUE) An athlete can apply for a TUE (permission from relevant authorities to use a prohibited substance or method) if the athlete has a medical condition that requires the use of a prohibited substance or method. The controlling body for doping in sport in South Africa is the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport ( Should your child have a specific medical condition, for example asthma, for which medication is prescribed by a doctor and such medication is/may be on the list of prohibited substances you should consult your doctor about obtaining a TUE.

Compiled by Kim Nolte, Biokineticist / Lecturer

Institute for Sports Research / Department of Biokinetics, Sport and Leisure Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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