Meet some of our inspiring honorary graduates

Over the last few years we have been privileged to have a number of honorary graduates from the world of sport join #TeamOUsport

We thought it would be nice to share their inspirational words with you in the videos below.

Tony Wright, Milton Keynes Degree Ceremony, 1st November 2019

Judy Murray, Glasgow Degree Ceremony, 27th September 2019

Paul Sinton-Hewitt, 21st September 2019

Dame Sarah Storey, Manchester Degree Ceremony, 5th October 2018

Dame Katherine Grainger, London Degree Ceremony, Friday 21st September 2018

 

Symposium: We are writing the future

Following the success of our past annual conferences the next event in 2020 will be a symposium style focus on developing the people who develop coaches. Supporting these people is an important component in any coaching system, and this symposium provides an opportunity to discuss, debate and share ideas, thoughts and opinions about their future role. The symposium should be of interest to policy makers, system-builders, researchers, programme managers, coach developers, tutors, mentors and coach educators. It is a chance to explore, converse and contribute towards the future.

The symposium will be organised around a series of semi-structured conversational style workshops led by a ‘workshop guide’ which explore key themes, these are:

  1. Supporting coaches in virtual spaces and through digital technologies
  2. Creating professional recognition and qualifications for those who support learning and development in coaching – how, when and by whom?
  3. Educators or developers (or both?) – exploring how coach learning is supported by others.
  4. ‘Inside’ or ‘outside’ the system – in what spaces do those who support learning and development exist and where should the support of coaches take place.

 

The symposium is supported by Sport England and will contribute to the consultation for the next Coaching Plan.

 

 

Date: Wednesday 25th March 2020

Venue: The Open University, Milton Keynes

Booking details:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sports-symposium-tickets-83967819007

However you support and learning and development of coaches this is an opportunity to explore the landscape and contribute to making it a better landscape. Please join us as we venture into the wilderness of coach development and endeavour to discover what has yet to be discovered.

Three things you can do to make the most of your studies

By Simon Rea

Firstly, welcome to The Open University and I hope you enjoy your studies with us. You have started on an exciting path of study and hopefully a rewarding future career. There are great opportunities to work in grass roots sport, performance sport, health and fitness, coaching and teaching and exercise science. However, sport and fitness courses are now one of the most popular undergraduate courses studied at university. There are now over 80 higher education institutions offering degrees and around 15,000 students graduating every year. While there are good jobs available the competition is very strong even before you consider the number of students studying for Masters degrees and PhDs.

Employers recognise that Open University students have to show special skills to organise their busy lives, hold down a job and plan their studies. However, that may not be enough to make you stand out from the crowd when it comes to applying for jobs. You need to be competitive in the job market and this may involve you showing skills beyond those of achieving a degree.

Between 2017 and 2019 I interviewed over 20 people currently working in sport and fitness occupations to find out what skills and qualities are needed to work effectively in sport and fitness roles. Many of the respondents explained how sport and fitness environments can be complex and challenging. This is because they involve people but also people who are goal directed and often high achievers. Sports environments tend to be highly pressurised and constantly changing and you need particular skills to navigate through them. You need to have skills to work with people who may be your colleagues or your clients. Being able to develop and maintain relationships is central to your success in sport and fitness.

In this blog I offer three tips that will help to improve your employability and effectiveness when you are in the workplace.

1. Get as much experience as you can from wherever you can.

Everyone I interviewed stressed the importance of gaining experience. All experience of working with people is valuable because you can then learn about your communication, listening and other personal skills. However, the main reason is that it is the best way to develop skills that are needed in the workplace. The only way to show an employer that you can do a job is by showing them that you have done it before. If you have spent the previous three or more years studying, then you can show that you have the knowledge but there is no evidence that you will be able to apply it in real life situations.

Experience can come from work experience placements or internships or you can volunteer at local sports clubs and offer to help. This may involve setting up equipment, helping with timings or preparing and handling out drinks. Once you are in a sports environment there may be opportunities to share your knowledge with coaches and athletes.

In addition to gaining experience you also need to be able to learn from your experiences by reflecting or reviewing them. This can be done by asking yourself reflective questions or discussing your performance with other people. This reflective approach is covered in module E119.

2. Gain as much knowledge as you can about as many disciplines in sports science as possible.

While I said that knowledge alone may not get you a job it is still incredibly important when working in sport and fitness. The study of sport is multidisciplinary in that it involves anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, sport psychology, biomechanics, nutrition as well as research skills. During your studies with us you will cover all these disciplines and also learn about coaching and instructional skills. However, due to the wide scope of your studies you may not cover everything in detail. Firstly, I would encourage you to engage with all the module resources and further reading where it is suggested but also read widely in relevant textbooks, journal articles and respected websites. Listen to as many sports related podcasts and watch programmes that can contribute to your learning.

By taking in as much knowledge as you can you will start to learn about the range of occupations in sport and fitness and the knowledge that different specialists will have. In performance sport the support team may be made up of exercise physiologists, sport psychologists, performance analysts, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists and it is important to understand what these people are saying so that you can develop working relationships with them. As a fitness trainer you may be called upon to advise on nutrition and psychology as well as training methods and the more you know about these disciplines the greater credibility you will have.

3. Find opportunities to share your knowledge.

One way to gain experience and apply your new-found knowledge is to offer advice and support to friends and family. You need to remember that most people don’t know about things we may consider to be basic, such as how to stretch, how to train effectively and what to eat. There are also a lot of fallacies or misunderstandings about the best way to train and recover and you can provide the science to address these.

As you progress in your studies you will be able to offer advice to people. For example, you may have a friend who wants to run a half marathon, complete the London to Brighton cycle ride or start training at the gym. You can let them know that you are studying sport and fitness and would like to advise them. You could write a blog about what you have been doing and make social media posts about their progress. This may lead to other people asking for your advice.

This type of activity is useful as a learning experience and also understanding how your new-found knowledge can be put into practice. It may mimic the type of work you will do in the future and be something that you could discuss in an interview.

These three things will help to enhance your employability skills and bring your knowledge to life.

This article is based on content from Simon’s recently published book Careers in Sports Science. In this book Simon Rea presents the findings of 20 interviews with people working in sports science roles. This includes the personal skills needed to work in sport and more advice about how to develop these skills. This book is available as a paperback or eBook at www.simonreasportscience.co.uk or through the Amazon bookstore search ‘Careers in Sports Science’.

#TeamOUSport Kit Launch!

We are delighted to announce that in association with Kitlocker we now have a range of Open University Sport and Fitness branded Nike kit and accessories available for staff and students. This can be purchased through the website below.

#TeamOUsport Kitlocker Store

 

We have introduced this kit to help our staff and student feel part of #TeamOUsport and develop our team identity. Open University Sport and Fitness Lecturer Dr Nichola Kentzer, who came up with the idea to develop this kit said:

 

“It’s important for students to have a strong sense of belonging to their university. The OU is such an amazing place and we want our students to really feel part of the Sport and Fitness team. Face to face universities encourage this sense of identity by having team kit, so why can’t we have this for our students too? Just because our students are geographically spread it doesn’t mean they can’t wear their OU kit with pride, showing others that they are part of the OU Sport and Fitness team. I can’t wait to see students sharing pictures of themselves working, training, studying and competing in their kit!”

 

 

Are you part of #TeamOUsport?

 

We would love to see pictures of you wearing your #TeamOUsport kit in a variety of locations so please share them with us on Twitter (@OU_Sport) using the hashtag #TeamOUsport

Induction 2019: Student stories

As part of our student induction this year we have been sharing a collection of stories from some of our #TeamOUsport students on Twitter. You will find a summary of the Tweets on this page. I’m sure you will agree that these stories are very inspiring.

To view Simon’s story in full click here

To view Michaels’s story in full click here

To view Amanda’s story in full click here

To view Helen’s story in full click here

To view John’s story in full click here and here

To view Kevin’s story in full click here

To view James’s story in full click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find our full collection of student stories here.
If you are a #TeamOUsport student and you would like to share your story please get in touch via WELS-Sports@open.ac.uk.

Why aren’t we educating those supporting injured players about mental health?

By Caroline Heaney

Photo by Fancy Crave on Unsplash

Recently, The Independent reported that professional football clubs are failing to provide injured players with the psychological support they need (Lovett, 2019). The psychological impact of sport injury is well documented – for example, the IOC consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes (Reardon et al., 2019) recognises that sport injury can have a significant impact on mental health, and several sportsmen and women (e.g. footballer Danny Rose) have cited injury as a trigger for mental health difficulties. So why is it that the psychological aspects of sport injury are being ignored in professional football?

The article in The Independent, which explored a study conducted by Dr Misia Gervis, pointed towards a lack of education and training amongst medical staff treating injured players – an area that I have researched extensively with my colleagues at The Open University. My early work in this area (Heaney, 2006) investigated the attitudes and perceptions of physiotherapists working in professional football and identified that whilst physiotherapists recognised that injury had a psychological impact they largely did not have the education or training to be able to respond effectively. This was supported by our 2012 investigation into physiotherapy education in the UK (Heaney et al., 2012) which revealed great diversity in the provision of psychology education in physiotherapy programmes and an inconsistency between the reported importance of psychology and the demonstrated importance of psychology through its visibility within the curriculum.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

These findings indicate that UK physiotherapy training does not adequately prepare sports medicine staff for dealing with the psychological aspects of sport injury and that training in this area would be beneficial, but is this the case? To answer this question we conducted two further studies. The first (Heaney et al., 2017a) examined the sport psychology related attitudes and behaviours of ninety-four qualified sports injury rehabilitation professionals (physiotherapists and sports therapists) working in sport. These professionals were split into two groups – those who had been exposed to education on the psychological aspects of sport injury as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate studies and those who had not. It was found that those who had studied the psychological aspects of sport injury integrated significantly more sport psychology into their practice and referred more athletes to sport psychologists for further support than those who had not.

Photo by Hussain Ibrahim on Unsplash

The findings of this study suggest that sport psychology education is beneficial to sport injury rehabilitation professionals and the athletes they treat, but what about the professionals who aren’t lucky enough to receive sport injury psychology education as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate training? How can they access the benefits of sport injury psychology education? We wanted to know whether post-qualification continuing professional development (CPD) training on the topic can derive the same benefits and so we conducted a further study (Heaney et al., 2017b) exploring the impact of an online sport injury psychology education module on the attitudes and behaviours of ninety-five physiotherapists working in sport who had not been exposed to sport psychology education as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate training. The physiotherapists were randomly assigned to either an intervention group who studied an online CPD module titled ‘sport psychology for physiotherapists’ or a control group who studied an equivalent online CPD module on strength and conditioning which had no psychology content. Physiotherapists working in sport tend to be busy professionals who work unsociable hours and travel a lot (e.g. traveling to competitions across the country or the world) and therefore it was important that the CPD module was flexible, accessible and of a duration that would promote adherence. Consequently, an online format was adopted with a study duration of approximately 12 hours. The ‘sport psychology for physiotherapists’ module covered three main areas – (1) understanding the psychological impact of sport injury, (2) psychological skills and techniques for injured athletes, and (3) referral and professional boundaries. Attitudes and behaviours towards sport psychology were measured before the module and at three points after the module had been completed (immediately, 3 months and 6 months after). It was found that those who had studied the sport psychology module demonstrated an improvement in their attitudes towards sport psychology immediately following its completion that was significantly higher than those who had studied the control module. Use of sport psychology also increased following the sport psychology module, with significant differences seen between the intervention and control group indicating that those who had studied the sport psychology module were integrating more sport psychology techniques into their practice than those who had studied the control module.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

The findings of this study indicated that CPD courses can address the limitations that some physiotherapists and other members of the sports medicine team have in their understanding of the psychological aspects of sport injury, but it also uncovered another issue – a distinct lack of CPD offerings in this area in the UK. We have sought to address this by developing a free Badged Open Course Exploring the psychological aspects of sport injury, which we hope will contribute to bridging the gap, but more still needs to be done to ensure that sport psychology is properly integrated into undergraduate and postgraduate training so that injured players get both the physical and psychological support they need during sport injury.

Its not all doom and gloom when it comes to this topic and its important to note that some professional football clubs do utilise sport injury protocols that integrate psychological factors and use multidisciplinary sports medicine teams that include sport psychologists to support the injured athlete. Indeed, The Independent article gives the example of Queens Park Rangers where sport psychology is firmly embedded within the treatment room. Dr Misia Gervis suggests that for this to become more commonplace “a cultural shift of practice is needed by medics, physios and coaches.” It is my belief that educating sports medicine professionals is the first and key step to enabling this cultural shift.

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Please watch the video to find out more about the free Badged Open Course (BOC) Exploring the Psychological Aspects of Sport Injury

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Bernal’s ‘amazing engine’: how do endurance athletes’ hearts differ?

By Nichola Kentzer

Many will remember the 2019 Tour de France for its premature finish caused by hailstorms and landslides, rather than the incredible achievements of the endurance athletes. To complete the 21 stages spanning 3,480 kilometres is an extraordinary feat – but what is it about these athletes that allows them to do it? The physiology of a Tour de France rider has been examined in depth by scientists (e.g. Santalla and colleagues in 2012), but in this short article we will be focusing on just one aspect, the heart.

The heart of the matter

Chris Froome described Egan Bernal, the 2019 Tour champion, as having ‘an amazing enginereferring to Bernal’s heart, the muscular pump, that drives blood around the body to perform essential functions. Located in the left-hand side of the chest and typically about the size of a clenched fist, Bernal’s heart’s ability to pump the required oxygen to his working muscles to complete the mountain climbs and long distances, is the key to his success.

We can make such statements because, on examination, as the athlete trains their hearts get bigger and stronger meaning they can pump more blood per beat. Indeed, athletes often have a larger than usual left ventricle, developed through conditioning the body to be as efficient as possible. Referring to these adaptations to training, Bradley Wiggins was described as have a heart ‘like a bucket’ after his 2012 Tour victory.

Because of this increased efficiency, and the trained heart’s ability to pump more blood per beat, a key indicator of an endurance athlete’s heart efficiency is their resting heart rate. Where an average adult’s resting heart rate might be between 60-90 beats per minute (bpm), a Tour de France cyclist can have readings of lower than 40 bpm. Physiological tests carried out on Chris Froome by Team Sky to quash doping allegations after his Tour successes, showed that his resting heart rate dropped as low as 29 bpm.

Cycling is not the only sport that produces these super athletes. Biathlon, combining cross country skiing with precision target shooting, is widely recognised as one of the most challenging winter endurance events. Indeed, the two activities seem unlikely partners with one requiring strength, speed and endurance and the other requiring concentration and a steady hand (while your heart is still thumping from the exertion!).

Top French biathlete, Martin Fourcade, winner of over 20 World Championship medals, over 120 World Cup medals and seven Olympic medals posted his own resting heart rate readings on his Instagram account in 2017. He reported an incredible 25 bpm. Although this reading is his own, and biathletes do specifically train to lower their heart beat to enable more accurate shooting, the value is incredible considering the lowest resting heart rate on record is 27 bpm.

This level of efficiency can also be examined through a second measure: cardiac output the amount of blood ejected from the left ventricle in one minute. It is calculated by multiplying the person’s heart rate by their stroke volume (amount of blood pumped from the left ventricle in a single heart beat). Therefore, with the trained endurance athlete’s larger left ventricle and lower resting heart rate, they can pump out more blood per beat and their heart needs to beat less frequently to achieve the same cardiac output.

And for those of us who are not elite endurance athletes?

Comfortingly for us mere mortals, and important knowledge for those working in the sport and fitness industry, regular exercise (not necessarily long-distance cycling!) improves heart health and increases cardiac output. This enables us to reduce our resting heart rates and for our bodies to become more efficient, even if not to the extreme levels of the athletes discussed above. So instead of sitting at your desk during your lunch break take a brisk walk, opt for the stairs, and park a few hundred metres further from the supermarket entrance, as these small changes can all improve your heart and most importantly your health.

Managing a career and motherhood: Is it possible in Elite Netball?

By Jess Pinchbeck and Candice Lingam-Willgoss

With the 2019 Netball word cup upon us our screens are filled with inspirational female athletes and role models showing not only great displays of physical athleticism but also the psychological composure to perform under pressure. However, in addition to their netballing prowess these women are also role models for their inspirational stories off the court. Many of the players in the tournament are not full-time professional athletes and often hold down regular jobs alongside training and playing at elite level, demonstrating an extraordinary commitment and drive to fulfil their playing ambitions. Added to this some of the women combine work and elite sport with motherhood.  This is something of a break from tradition which used to see women end their career in sport to have children but with optimal fertility often falling at the same time as peak performance we see more instances of elite athletes breaking down the myth that combining these two roles is incompatible.

One such inspiration story is that of Samoan international Gerardine Nafanua Solia-Gibb, a 35 year old mother of five boys aged between one and fourteen years. Despite being a mother of five Solia-Gibb is reported to be one of the fittest members of the Samoan camp, however she does explain that taking note of your body after birth is important, particularly the impact of breastfeeding which can soften ligaments and increase the risk of injury. There are also the logistics of training commitments and to overcome this her sons frequently attend training with her after school. Like many of the teams in the World Cup netball is not particularly well-funded in Samoa and so typically players work alongside playing netball. Solia-Gibb runs a fibre cable installation business with her husband, factoring this in alongside everything else. Coming from a sporting family  herself with four older sisters, who have all made appearances for Samoa Netball, and a husband, who played rugby for Samoa, this perhaps gives her the drive and support network required to cope with such demands on her time.     

Another mother to grace the courts at Liverpool this summer is 26 year old Singapore centre court player Shawallah Rashid, who returns to the World Cup squad after giving birth to her second child in February. Rashid admits to being driven to return to fitness following the birth to make the World Cup squad after missing out on previous competitions due to pregnancy.   Similarly, to Solia-Gibb, Rashid also balances work, motherhood and netball successfully working as a secondary school executive. Rashid is the first mother to be part of the Singapore squad, and attributed her ability to return to international netball to the support of her family. Rashid admits that being apart from her children during the World Cup is not easy but feels that being a role model for her children is important. This example illustrates how a strong support network is necessary for an athlete who is considering balancing motherhood with sport and that this tends to be very tangible support (e.g. childcare) provided by both an athletes spouse and other family. 

An example of the conflict between netball and motherhood is evident in Casey Kopua’s return to World Cup Netball for New Zealand following her international retirement in 2017. From a slightly different background in New Zealand, where Silver Ferns players typically earn enough money to be full-time netballers, 34 year old Kopua, is returning to international netball, after the birth of her first child in 2016. The desire to win a World Cup gold medal proving just too much to resist and with her daughter now slightly older, and the support of her family, Kopua feels it is the right time to return.

Although some of the women here have demonstrated that it is possible to combine motherhood and netball, for some this feels unachievable. Many players see international netball and motherhood as incompatible, often deciding to retire from the sport when they wish to start a family.  As alluded to by Rashid the incompatibility of this often stems from the fact that a sport such a netball requires a mother having to be away from her family for extensive periods of time.  However, 34 year old England goalkeeper, Geva Mentor, has chosen a slightly different path and opted to freeze her eggs after the tournament to be able to become a mother once she makes the decision to retire. Mentor hopes this leads the way for other young netballers to give them an option of having a full career before starting a family.


It would appear that with a good support network and the financial stability required managing international netball and a family, often alongside a career, can be achievable and effective, however for some players the prospect of taking the career break required to have a baby is too much to contemplate. With Netball continuously rising in popularity and increasing professional opportunities for elite players there are many issues surrounding netball and motherhood that need to be explored further.

The 2019 Netball World Cup and beyond: playing for the future

By Jess Pinchbeck

So far this summer we’ve seen women’s sport grow from strength to strength with greater coverage than ever in the global media, and it’s not over yet! Building on the excitement and drama of the Women’s Football World Cup another significant sporting event is poised to commence, the Vitality Netball World Cup, hosted here in England! England’s tense Commonwealth Gold medal victory over Australia on their home turf in April 2018 means the world number one’s are out for revenge, although it’s certainly not a two-team tournament with Jamaica, New Zealand and South Africa all major contenders.

The World Cup, hosted in Liverpool, begins on Friday 12th July, comprising 60 matches over 10 days, with the final being played on 21st July. There are sixteen teams selected through a mixture of International Netball Federation (INF) world rankings and qualifying tournaments. England automatically qualified as the home nation, and are currently ranked as 3rd  in the world. The five top ranked teams in the world also gained automatic qualification; Australia (1st), Jamaica (2nd), New Zealand (4th), South Africa (5th), and Malawi (although they have now dropped to 9th in the rankings as of June 2019). The remaining places were finalised via regional qualifier events throughout 2018 with the top two teams from each INF region securing places; Africa (Uganda and Zimbabwe), Americas (Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados), Asia (Sri Lanka and Singapore), Europe (Northern Ireland and Scotland) and Oceania (Fiji and Samoa). Unfortunately, this resulted in Wales, currently 12th in the World rankings, failing to qualify.

The timing of this World Cup on home soil couldn’t have been better for England Netball, with the sport reaching new heights in England, both at participation and performance level.  In 2016 funding ensured 14 players entered a full-time athlete agreement, rising to 21 players being awarded full-time contracts in 2018-19. Sky Sports coverage has continued to grow since 2006, broadcasting the Vitality Netball Super league every season, with every World Cup game live across Sky Sports platforms. The BBC, on which 1.5 million people watched the England Roses Commonwealth victory against Australia, continues to support netball by also broadcasting the World Cup games across its TV and digital channels. Elite success and increased media coverage  has also impacted the sport at grassroots level with participation figures rising year on year, due to the huge success of the Back to Netball, Walking Netball and Bee Netball campaigns, encouraging participation in women of all ages and abilities, with over a million women playing netball each week.

Even at elite level there is a mix of age and experience amongst the Roses. England’s most experienced player is centre/wing defence Jade Clarke, aged 35, boasting 161 caps, with Geva Mentor, one of the most prolific goal keepers in the world, aged 34, also adding a wealth of international experience with 138 capsSix other members of England’s historic gold-medal winning Commonwealth Games team also make the world cup squad; Eboni Usoro-Brown, Joanne Harten, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Chelsea Pitman and of course Helen Housby, who scored the winning goal. Rachel Dunn missed out on the Commonwealth Games but at 36 years old and with 86 caps, and two previous world cups under her belt, adds experience to the shooting circle. Tracy Neville, the England manager, has made some bold decisions leaving the Corbin sisters out of the final squad, as well as previous captain Ama Agbeze. Instead, youth has been injected into defence with Fran Williams, aged 21 and Layla Guscoth , age 27, both playing in their first major tournament along with centre court player Natalie Panagarry, aged 28.

The exclusion of such talented players illustrates the depth of the England squad and undoubtedly funding for full-time contracts has contributed to this and is to be celebrated. However, for those players with established careers the disruption of committing to netball full-time can be difficult to navigate and two of the Roses squad opted out of full-time netball to maintain their careers. 31-year-old Eboni Usoro-Brown works as a trainee solicitor at Mogers Drewett around her netball commitments for Team Bath and England. Likewise, Rachel Dunn, age 36, continues to balance both domestic and international netball as well as a career as a genetic scientist:

I came up in an era when there wasn’t a full-time programme available. You had to have a job, otherwise you wouldn’t survive. And there are still a lot of Superleague players now who are in that situation. We do still need more funding”.

The stories of Usuro-Brown and Dunn illustrate the importance of receiving full-time contracts early on in players careers and the difficulties that can arise if offered later, when alternative careers with perhaps greater longevity have been worked for and established. It is clear to see the impact of full-time funding on the depth and strength of the England squad and so with England Netball admitting that funding will be difficult past 2019 there is so much to play for at this World Cup to keep the netball dream alive for England’s future Roses.