From physical exercises to sports and biomechanics

“It is the story that the right circumstances and the right people in the right place can create lasting results.” Thus, one of the 37 contributors – professor and head of research unit Jan Hartvigsen – writes in the anniversary book: “From physical exercises to sports and biomechanics – 50 years with the body in motion” (Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 2021), which has just been published. This sentence fits very precisely the work of the Department of Sport and Biomechanics over the past five decades. The anniversary book, edited by the historian Jørn Hansen, describes and discusses both the circumstances, the people, the places and the results: From the pioneer period with 14 students and 5 permanent employees in 1970 to today, where more than 1,200 students and 180 employees are associated with bachelor and the master’s programs in sports, clinical biomechanics and physiotherapy at the University of Southern Denmark. And let it be said at once: The anniversary book is a “must” – not only for former and current students and staff, but for anyone who wants to get an overview and insight into education, research, dissemination and innovation in an interdisciplinary field .

Education and research with multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives

The book contains four main parts. The first part of the book describes the long lines in the department’s history, which are linked to social development, education and health policy. The first two articles are written by Jørn Hansen (Head of department 1993-1999) and Jørgen Povlsen (Head of department 2000-2021), both of whom emphasize the department’s interest in research into and development of educations with multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. The two authors also emphasize the department’s ability, courage and willingness to initiate and develop education and research, both nationally and internationally, with other educational and research institutions, public authorities as well as private companies and foundations. In addition, the department has always focused on dissemination, knowledge sharing, networking and involvement of citizens, schools, municipalities, regions, associations and organizations. In this way, the department’s management, staff and students have often contributed with research results and practice activities that can improve the health, well-being and quality of life of children, young people, adults and the elderly.

Education and research are more than just New Public Management

The second part of the book consists of 9 personal stories from the history of Department of Sports and Biomechanics. The stories focus on special issues, i.a. the first year in which Odense University overtook Aarhus University in the “fight” for a physical education outside Copenhagen. The first interdisciplinary research projects in the 1980s, which were a strong contributor to a more diverse picture of sports, both in Denmark and internationally, are also exciting reading. One of the book’s most interesting contributions is written by Kurt Lüders – one of the department’s most competent teachers and researchers in practical-pedagogical subjects. Lüders describes and discusses with humor and enthusiasm the extent of hours and prioritization of academic resources between the sports subject three “core areas”: Biological-medical subjects (physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, etc.), Humanities-social science subjects (history, sociology, psychology, economics, etc. .) and Practical-pedagogical subjects (didactics, pedagogy, swimming, water activities, learning in water, etc.). Some of the answers to the very frequent changes of curricula in the subject of sports, including a markedly lower prioritization of the practical-pedagogical subjects, are of course found in new visions, new research results and new forms of learning. But the most important explanation for this development is in my opinion “New public management” (NPM) with i.a. taximeters for study admission and completion, “objective” accreditations, development contracts with a high degree of external funding of research, which in recent decades has “permeated” all educational and research institutions in Denmark. NPM is certainly an effective management tool for public authorities and not least the Ministry of Finance, but the value of NPM in terms of promoting and developing good quality education and research at the elite level is, in my opinion, highly questionable.

Strong professional and social communities

The third part of the book belongs to “voices” from the study period, where 12 former students from the minor, bachelor’s and master’s programs in P.E., the master’s program in biomechanics and the master’s program in physiotherapy with a mixture of anecdotes, memories, experiences and post-rationalisations look in the “rear view mirror”. The common denominator for the contributions is the experience of strong professional and social communities at the Department of Sport and Biomechanics, SDU. Of course, there have been both ups and downs throughout the department’s lifetime, but there have also always been visions, courage, energy and will – also to think differently and possibly fail. Personally, I often think of the period in the late 1980s, when the medical education programs at Odense University was very close to a closure. A closure that would certainly also have put the Department of Physical Exercise under tremendous pressure. However, professor Mogens Hørder, who was dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, took the lead in a new profile for medical education programs in Denmark, which averted the disaster. Hørder, who is one of the most visionary and professionally competent leaders I have worked together with, could also see obvious connections and potentials between sports and health. It was to a very large extent Mogens Hørder’s visions and merits that both research and education in clinical biomechanics and physiotherapy subsequently became an integral part of the Department of Sport and Biomechanics. And thus also one of the world’s strongest research environments in sports, prevention and health promotion.

Research must be for the benefit and benefit of people, groups and society

The fourth part of the book is a performance of the research units and centers at the Department of Sport and Biomechanics. The individual articles, which are authored by the research unit and center managers, describe both the background, content, partners and future perspectives for the individual units and centers. It is gratifying that both basic research and applied research have a high priority in the department’s research strategy. And that there is room for and need for both experienced and younger researchers of both sexes at the individual units and centers. It is also very positive that the department’s employees are aware of disseminating results from research to relevant target groups, so that the Department of Sport and Biomechanics can continue to benefit the individuals, social communities and society as a whole in the coming years.

Results are created by people – in the right places and times

Thank you for a fantastic study time (1981-1983), committed students, good colleagues and exciting partners (1984-1994). And not least a big congratulations on the results, created by the right people in the right place – Department of Sport and Biomechanics, SDU – over the past 50 years.