Taking the knee: Emancipation or defiance?

Authored by the team ‘Sapphire Sophomores’: Allen Hall, Skye Holdway and Alexander Grint [E119 20J students].

This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.

During the American national anthem of a 2016 pre-season NFL game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated as a way of protest against police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality hoping to draw attention to the issue.

Kaepernick said at the time: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” going on to say “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (BBC, 2020)

Four days later Nate Boyer, a former US Army Green Beret turned NFL player penned an open letter to Colin Kaepernick which was published in the Army Times, expressing his thoughts on Kaepernick’s stance, ending the letter saying he was listening with an open mind. Kaepernick saw the letter and reached out to Nate Boyer. They met three days later to discuss Kaepernick’s motivations behind his protest, his thoughts on social justice and police brutality. Boyer would talk about his time in the military and why Kaepernick remaining seated during national anthem away from his teammates could be seen as divisive and hurtful. Both men agreed to a compromise. That Kaepernick would take a knee. This would allow him to still protest, but by taking a knee, it would be a more respectful way of doing so. Boyer later said in an interview “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his team-mates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect” (Snopes, 2017). From September 1st 2016 Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem. This would prove to be far more iconic. The move soon gained support from fellow players, which solidified the stances significance as a peaceful objection to oppression.

His actions however, brought widespread reaction from fans and the media, polarising opinions, and triggering furious national debate. With many voicing their discontent, decrying his actions as disrespect for the American flag or for being unpatriotic (BBC, 2020) while others were quick to offer praise and support for Kaepernick for taking such a brave and principled stance.

Amongst those to condemn taking a knee as unpatriotic and disrespectful was President Trump, who, in 2017 nearly a year after Kaepernick first knelt, levelled criticism at players who joined the movement, suggesting players should be sacked (Time, 2017). Curiously though, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested that taking the knee originated in the TV series Game of Thrones, stating he would refuse to take a knee if requested, and went on to say that he viewed the action as “subjugation and subordination rather than liberation or emancipation” (TR, 2020). President Obama’s reaction at the time was to focus on the First Amendment right of free speech, choosing his words carefully he would say “I want Mr Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot” (Time, 2017)

Taking a knee has since become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns for freedom, for liberation, and justice (Black Lives Matter, 2020). The movement gained impetus and prominence following the horrific killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police on 25th May 2020 leading to more and more people using the peaceful action to protest throughout many countries across the world.

Amongst the black community, taking a knee has a long history that can be traced back as early as 1780, where the image of a black man kneeling became the emblem of the British abolitionist movement during the 18th and 19th centuries, a movement to ban slavery in England, the Empire and around the world (Global News, 2017). The image symbolised freedom and liberation from slavery. Taking a knee was later adopted by Martin Luther King Jr, who in 1965 led a group of civil rights protestors to take the knee during a prayer outside Dallas County Alabama Courthouse. The prayer, following a march for the right to vote, was held after the group of around 250 were arrested for marching without a permit (Global News, 2017).

It is evident that taking a knee has nothing to do with disrespect or being unpatriotic, but the evidence seems to suggest that this is the message being dictated by those in power and by those that are ignorant to its meaning. There are undoubtedly two sides to taking the knee. On one hand, it could be a seen as a sign of emancipation as its very original form back in the 1700s was a symbol of freedom and liberation from slavery, but in more modern times it could be looked upon as a sign of defiance and insubordination as a protest against the racial injustice and police brutality.



BBC (2020) Black Lives Matter: Where does ‘taking a knee’ come from? [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53098516 [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Black Lives Matter (2020) About [Online]. Available at https://blacklivesmatter.com/global-actions/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Global News (2017) Martin Luther King Jr. took a knee in 1965. Here’s a history of the powerful pose. [Online]. Available at http://globalnews.ca/news/3769534/martin-luther-king-jr-take-a-knee-history/ [Accessed 26 January 2021].

RT Question More (2020) ‘Take the knee’ in support of BLM? Only for Queen & wife, says UK Foreign Sec, who thinks gesture comes from Game of Thrones [Online]. Available at https://www.rt.com/uk/492208-take-knee-raab-queen-wife/  [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Snopes (2017) Did a U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? [Online]. Available at FACT CHECK: Did A U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? (snopes.com)  [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Time (2017) The Difference Between President Trump and President Obama’s Reactions to the NFL Kneeling Movement [Online]. Available at https://time.com/4955050/trump-obama-nfl-kaepernick-kneeling/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Swimming is Not Just for Fun! Leisure: The Forgotten Industry

Authored by the team ‘Splash’: Rois Wilkins, Roland Kemp, Alice Noble, Cameron Atreides and Craig Robbins [E119 20J students].

This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.

Looking back on this rollercoaster of a year, with the coronavirus pandemic and the ever-impeding lockdowns, that have seen our beloved leisure facilities close from gym’s racking those dumbbells for the last time, to swimming pools draping the cover across and closing their doors for months. Some still to be sat in darkness, void of the sounds of splashing swimmers, I cannot help but think, has this industry been forgotten?

Photo by Marcelo Uva: https://unsplash.com/photos/n2v3lT

Since COVID-19 took a grip of the UK back in March Swim England reported that over 200 council run swimming pools have unfortunately had to remain closed, despite the UK Government announcing that pools can re-open. Many councils hinted this is due to financial difficulties that this unfortunate decision has been made (BBC, 2020).

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has given £100 million of funding to help support local authority leisure centres (BBC, 2020) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced an up to £9000 top-up grant for hospitality, retail, and leisure depending on the property (Swim England, 2021a). While this is welcomed by many in the industry, UKactive CEO Huw Edwards says, “both public and private fitness and leisure operators will require additional, tailored financial and regulatory support”. With a new lockdown introduced in January, a key and pivotal month for the leisure industry, it could not have come at a worse time with industry operators losing on average £90 million a week in revenue (UKactive, 2021). Unlike the hospitality and retail industries which can make revenue online and with takeaway food, the leisure industry is stuck making zero revenue but still with the cost of upkeeping the facility. Marg Mayne, Chief Executive of Mytime Active says “the average cost of a leisure centre is £60,000 a month just to hibernate it” (Evening Standard, 2021).


Not Just an Exercise

The decisions to keep many pools closed have undoubtedly had massive effects not only the industry but for its communities physical and mental health. As you can see the industry is struggling to keep their doors open to its ever-engaging community, which is also suffering from the lack of taking part in physical activity but also with their mental health. Swimming is an outlet for much of the population with Swim England reporting in 2019 that 14 million adults (31.3% of the population) participated in swimming within the last 12 months, with 4.2 million adults swimming at least twice a month. The Government enforced national lockdowns and the closure of pools and leisure centres have drastically impacted the mental health of the community. Sports England Active Lives conducted a survey that revealed an additional 3.2 million were now classified as being inactive (4Global, 2020).

As shown in Figure 1, evidence from 4Global (2020) shows that during the first lockdown which began in March 2020, adults that experienced levels of psychological distress rose to 37.8% from 24.3% seen between 2017-2019. The levels in adults experiencing some form of depression almost doubled from 9.2% seen between July 2019 – March 2020 to 19.2% during the height of the lockdown in June 2020. You cannot help but see a correlation between the closure of leisure facilities and the affect this has had on the nation’s mental health.

Figure 1. Adult levels of psychological distress and depression between July 2019-March 2020 (4Global, 2020)

For many of the aging population swimming is the only form of exercise that they can do. With around 10 million of the UK’s population, mainly over 50s, suffering from some form of arthritis, swimming is known to greatly reduce the pain, stiffness and increase the overall mobility of the sufferer (Swim England, 2021b). It seems to be counter-productive in the fight against COVID-19 to keep pools closed when for many in the high-risk categories the only form of keeping healthy and fighting fit is the access to pools. Furthermore, keeping leisure facilities closed could be creating greater strain on our NHS which is already under immense pressure due to the pandemic. Jane Nickerson Swim England’s Chief Executive says that “they save the NHS and social care system more than £357 million a year and are the solution to many of the problems that society faces today” (Swim England, 2020a). Keeping our swimming pools and leisure facilities open would help our NHS focus on the fight against COVID-19 and keep our nation fit and psychologically healthy without the need to burden our NHS.

Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq: https://unsplash.com/photos/fbovpZ4GuLg

“Can I catch COVID-19 in a pool?”

The question remains, “how safe are swimming pools?”, like everything else with this virus there is a great deal of uncertainty. Since the leisure industry reopened its doors back in July the transmission rate of the virus within leisure centres has been respectively low, with only 0.99 cases per 100,000 visits recorded (Swim England, 2020b). There is also evidence that chemicals used in pools, such as chlorine, render the virus inactive within as little as 15 seconds, although this is only effective if the correct levels of chorine are used (PWTAG, 2020). As you can see, the evidence is few and far between but there are some convincing elements to say that pools are a safe place to exercise, along with the current government social distancing guidelines and the extensive cleanliness regime that is being introduced in a lot of leisure facilities. Heading down to your local swimming pool comes with no more of a risk than visiting your local shop.

Photo by Luca Dugaro: https://unsplash.com/photos/A4qmsfG6ywM

Looking at the overwhelming evidence, you can see that keeping swimming pools and leisure centres closed is not only a catastrophe for the financial future of our beloved leisure industry, but also for the health and wellbeing of its vast community that relies on many of the services provided. All we can do is hope that our government realises the potential that the leisure industry has for providing the much-needed relief the nation needs and throws this forgotten industry a life ring!


Reference List

4Global (2020), The real cost of lockdown. Available at: https://4global.com/4sight-week-7/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

BBC (2020), Keeping pools closed ‘a catastrophe for health and wellbeing’. Available at: https://ww/w.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-55148387, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Evening Standard (2021), Gyms and leisure centres warn Government of ‘catastrophic’ economic long Covid in third national lockdown. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/gyms-leisure-centres-covid-govern/ment-warning-b850167.html, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

PWTAG (2020), Swimming pool technical operation after Covid-19 shutdown (TN46). Available at: https://www.pwtag.org/swimming-pool-technical-operation-after-covid-19-shutdown/, (Accessed: 26/01/2021)

Swim England (2019), Key swimming statistics and findings. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/key-swimming-statistics/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Swim England (2020a), Closing pools risks an ‘avoidable physical and mental health emergency’. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/more-tier-four-areas/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Swim England (2020b), Swim England welcomes WHO reiterating Covid-19 does not transmit through water. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/world-health-organisation/, (Accessed: 26/01/2021)

Swim England (2021a), Swim England welcomes new Government grants to support leisure sector. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/government-grants-welcomed/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Swim England (2021b), Swimming is one of the best exercises for arthritis. Available at: https://www.swimming.org/justswim/exercises-for-arthritis/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

UkActive (2021), Continued lockdown of fitness and leisure sector will cost £7.25m in missed health savings and £90m in revenue every week. Available at: https://www.ukactive.com/news/continued-lockdown-of-fitness-and-leisure-sector-will-cost-7-25m-in-missed-health-savings-and-90m-in-revenue-every-week/, (Accessed: 25/01/2021)

Will the gender pay gap ever be closed in professional sport?

Authored by the team ‘Is this the way to Amarillo’: Tracie Davies, Fiona Flaherty, Wendy Lampitt, Stephanie Mcilhiney, Lee Nailard, Hayley Slaytor, Guido Volpi, Luke Withey, Kathryn Halley, Paul Maher and Shannon McGovern [E119 20J students]

This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.

Historically men have been paid more than women in most professions and when it comes to sport, who plays what used to follow gender-based traditions. Perhaps as little as a generation ago these traditions continued to be observed, especially in schools, but as more sports earn greater female representation and more professions bridge the pay gap between the sexes, does that that translate to greater equality of pay for women in professional sport?

Photo by Alex Smith https://unsplash.com/photos/J4yQp1lIJsQ

Female athletes at the Summer Olympic Games now represent almost 50 per cent of all participants (Olympic Games, 2021) but how equally do the more high-profile sports both within and outside the Olympics pay them compared to their male counterparts? Every year, Forbes release a list of the highest paid athletes in the world and in 2020’s list there are only two women in the top 60, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams (Forbes, 2021). In 2019, only Serena Williams made the list of 100 (Forbes, 2019).

Different sports are governed by different rules surrounding how much their athletes are paid. Since modern tennis was adapted from earlier forms in the mid 19th century (Bustle, 2016), women have participated. The women’s first tennis tournament occurred in 1884, when the first Ladies’ Championships took place at the All England Club at Wimbledon (Wimbledon, 2020), seven years after the first men’s tournament. After 1968, when tennis’ “Open Era” began (Tennis Majors, 2020), Billie Jean King began to campaign for equal prize money for women (Billie Jean King, 2021). In 1973 the US Open was the first Grand Slam tournament to offer it (US Open, 2018) but it wasn’t until 2007 that Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to join in, one year after the French Open (BBC Sport, 2016).

While tennis has made great strides to achieve equal pay, other sports that have a long history for both genders, basketball and golf, seem to be far behind. Basketball is one of the US’ most popular sports and the disparity between pay for men and women is stark. In 2017 the National Basketball Association’s highest paid player, Stephen Curry, earnt more than £26 million, not including endorsements. Women’s pay for the same year in the Women’s NBA was capped so the highest earning woman, Candace Power, earnt £87,209 (Boost Power, 2021). In golf in 2016 men could win 83 per cent more in winnings than their female equivalent on the golf tour although “They play the same game, to the same level.” (Golf Support, 2016) but although equality seems far off more prize money is being added and the number of tournaments is increasing (Desert Sun, 2021).

Sports such as football (soccer) and rugby which have been considered traditionally male have enjoyed increased participation from women and girls in recent years on national and global levels owing to active campaigns by their governing bodies (Guardian, 2020) (England Rugby, 2019). But while participation may be up, male footballers remain some of the highest paid sportspeople in the world and women receive much more modest salaries, such as in the 2017-18 season where Lionel Messi earnt 130 times as much as the highest paid female footballer, Alex Morgan (Boost Power, 2021). Female rugby players in England have only started to be paid at all since 2019 (Telegraph, 2019) and in the Six Nations competition, while the winning men’s team receive prize money of £5 million, the winning women’s team receives nothing (Luxurious Magazine, 2020).

When drawn on why certain sports are nowhere near awarding equality of pay the same reason is often given: revenue. A great deal of sports’ revenue comes from broadcast rights and to this day there is still vastly more men’s sport broadcasted than women’s sport, leading to far less money in the pot to pay female athletes. A 2017 study by Women in Sport showed that in the UK media coverage of women’s sport accounted for an average of ten per cent of all sport covered, reducing to four per cent at a time when international events had ended (Women in Sport, 2018). The women’s World Cup in 2019 was viewed by 1.12 billion people worldwide, 31 per cent of the number that watched the men’s World Cup in 2018 (Guardian, 2019) but the prize money offered was only 7.5 per cent of that offered to the men’s teams. If viewing figures are a measure of success, even this seems stacked against women’s sport. There are calls for more women’s sport to be available to view (Broadcast Now, 2019) and Sky Sports has run a campaign, “Rise With Us” since March 2020, highlighting women’s sports and plans to expand its existing coverage and digital output (IBC, 2020).  If sports’ governance invested more time and money into showcasing women’s teams and players as they have traditionally done with men’s there would be greater awareness, greater spectatorship, higher viewing figures and more revenue.

Photo by Susan Flynn https://unsplash.com/photos/wqaEwf35Bl8

Until this happens there is, however, some hope. Relatively new sports such as triathlon and the more recently founded CrossFit offer equal prize money for male and female competitors and have done since the outset (BoxRox, 2020; World Triathlon, 2016). Both describe this stance as an inherent part of their sport: “Equal opportunities for men and women are part of triathlon’s DNA, as well as a part of ITU’s constitution.” (World Triathlon, 2016); Nicole Carroll, Co-director of Certification and Training says “It was not part of our culture to even consider that women are not equal or that their performance should not be equally valued.” (CrossFit, 2018).

As more new sports emerge and grow, they will bring about a new idea of equality; it is easy to imagine the outrage that would occur if a sport paid less prize money to men than women for doing essentially the same thing, and nowadays this would also be the reaction to women being paid less than men in a new sport. But for now, it seems that the gender pay gap is a long way from being closed.



BBC Sport (2016) ‘Equal pay is as much a myth as it is a minefield’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/35863208 (Accessed 20 January 2021).

Billie Jean King (2021) Demanding Change. Available at: https://www.billiejeanking.com/equality/ (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Boost Power (2021) How long do sports players work for their money? Available at: https://www.boostpower.co.uk/blog/sports-salaries (Accessed: 18 January 2021).

BoxRox (2020) How Much Money Did The 2020 CrossFit Games Top 10 Athletes Win? Available at: https://www.boxrox.com/how-much-money-did-the-2020-crossfit-games-top-10-athletes-win (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Broadcast Now (2019) Not enough women’s sport on TV, say viewers. Available at: https://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/not-enough-womens-sport-on-tv-say-viewers/5137759.article (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Bustle (2016) What Women’s Tennis Has Looked Like Through History. Available at: https://www.bustle.com/articles/142759-what-womens-tennis-has-looked-like-through-history-because-women-have-been-part-of-this-sport (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

CrossFit (2018) Why Men and Women are Always Equal in CrossFit. Available at: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/equality-warkentin (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Desert Sun (2021) No equal pay yet, but women’s golf is adding more prize money. Available at: https://eu.desertsun.com/story/sports/golf/2019/07/09/lpga-majors-continue-increase-their-purses-equal-pay-gets-closer/1676241001/ Accessed: 26 January 2021).

England Rugby (2019) World Rugby Launch Women’s Campaign. Available at: https://www.englandrugby.com/news/article/world-rugby-launch-womens-campaign (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

Forbes (2019) Why Is Serena Williams The Only Woman On The List Of The 100 Highest-Paid Athletes? Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2019/06/14/why-is-serena-williams-the-only-woman-on-the-list-of-100-highest-paid-athletes/?sh=32725625fa98 (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

Forbes (2021) Highest Paid Athletes in the World 2020. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/athletes/#73e586aa55ae (Accessed: 18 January 2021)

Golf Support (2016) How Big is Golf’s Gender Pay Gap? Available at: https://golfsupport.com/blog/golfs-gender-pay-gap (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

Guardian (2019) We can gauge popularity of women’s football. Time to up the prize money. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/oct/22/womens-football-prize-money-world-cup (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Guardian (2020) FA hits target with 3.4m women and girls playing football in England. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/may/14/fa-hits-target-to-double-womens-football-participation-in-three-years-england-gameplan-for-growth#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20women%20and,Gameplan%20for%20Growth%20in%202017. (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

IBC (2020) Sky Sports Aims to Diversify Audiences for Women’s Sport. Available at: https://www.ibc.org/trends/sky-sports-aims-to-diversify-new-audiences-for-womens-sport/5552.article (Accessed: 23 January 2021).

Luxurious Magazine (2020) Six Nations Gender Pay Gap is One of the Worst in Sport. Available at: https://www.luxuriousmagazine.com/six-nations-gender-pay-gap/ (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

Olympic Games (2021) Women at the Olympic Games. Available at: https://www.olympic.org/women-in-sport/background/statistics (Accessed: 26 January).

Tennis Majors (2020) 1968, Open era: The moment tennis opted to become a modern sport. Available at: https://www.tennismajors.com/our-features/long-form-our-features/1968-open-era-the-moment-tennis-opted-to-become-a-modern-sport-228622.html (Accessed 26 January, 2021).

US Open (2018) 50 Moments that Mattered: US Open offers equal prize money. Available at: https://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2018-08-21/50_moments_that_mattered_us_open_is_first_grand_slam_tournament_to_offer_equal_prize_money.html (Accessed 26 January 2021).

Wimbledon (2020) About Wimbledon: History – 1880s. Available at: https://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/aboutwimbledon/history_1880s.html (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Women in Sport (2018) Where are all the women? Available at: https://www.womeninsport.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Where-are-all-the-Women-1.pdf (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

World Triathlon (2016) Female participation in ITU races increases. Available at: https://www.triathlon.org/news/article/female_participation_in_itu_races_increases (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Taking the Knee: Shedding Light to Racism in Cricket

Authored by the team ‘Pink Panthers’: Neil Polley, Gemma Campbell, Steph Bell, Lauren Hickson, George Bradley and Sarah Crawford [E119 20J students]

This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.

The world as we know it has been brought to a standstill. Sports culture, an unrecognisable shadow of what it once was. However, in the midst of all this inactivity, there is one all too familiar, yet never to be undervalued movement – The fight for justice. There is no questioning the impact that the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has had on attitudes towards justice, and when we look at sport, we can see the efforts that have been made to incorporate messages of solidarity towards the goal of eradicating racism for good. Despite not being in the thick of the limelight, cricket is not without its controversies, and, in order to tackle the issue of racism in the sport, it must first address its inaccuracies and teams must decide, with conviction, how best to hit injustice for six, once and for all.

Cricket is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in South Africa, but even the joy that this sport brings cannot distract from the pattern of injustice which overshadows the country’s history and can in fact breed more scope for debate regarding discrimination. A recent survey by the united nations showed that only 8% of South African schoolkids of non-white descent have access to sport, which is largely due to poverty and lack of facilities, so this just goes to show the severity of the issue surrounding inequality in South African cricket (The Indian Express, 2020).  In addition to this, I was staggered to learn that even today, a quota system is implemented by South Africa’s Cricket governing body- CSA, stipulating that 6 non-white players must be picked in each squad, which, in the opinion of the first black South African cricketer, Makhaya Ntini, ‘puts a question mark on everything achieved as a player’. This is a fair analysis, as it will probably leave black cricketers wondering whether they are truly there on merit, or just to make up the numbers.

Injustice in cricket can be seen closer to home as well. Former first-class umpire John Holder caused shockwaves in November when he accused the English Cricket Board of “vicious and systematic racism” when BAME individuals are up for selection. This comes after no non-white umpires have been elevated to the First-Class Umpires Panel, since Holder’s retirement 11 years ago. Which seems shocking enough but is compounded further when considering a statement from the England Cricket Board in June of last year in which they stated that “their sport is not immune from systemic racism”, a worrying comment from the ECB, but one which will hopefully spark change in the organisation.

So how do teams best show their solidarity to the movement? Well, we might consider England and Australia bad examples, after both decided against taking a knee for their one-day international series in September 2020, perhaps failing to emphasise the stance they took earlier in the summer. Former cricketer, Michael Holding slammed the two countries and said that their excuses for not taking a knee were ‘flimsy’ and ‘lame’. The argument is- many other sports teams continue to take a knee, to keep spreading awareness, so why did the England and Australia cricket teams decide to fade away so early, and would other teams make the same mistake?

A later incident, this time involving South Africa, also resulted in a fair amount of scrutiny. As a team, they decided ‘unanimously’ not to take a knee before their T20 series with England, in November. They stated that they would instead be continuing to work in their personal, team and public spaces to dismantle racism. This was a strong message from the South African team and perhaps a highly effective one, suggesting rather than just sporting a gesture and leaving it at that, they would be trying to implement real change in the community. Although, it led to a separate statement from Kagiso Rabada, who stated that the Black Lives Matter movement would always be important to him, which is the only hint of discontent at the team’s decision.

This decision did face backlash, as journalist Neil Manthorp described it as a ‘missed opportunity’ and cited reasons such as their history with apartheid and feelings of loneliness from South African players as to why they would have been better off making the gesture. Then, although unrelated to Manthorp’s comments, South Africa decided that they would be making a gesture during their test series against Sri Lanka, after what was described as ‘a process of deep democracy within the team’, opting to raise a fist, a symbol of huge significance to South African history with reference to Nelson Mandela. This was perhaps, the perfect solution to the debate.

For cricket, moving forward, no matter how awkward or difficult it is, the priority has to be not to hide from any discriminatory incidents in its past or present day, but to acknowledge them, and most crucially, ensure that the relevant bodies do all they can to eradicate these incidents of injustice from the game. And in terms of the approach teams take to the fight for equality, I would love to see more teams adopt the approach that South Africa took. Although initially deciding against it, the image of them all raising their fists together against racism before playing Sri Lanka, that came after their U-turn was an incredibly powerful one. A country and team that, throughout history, has been battered time and time again by racial injustice, coming together, as one, to send a poignant message, one which other teams should be proud to follow.



BBC Sport (2020) South Africa v England: Proteas’ knee decision taken ‘unanimously’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/55076747 (Accessed: 23/01/21)

BT Sport (2020) Kagiso Rabada reiterates BLM support as South Africa opt against taking knee. Available at: https://www.bt.com/sport/news/2020/november/kagiso-rabada-reiterates-blm-support-as-south-africa-opt-against-taking-knee (Accessed 23/01/21)

Dobson, M (2020) ‘Michael Holding condemns England and Australia for not taking knee’ The Guardian, 10 September. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/sep/10/michael-holding-condemns-england-and-australia-for-not-taking-a-knee (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Gibson, R (2020) ‘South Africa players raise their fists in Support of Black Lives Matter movement before Sri Lanka Test after they were criticised by their own board for not taking a knee in England T20 series’ Daily Mail, 26 December. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-9088683/South-Africa-players-raise-fists-support-Black-Lives-Matter-movement-Sri-Lanka-Test.html (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Press Trust of India (2020) ‘England board admits ‘systemic racism’ exists, Cricket not immune to it’ Business Standard, 13 June. Available at: https://www.business-standard.com/article/sports/england-board-admits-systemic-racism-exists-cricket-not-immune-to-it-120061300216_1.html (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Sandip, G (2010) ‘Under-representation of non-white players in South African team triggers debate’ The Indian Express, 10 January. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/south-africa-cricket-quota-debate-in-black-and-white-6208846/ (Accessed: 22/01/21)

Sky News (2020) English Cricket Board accused of ‘System racism’ over lack of non-white umpires. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/english-cricket-board-accused-of-system-racism-over-lack-of-non-white-umpires-12134448 (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Sky Sports (2020) Black Lives Matter: South Africa not taking a knee and opportunity missed, says Neil Manthorp. Available at: https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/12143087/black-lives-matter-south-africa-not-taking-a-knee-and-opportunity-missed-says-neil-manthorp#:~:text=The%20Proteas%20issued%20a%20statement,process%2C%20not%20an%20event%22.&text=%22Given%20South%20Africa’s (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Sky Sports (2020) Makhaya Ntini says quota system devalues achievements of black South African cricketers. (Available at: https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12346/11907307/makhaya-ntini-says-quota-system-devalues-achievements-of-black-south-african-cricketers (Accessed: 22/01/21)

Examining physical activity and informal carers

By Jo Horne

I recently published an article in collaboration with Open University colleagues, including Dr Nichola Kentzer also from the Sport and Fitness team, and two Anglia Ruskin University academics. The article, in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, is a systematic review of the prevalence of physical activity, and barriers and facilitators to physical activity, in informal carers in the UK. Examining existing UK based research, we sought to answer:

What are the barriers that limit or prevent carers engaging in physical activity, and what factors might facilitate their engagement?

Why is this an important area to study?

Informal carers provide unpaid care, usually to family members. There were estimated to be 8.8 million informal carers in the UK in 2019, which equates to 17% of the adult population (Carers UK, 2019). The majority of informal carers report that they are not able to engage in as much physical activity as they would like.

Research has shown that caring negatively impacts on the physical health (including sleep disturbance, fatigue, pain, loss of strength, loss of appetite and weight loss) and mental health (including anxiety, depression and stress) of informal carers (Girgis et al., 2013; Stenberg et al., 2010; Loi et al., 2015; Loi et al., 2016). Importantly, physical activity is shown to be beneficial to both of these aspects of health (Reiner et al., 2013; Warburton et al., 2006).

So, it’s important that we understand what barriers informal carers face in engaging with physical activity and what factors facilitate them to do so. This is particularly important at the current time, as the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions are likely to have not only increased the number of individuals providing informal care, but also reduced the formal and informal support systems available to such carers, which further impacts on access to physical activity.

What did the systematic review find?

We found no UK research reporting the prevalence of physical activity of informal carers in the UK, and only three studies reporting on barriers and facilitators (Forbes et al., 2007; Malthouse & Fox, 2014; Farina et al., 2020). The studies tended to focus primarily on the health / physical activity status of the individuals being cared for, with the carers of those individuals being a secondary focus. Their findings are summarised here:

What are the next steps?

Due to the very limited amount of research in this area in the UK, we are now undertaking two international reviews: one on the prevalence of physical activity in informal carers; and the other on their barriers and facilitators to physical activity. The search process did reveal a much higher level of research internationally, particularly in the US, Canada, and Australia. We can examine this in order to learn and apply to the UK carer population. In addition, we are carrying out a pilot study looking at the effectiveness of online dance classes in increasing levels of activity in informal carers, and improving their physical and mental health.

It is expected that the combined findings from these studies will enable us to develop further resources for enabling informal carers to engage with physical activity in ways that are effective in improving their physical and mental health.


Horne, Joanna, Kentzer, Nichola, Smith, Lee, Trott, Mike, & Vseteckova, Jitka. (2021). A Systematic Review on the Prevalence of Physical Activity, and Barriers and Facilitators to Physical Activity, in Informal Carers in the United Kingdom. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2020-0526.

Read more:

We have a series of Open Learn articles which explore the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on the physical activity of informal carers.

Jo Horne is an Associate Lecturer on the OU S&F module E235. She is also a Staff Tutor in Psychology in the OU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. You can find out more about her here.

Student Voice and Wellbeing: Making the connection

** This post was originally published on the Ed Studies (Primary) webpage on Friday 4th December**

As a Sport Studies student you are familiar with being asked your opinion, possibly connected to module experience or maybe responding to a survey about a new initiative. This culminates in the final year of under-graduate study when in the Spring the National Student Survey (NSS) consultation is conducted. The NSS collates students view with an aim to improve the overall student experience and its powerful results are openly published.

On a different subject – or is it? – levels of poor mental health and low wellbeing amongst Higher Education students are disproportionately high compared to the remainder of the UK adult population, and are increasing (Thorley, 2017). It is no surprise that higher education attainment can be affected by stress, anxiety, depression, grief, sleeping difficulties and relationship problems. Students experiencing these issues report a lower sense of belonging and engagement with their university which can affect retention and progression. In 2017, the #stepchange agenda was launched by Universities UK to improve mental health and wellbeing in universities. The #stepchange framework comprises eight strands which identify the necessary focus for change:


The #stepchange agenda works to increase students sense of belonging and enable students to develop their social identity. This has the potential to improve retention and academic success and ultimately to enhance student experience (Thomas, 2012). In 2020 the #stepchange agenda was developed into a University Mental Health Charter where universities are required to develop a wellbeing strategy (link to OU mental health and wellbeing strategy) and can be nationally recognised for this work.


The connectivity between student voice and wellbeing is evident in the way #stepchange is delivered; through co-creation between students and their university. Co-creation is the new buzzword in higher education and requires high levels of student participation, where student voice has the potential to make the most positive impact on student experience. Let’s contextualise our perspective of participation. You might be familiar with Arnstein’s model of participation, where power and control are represented in a hierarchical ladder and students (or citizens in the model) progress to achieve high levels of participation. The highest levels of participation are the hardest to achieve but bear the most fruit in respect of student experience and student success. They cultivate ‘buy in’ from students through authentic collaboration which lower levels of participation such as surveys struggle to achieve.

Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation (1969).

Research with children and young people informs us that a participatory approach to educational relationships produces the best outcomes (Lyndon in Williams-Brown and Mander, 2020). It is the same for higher education students and might be considered more meaningful because study at university is voluntary rather than statutory like school, and we engage in adult: adult relationships where power should be more evenly distributed. In respect of wellbeing, the Universities UK strategy is clear that co-creation opportunities should be available through a whole university approach if student wellbeing is to improve. However, the relinquishing of power can be uncomfortable and impractical. It is best managed as a conscious uncoupling (to use celebrity speak) of the old to introduce the new. It challenges existing, ingrained ways of working within universities, and reshapes the cultural climate which informs our identity as individuals and an institution.

One of the ways in which ECYS are improving student voice and wellbeing is to incorporate a student panel within staff recruitment processes. This happened for the first time in November 2020, with aims for it to be an integral activity in the future. Students who participated said it was a privilege and an honour, planning of activities including a scenario were enjoyable, working as a team was effective, and they felt very well supported and informed about the process. Their wellbeing was enhanced; they reported that being involved was fun and satisfying, it helped to build confidence and they felt valued because their opinion and input mattered. This leaves us wanting more student co-creation opportunities. Can you think of any you would like to be involved in? Let us know, we love to hear about them and promise to respond.

Sarah Mander is a Staff Tutor (line managing Associate Lecturers) and Tutor for E102 module. She is also a serial student, studying for a Doctorate in Education. Sarah leads the ECYS Student Voice and Wellbeing Champions group.

Sarah has researched and written about wellbeing, mental health and the student population for the publication Childhood Well-being and Resilience: influences on educational outcomes (Williams- Brown, Z. and Mander, S.Eds., 2020).


 Lyndon, H. (2020) ‘Listening to children the rights of the child’ In, Williams- Brown, Z. and Mander, S.Eds. ‘Childhood Well-being and Resilience: influences on educational outcomes’. Abingdon: Routledge.

Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in higher education at a time of change[online]. [accessed 7 January 2020].

Thorley, C. (2017) Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.

Universities UK (2017) #stepchange mental health in higher education [online]. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/stepchange/Pages/default.aspx [accessed 10 January 2020].




The importance of psychological resilience in extreme environments

By Dave Harrison

In extreme environments there are many things that can cause stress for people operating and performing in them. These stressors, such as isolation, danger, and risk (Smith & Barrett, 2019), would be the same for everyone at that given time but it is how an individual perceives and digests these stressors that is important to their overall experience. Indeed, extreme environments are complex, and the array of demands and stressors can give a perceived lack of control to people within them (Leach, 2016).

Resilience can help us to function more effectively under conditions within extreme environments. This short article will examine why understanding resilience is important to those functioning in extreme environments and reflect on what we can learn from emerging research in this area.

Why is it important to study resilience in extreme environments?

Psychological resilience has been described as the ability to use personal qualities to withstand pressure and maintain functioning (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016), and there are two key components; a stressor (or adversity) and a subsequent positive adaptation (changes of a positive nature). This sounds simple enough, but it is important to remember that people are affected differently in the same environment at varying intensities and for different durations. This means resilience, like extreme environments, is complex, and can be influenced by factors such as your past experiences. For example, the past experiences you have had in the extreme environment as well as the personal qualities you have, such as motivation and confidence can help you to respond positively to the given demands of the situation.

However, if a cluster effect (where many different stressors come together) occurs in a particular order, intensity or timeframe you might struggle regardless of the amount of experience you have or personal qualities at your disposal. For example, you might be able to deal with a rainstorm for a short time but if it persisted, and the sky went dark and you had no shelter you might be less able to function. Resilience is a process that helps individuals deal with this complexity and there are also numerous anecdotal accounts of the importance of resilience within these environments.

Emerging research on resilience in extreme environments

An interest in how people perform in extreme environments led me to pursue my PhD studies in this area, and I have investigated the challenge of an extreme environment and what impact it can have on resilience. For example, the environment plays a significant role on a person’s resilience in relation to the amount of challenge (risk and adversity) and support (from others) present. This makes extreme environments the ideal setting to investigate psychological resilience because there is usually an increased and inherent element of risk and or adversity. For example, during my first piece of research the extreme environment was the mountains of the UK, where team members had to deal with difficult terrain under foot and severe and everchanging weather.

In this research we observed that these demands and stressors can group together in a cluster effect. This is where the grouping of stressors within the environment can potentially have a greater negative effect on performance as opposed to if individuals were exposed to individual stressors (Smith & Barrett, 2019), and there is the potential to for stressors to cascade over time. People operating in an extreme environment have to deal with specific clusters of stressors before moving on to deal with the next set of stressors and this can take time. But time is not always a luxury afforded in these environments. For example, you might be out on the mountain for 15 hours before returning to basecamp tired with wet and dirty kit but you are back out on the mountain in a couple of hours. You would literally have no time to deal with these stressors before facing the next day’s stressors as seen in my research.

Also, people will identify different environments as extreme at different times. This is due to how they perceive their skills, qualities and support needed to perform within them so any environment that pushes an individual outside of their comfort zone can be considered extreme (Galli and Vealey, 2008). A 5km Parkrun might be considered an extreme environment for some but not for an experienced runner.  Therefore, people operating in extreme environments need to get experience of these stressors – to lessen the impact of them individually and within a cluster. These stressors are still present and in certain situations will still have (sometimes a major) effect but experience provides opportunity to learn what skills and qualities are needed first to maintain function and then for positive adaptation to potentially occur.

Adopting a challenge mindset

Increasing the time spent and getting the right experience in an extreme environment allows you to evaluate the risk associated with these stressors and links to something called a challenge mindset. A challenge mindset is the ability to see situations as a challenge and it is important that this is adopted and then maintained within an extreme environment to buffer against the potential negative effect of the cluster effect of stressors and allow individuals to function. This mindset allows individuals to focus on stressors as a challenge and not threatening. This is done by increasing their awareness of specific stressors, their importance and the potential consequences of not attending to them. Increasing your experience allows you to slowly build up exposure to stressors in the extreme environment and works to slowly inoculate you to the potential negative effect of stressors. So, you could consider your current situation is not as ‘bad’ as previously experienced and more of a challenge that needs to be overcome to be successful. For example, this current storm isn’t as bad as previous storms I have experienced, and I made good progress then and I can now.

This previous experience also allows you to develop the necessary skills and qualities to ‘protect’ yourself from the demands and stressors of the extreme environment which forms an important part of showing resilience. Fletcher and Sarkar (2016) highlight that individuals must positively evaluate the demands of the environment as a challenge and themselves (e.g. their own skills, thoughts and emotions). So, it is more your reaction to the environment (showing resilience) rather than the environment itself that is important. The question is therefore, do you have the experiences, skills and qualities to successfully deal with what the environment can throw at you to complete the task in the required time?

What can we take from this?

Extreme environments are not too dissimilar to other sporting environments. Each is different and individualised with clusters of stressors that are perceived differently by different individuals. There is risk and adversity albeit to a lesser extent than within an extreme environment where there is a potentially a greater risk of injury or death. So, how can ways in which individuals develop and use resilience in these extreme environments be applied to us in everyday life and in our own sporting pursuits?

  • Resilience is a complex and individualised process that changes over time and can be essential to maintaining function in our everyday lives, including our participation in sport and exercise.
  • Sporting environments, and life in general, can produce a cluster effect of stressors that can potentially cascade over time that individuals need to deal with.
  • Gaining experience of the environments/situations in which you will train/work/compete can help ‘protect’ against this cluster effect by developing the challenge mindset.


Fletcher, D. & Sarkar, M. (2016) Mental fortitude training: An evidence- based approach to developing psychological resilience for sustained success. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 7(3), 135-157.

Galli, N. & Vealey, R.S. (2008) “Bouncing Back” from adversity: Athletes’ experiences of resilience. The Sport Psychologist, 22, 316-335.

Leach, J. (2016) Psychological factors in exceptional, extreme and torturous environments. Extreme Physiology & Medicine5(1), 7–7.

Smith, N. & Barrett, E.C. (2019) Psychology, extreme environments, and counter-terrorism operations. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 11(1), 48-72.


Dave Harrison is an AL on the OU S&F modules E235 and E313. He also works at Sheffield Hallam University as a Lecturer in Sport Coaching and is currently undertaking a part time PhD on Psychological Resilience in Extreme Environments at Nottingham Trent University. You can find him on Twitter: @sheffclaret 

Uncovering Britain’s Lost Black Sporting Heroes

By Jim Lusted

If you’re a sport enthusiast like me, you will claim to know a lot about sport. After all, we dedicate much of our waking lives obsessing over our favourite sports, teams and players. So, let’s test your sporting knowledge out on these questions:

  1. Which International Boxing Hall-of-Famer was an usher at the coronation of George IV in 1821?
  2. Which footballer made her debut for the British Ladies football team in 1895 and for many years was mistakenly called Carrie Boustead?
  3. Which England Rugby Union player was dropped because opponents South Africa refused to play against him?

Hats off to you if you spotted Bill Richmond, Emma Clarke and Jimmy Peters – you are likely to be one of the very few! If none of these names immediately spring to mind it isn’t because you’ve not been paying attention. Until very recently, they were pretty much unheard of. They are all Black sportspeople from Britain’s past and, like many others, their stories have generally been forgotten, untold and uncelebrated. This isn’t something limited to sport – there is a widespread absence of Black history in popular accounts of British history, as discussed in a 2016 BBC series ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History ’ currently being repeated on the iPlayer platform.

Slowly, we are (re)discovering Black British sporting figures and their fascinating stories. Increasingly we see profiles emerge of these forgotten sporting icons in the media, often as content created to mark Black History Month. But what do the historic achievements of Black sportspeople tell us about the relationship between ‘race’, racism and sport, and why haven’t their often-extraordinary stories been woven into British sporting folklore and memory?

Take Bill Richmond, for example. Only very dedicated followers of boxing history will know of him – at least until recently, as the story of the ‘first black sporting icon in history’ has emerged. Richmond’s story is a fascinating one in itself, but it is illustrative in that it shows how sport can challenge – in an often fleeting and highly contingent way – the racial politics of a particular historical period.

Born into slavery in the USA in 1763, at the age of 13, Richmond was taken to York, England by a British army commander and provided with an education – highly unusual at the time. He later moved, with his Yorkshire wife, to London to live with and work for Thomas Pitt, cousin of then Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. By 1821 he had seemingly reached the highest levels of British gentry, becoming an usher at the coronation of King George IV. His 2015 biography, ‘Richmond Unchained ’, suggests that much of this astonishing journey was down to his special talent for boxing – in those days a brutal, bare-knuckled version of the sport hugely popular among all sections of British society including the aristocracy. That Thomas Pitt was a boxing enthusiast was no coincidence, and around the turn of the nineteenth century, Richmond gained a reputation and a following as he won a series of prize fights against well-known and highly regarded opponents. He later ran a boxing academy where, it is said, he trained high profile establishment figures including Lord Byron.

Would Richmond have achieved such a social standing without his sporting prowess? Being a Black person in nineteenth-century England he faced widespread racial discrimination – put into context, he died some 4 years before slavery was legally abolished in the UK in 1833. His early boxing experiences appear to have come from violent brawls he endured as a result of the persistent racist abuse and insults he suffered. So while sport opened up some unlikely opportunities, it by no means protected him from the racist realities of the day.

Richmond’s biographer, Luke Williams, rightly observes that it is ‘a staggering collective omission by sports and social historians that the story of Bill Richmond has scarcely been told’. So why has it taken over 175 years for his life and career to emerge? For this we should consider how exactly history is crafted – who decides which figures and which stories are preserved, and what historical narratives take precedence over others. In the aforementioned BBC series, historian David Olusoga claims that British history has been ‘whitewashed’, with the presence and influence of Black Britons largely ignored. This partial history reinforces the idea of Britain as a ‘white’ country and downplays its long-standing, complex connections with Africa and other parts of the world. It also serves to divert attention away from the relationship between modern industrial Britain’s economic success, its leading role in the Atlantic Slave Trade and its often violent, exploitative colonial rule.

These historical narratives also perpetuate a crude racialised hierarchy between white and black. The stories that underpin this ‘whitewashed’ history are selected because they conform to this frame – so that influential, successful Black figures in British history are conveniently forgotten while tales of powerful and heroic white people (usually men) are remembered and re-imagined. As Black British poet Benjamin Zephaniah says:

“I wasn’t interested in history at school, because I was being taught that black people had no history. We were usually being “discovered” by great white explorers, civilised by the great white conquerors and missionaries, or freed by the great white abolitionists.”

It is certainly a positive sign that figures such as Bill Richmond, Emma Clarke and Jimmy Peters are being re-discovered and their achievements are finally being recognised. Celebrating the lives of prominent Black figures – including sportspeople – in Britain’s past can play an important role in re-balancing the dominant historical narrative of British history and will begin to help us appreciate the plurality and complexity of influences that shape Britain today.


Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016) BBC Two. Available at: BBC iPlayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082x0h6 (Accessed: 20 October 2020).

Williams, L. (2015) ‘Richmond Unchained: The Biography of the World’s First Black Sporting Superstar’. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

Williams, L. (2015) ‘Bill Richmond: The Black Boxer wowed the Court of George IV And taught Lord Byron To spar’, The Independent, 26 August. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/bill-richmond-black-boxer-wowed-court-george-iv-and-taught-lord-byron-spar-10473577.html (Accessed: 20 October 2020).

Zephaniah, B. (2020) ‘Black people will not be respected until our history is respected’, The Guardian, 12 October. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/12/black-people-history-respected-teachers-police-benjamin-zephaniah (Accessed: 20 October 2020).

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn

How to have the best experience of studying sport at The Open University

By Simon Rea

Firstly, welcome to The Open University and secondly, thank you for choosing to study on the sport, fitness, and coaching degree. We have a range of fantastic courses for you to study to support you towards achieving a fulfilling career working in sport or fitness. During this turbulent year of 2020 it seems to me that sport has become even more important. Research has shown that fit and healthy people are less affected by Covid-19 and as a result we have   been encouraged to take daily exercise outdoors, and the fitness industry has seen a surge in people engaging with online fitness platforms. During this time I felt lost when there was no live sport for three months and like many others have binged on sport since its return.

As a sport and fitness student it is likely that you feel as passionate about sport and fitness as I do and in this blog I want to encourage you to make the most of your undergraduate studies. I want you to get the best value for the personal and financial investment you have undertaken and the sacrifices you may have to make. While sport and fitness offer a range of exciting careers and the opportunity to work with interesting and inspiring people the job market is highly competitive. Sport science, studies and sports coaching courses are now the most popular degree course in the UK with around 15,000 graduates a year leaving around 138 universities that offer these degrees. Indeed there are almost 1500 students enrolling, along with yourself, on year 1 sport and fitness modules at The Open University.

Therefore, it is advantageous to get ahead of this competition and give yourself as great an advantage for the future as you can. We appreciate that you have busy lives and finding time to study may not always be easy as you juggle work, family, and social commitments. These conflicting priorities can lead to students being tactical in how they study. To encourage you to make the absolute most of your time spent studying with us and to maximise your learning and enjoyment I will offer three pieces of advice for you to consider whilst studying.


  1. Engage with all the resources available to you and read as much as you can.

In your module materials you will find a range of resources. There are readings, audio and video clips to watch and listen to, websites to visit and activities to complete. We will also offer additional resources at certain points so that you can find out more. We would encourage you to learn as much as you can about the subjects you are studying by reading widely and visiting websites related to the subject. Social media offers a plethora of opportunities and you can follow experts and influencers that you are interested in. For example, Twitter enables you to follow coaches, personal trainers, and academics in sport.



  1. Engage with your tutor and your fellow students as much as possible.

Before you start your module you will be assigned a tutor and a tutor group. Your tutor will tell you how to contact them and you will be given information about the schedule of tutorials. You will also find out about your online tutor group forum where you can meet and interact with other students.

This engagement with other people is crucial to your understanding of the module materials as some of the most valuable learning is described as social learning where you learn from other people. Discussing and debating can give you different perspectives on a subject and hearing other student’s experiences can broaden your own understanding. This kind of learning will happen during tutorials and during collaborative tutor group forum activities. During the learning process it is vital that you do not accept all content without questioning it. Ask yourself – ‘where did this knowledge come from?’ ‘Are there other ways of doing things?’

Discussing, debating, and questioning will improve your understanding of a subject but it will also develop critical skills that are so crucial in higher education and valued by employers.

  1. Always keep in mind the question ‘How does this relate to me?’

While knowledge is exciting to have it is most valuable when you can actually apply it. This may be applying it to your own working practice or to help yourself and other people. So, you must always find opportunities to apply your knowledge. This may be reflecting on past experiences and gaining new perspectives on them or thinking about how you can use the knowledge now or in the future.

I have always found that when people know I am involved in sport science they have questions about their training or their diet. Let people know you are studying sport and fitness and talk to them about it and express your views if the opportunity arises. Sharing your knowledge with other people is a great way to increase your own knowledge and understanding of a subject.


Final thoughts

As I said earlier we appreciate that studying is just one factor amongst many competing for your time and it may be difficult to implement all three pieces of advice consistently. However, if you bear them in mind during your studies you will improve your chances of success both during your studies and in the future.

We hope you have a wonderful experience during your time studying sport, fitness, and coaching at The Open University.


Simon Rea is a Lecturer on the sport and fitness award at The Open University and the author of the books Careers in Sports Science (2019) and Sports Science – a complete introduction (2015).

Credit transfer to BSc (hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching

Perhaps you are feeling unsatisfied or demotivated with your current degree study and you need a different way of studying to unlock your academic potential? If so, then it might be time to think about transferring credit to study the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at The Open University. We have a range of interesting and exciting modules from level 1 to level 3 which make up our degree. Typically, students transferring credit will study level 2 or level 3 modules depending on their circumstances and their available credit. We have two level 2 modules (E235 Sport and Exercise Psychology in Action; E236 Applying sport and exercise sciences to coaching) and two level 3 modules (E313 Exploring psychological aspects of athletic development; E314 Exploring contemporary issues in sport and exercise).

For all our modules, you will learn online in a range of engaging ways to meet your learning needs. This includes learning through interactive activities, academic readings in books and journals, listening to audio and viewing videos such as sport and exercise in action, using exercise science apps, and tutor group forum discussions with other students and your tutor. The online distance study provides you with great flexibility to study from home or on the move and enables you to fit your study around your other commitments such as work and family life. These are just some of the key benefits of studying in this way with the OU. The video below explains more.

Although you will study independently as an online distance student you certainly will not be alone. In fact, you will receive a high level of support from your tutor via tutorials, assessment feedback, forums, emails and telephone contact. We also have a fantastic Student Support Team and a range of other study resources to support your academic progress. There are many other great opportunities and benefits of being a Sport and Fitness student at the OU. The Sport & Fitness team holds a range of conferences and events that you can attend online and in person. You will also be part of the OU Sport and Fitness community and have an identity as part of #TeamOUsport.

If you would like to explore your options for credit transfer and take the next step towards studying the BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at the OU please visit http://www.open.ac.uk/study/credit-transfer/.