Author Archives: Jessica Pinchbeck

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.

Using your activity tracker

This page provides useful advice and guidance to E117 Introduction to Sport and Fitness students on how to use their Medisana activity tracker.

How to set up your Medisana ViFit touch activity tracker

The video below provides a step by step guide to setting up and activating your tracker to view both your own data and also the data of other students studying E117.

If you haven’t already done so it is important to install the E117 App on your device before you begin setting up your tracker. For details on how to download and install the E117 app click here.

Once you  have installed the E117 App you are ready to follow the instructions in the video below.

During the process below (in Step 5) you may be required to log in to the OU systems using your OU Computer Username (OUCU) and password.

Enter your OU computer username (OUCU) and your password when prompted.

Your OUCU is made up of initials (usually yours) followed by a number, for example ‘ab123’. It is included in the letter confirming your module registration. It is interchangeable with your personal identifier (PI) anywhere you see the OU sign-in screen. Your OUCU is a security tag and cannot be changed as it is then encrypted into many of the OU systems.


Transcript

Please note that once you have completed the set up and authorized the E117 App to access your data you do not have to enter the E117 App every time you wish to view your data. The link below takes you directly to the activity Dashboard.

https://sportandfitness.kmi.open.ac.uk/

You will be directed when to use the  activity tracker data to help you in your studies within the module materials. We suggest that you wear your tracker throughout the module to allow you to have sufficient data available when completing these activities.

Help and Support

If you encounter any difficulties syncing your tracker to the E117 App or you think you may not have set up the permissions correctly there is a ‘Reset your Profile’ button in the ‘Edit Profile’ section. If you activate the reset you will receive an alert that your personal information as well as your connection to Medisana will be deleted. This will take you back to the ‘Connect to Medisana’ button which should then allow you to give permission to the E117 App again.

If you need any additional support setting up your activity tracker please visit the Medisana Online Help centre on the link below:

https://medisana.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/categories/200888115-ViFit-Touch 

The full instruction manual to accompany the tracker (included in the box) can also be found online here:

https://www.medisana.com/out/pictures/media/manual/79486_87_88_vifittouch_univ_2016_03(1).pdf 

 

Rugby: A game of risk and reward

By Jessica Pinchbeck

As a parent I fully support and actively encourage my children’s involvement in a range of sports activities. Sport can bring about so many positive developments and watching my son play rugby this season I have seen improvements not only in his physical skill level but also his psychological and social skills. For example, his decision making, concentration and attitude have all developed. Similarly, his confidence, and general maturity when talking to coaches and referees have carried forward into every aspect of his life. Despite this at the back of my mind is the knowledge that as he gets older and tackling becomes part of the game (from U9 onwards) perhaps the risks will begin to outweigh the rewards. In particular the risk of spinal injury is the scariest to contemplate. But what is the nature of such a risk and am I just being an overprotective mother?
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What is the risk?
Fuller (2008) found that “the risk of catastrophic injury in rugby union was comparable with that experienced by most people in work-based situations and lower than that experienced by motorcyclists, pedestrians and car occupants” and concluded that “the risk of sustaining a catastrophic injury in rugby union could be regarded as acceptable and that the laws of the game therefore adequately manage the risk”. MacLean and Hutchinson (2012) conducted an audit of U19 player admissions to spinal injury units in Great Britain and Ireland. They found that U19 rugby players sustained serious neck injuries requiring admission to spinal injury units with a low but persistent frequency, with the rate of admission in Scotland being “disproportionately high”. The study also highlighted the lack of a register of catastrophic neck injuries making it difficult to accurately track the number of rugby related neck injuries in U19 players. Whilst the risks involved in rugby have received a lot of media attention in recent weeks it is important to note that any sport which involves movement and force can cause spinal injury, like football, water sports, wrestling, rugby, and ice hockey (Mishra, 2010).

Although the statistics were informative as a qualitative researcher I wanted to explore this risk through people’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. In other words the real stories of the risks of rugby.

George Robinson’s Story
In July 2015 an English school boy, George Robinson (aged 17) suffered a transection of his spinal cord whilst playing rugby for his school in Cape Town. George underwent surgery in South Africa and when safe to be moved was flown home in September and is still undergoing extensive rehabilitation. At present George’s movement below the neck is limited to his right bicep and minimal movement in his left. George’s story is an inspiring one and I have followed it closely over the past eight months. The rugby community have united to provide endless demonstrations of support and encouragement to George and the positivity of the young player and his family is astounding. In particular I was interested to hear both George and his father’s views on rugby and the current debate whether to remove tackling from the school game. Talking to The Times George’s father Simon Robinson said:
“We have discussed it as a family…I would do anything for this not to have happened but I just think [that] it is the nature of physical sport. You can cross a road and get knocked over by a car or a bicycle. That is what happens in life”.

Both the family and George himself still place emphasis on the value of sport and it is captivating to hear their viewpoint. Mr Robinson stated:
“We love the values of sport; the enjoyment it gives, the satisfaction it gives, the team spirit. That has been an incredibly important part of our life and still is. We spoke to George and he supports the nature of the game. He doesn’t know how else you would have the game”.

David Ross’ Story
George and his family are not alone in their views. David Ross, who broke his neck playing rugby at 18, expresses similar opinions. David, who is paralysed from the neck down, has aspirations to play wheelchair rugby in Tokyo 2020 and is once again an example of tremendous resilience and determination. David feels that “People who get involved in rugby, … know it’s a contact sport and they know what they’re getting in for and injury is part of all sport”. As part of his rehabilitation David stresses the need to keep pushing himself to keep his body healthy to ensure he is in the best condition to aid his recovery. I began to wonder whether playing rugby perhaps provided both George and David with the mental toolkit that has led them to approach their rehabilitation with such tenacity and resolve.

Matt Hampson’s Story
Former England player Matt Hampson suffered a spinal injury in training in 2005 aged just 20 when a scrum collapsed. Hampson has spoken about how his background as a sportsman provided him with the coping skills required to deal with such an injury:
I think the mental strength comes from being a rugby player, from being at Leicester Tigers where it is a tough upbringing,”

Not only is Hampson coping with his own injury but he works tirelessly to help other sportspeople cope with theirs. Hampson set up the ‘Matt Hampson Foundation’ to raise money for his own treatment as well as helping others like George Robinson. Rugby is still very much a part of Hampson’s mentality:
My approach to rugby is the way I lead my life – always wanting to improve and always wanting bigger and better things. That is what I was like as a rugby player and that is what I am like as a fundraiser now.

The stories of George Robinson, David Ross and Matt Hampson are extremely powerful. All three players hold such passionate views about the value of sport and have demonstrated extreme levels of resilience and grit to overcome adversity that surely their voices and opinions should be the most prominent ones in this discussion.

Conclusion
In relation to my son and his rugby, as a parent I’m sure I will continuously worry about every aspect of keeping him safe, but if playing rugby instils in him the same remarkable values and attributes that George, David and Matt demonstrate then I will be an extremely proud mother.

Details of George Robinson’s charity #teamgeorge can be found on twitter and on facebook.

This article was first published on OpenLearn

January BOOST for all Level 2 Sport and Fitness Students

As part of a new initiative for Level 2 students aimed to BOOST motivation and academic health in the New Year the sport and fitness team are launching ‘BOOST your success for 2016’ in January. The BOOST initiative will consist of three one hour OU live sessions as well as an associated BOOST forum that will be open from 4th-14th January. There will be plentiful opportunities for you to share ideas and discuss the content of the tutorials with the tutors and your fellow students.

The details for each of the three OU Live BOOST sessions is as follows:

4th January at 7.30pm BOOST your motivation An application of sport and performance psychology skills and how these can be used to BOOST your academic motivation and performance

9th Jan at 9.30am BOOST your grades An innovative and fully tailored session to meet L2 sports students’ referencing and academic writing needs.

11th Jan at 6.30pm BOOST your academic health An interactive session aimed at developing independent study skills and finding academic resources – particularly useful for E217

The forum will contain a discussion thread for each of the three tutorial topics and these discussions will be moderated by the tutor leading the OU Live session.

These sessions are not compulsory for the level 2 modules but have been designed specifically with sport and fitness Level 2 students in mind to compliment the range of activities and resources within the modules. You may wish to select those sessions that you feel are most relevant to your own development or some of you may wish to attend all three.

We very much look forward to seeing you at the OU Live sessions as well as the forum discussions and hope that you find these resources enjoyable and beneficial to your academic development.

Links to the BOOST OU Live room and the BOOST forum will appear on your module website in January.

The Sport and Fitness Team

Parenthood and Tennis – the challenge of being an athletic parent

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss and Jessica Pinchbeck

A glance at the top seeded men and women at Wimbledon this year reveals an interesting contrast in terms of family. While Djokovic, Federer and Wawrinka all have young families none of the top ten seeded women in this year’s tournament have children. While sporting mothers are not an uncommon concept, it seems within the world of tennis motherhood and being a professional athlete are a harder combination to balance, with research in the field recognizing how pregnancy and motherhood are key reasons why female athletes may end their career. (Nash, 2011). There is no hidden reason why so few female players give birth during their career, and these are in no way unique to tennis, very few women want to harm their career in their twenties whether that is sporting or otherwise, but perhaps more importantly for an athlete is the physical impact that pregnancy and having a baby can have on a woman. For the better part of a year if not longer the competitive regime is gone, add to that the return to playing which sees huge demands on an athlete in terms of time and travel which can prove almost impossible to handle, with tennis involving if not the most travel demands of any sport.

There are however, examples of tennis players who have managed to successfully combine the two worlds of motherhood and professional tennis, one such player is Lindsay Davenport, a player who is reported to have planned her first pregnancy and only retired when pregnant with her second child. While the demands of tennis may mean it is difficult for a woman to continue to have a competitive career after children there seems to be little negative impact on actual performance. Take Kim Clijsters, who retired from tennis to have a family but made ‘The Mother of All Comebacks’ when she won the 2009 US Open a couple of years after retiring just 16 months after giving birth to Jada Ellie.

It is clear that women who do return to sport following their pregnancy come back as different athletes. Of the women who have made it to the third round of Wimbledon Dellacqua is possibly the only player to spend a night on the floor, taking a turn lying next to her son’s cot the night before a crucial 2nd round match. Dellacqua has highlighted how having her son has led to a shift in priorities and even credits being a mother as “helping me in lots of ways” saying that having another mouth to feed had only made her more focused on her career.

This change in focus is something echoed by Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, “Before I had Reggie, it was all about me, me, me,” she said recently. “Now Reggie comes before everything else, but I’m still really competitive. I want to be there, and be at my best again.” But she also recognises that it is hard to do, “I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been days when I thought, ‘I’m not sure I want to do this, because this is really, really hard.’ I thought, ‘I’ve already become Olympic champion. Do I want all the stress again?’ But I have to give it a go. I don’t want to look back and think, ‘Oh, maybe I could have done it.’ This could explain why some women wait until they retire until they have a family as it makes the job of professional athlete so much harder. As Palmer and Leberman (2009) note it isn’t just the sleepless nights often it is the management of the multiple identities of athlete and mother that can prove difficult, with constraints such as guilt, lack of time and lack of support all being potential barriers to a smooth transition back into sport which explains why more elite female athletes choose to wait until they retire to have a family.

Although men don’t experience the physiological repercussions of having a baby, as evidenced by Federer returning to tennis 6 days after the birth of his twin boys, they are still subject to the psychological impact of becoming a parent and having to balance family life and the demands of being a professional tennis player. In the last 25 years there are only nine players that have won grand slams as fathers. Federer however has accomplished winning grand slams and holding the world number 1 ranking since becoming a father and the key to his success may well lie in the fact that his wife and children frequently travel to tournaments with him, thus alleviating the psychological stress of having to spend long periods of time away from his family. Djokovic became a father in 2014 and won his first grand slam as a father earlier this year beating Andy Murray to win his fifth Australian Open Title. Replicating the views of Ennis-Hill and Dellacqua Djokovic feels fatherhood has benefitted his career and his approach to tennis claiming ‘I think it has a deeper meaning, more intrinsic value now to my life because I am a father and a husband’. Taking advice from Federer and his methods of balancing fatherhood and tennis Djokovic’s family often travel with him to tournaments and this year he took time off before Wimbledon to spend time with his family.

This all sounds like an easy solution however it should be noted that both Federer and Djokovic became fathers while already having established careers and are typically wealthy and successful enough to travel with their family to various tournaments or to take short breaks from the sport. Other professional tennis players with less lucrative earnings aren’t quite as lucky. Ivo Karlovic has an ATP ranking of 25 but talks of the struggles he experiences spending time away from his wife and daughter and relies on Skype to keep in touch.

In a 1984 study of analysing magazine articles on leading male and female professional tennis players for males the status of star professional athlete superseded other statuses such as husband and father, however for the women players the status of female took priority over the status of athlete. However after watching and reading the Wimbledon media coverage the role of the father has become more prominent in male tennis with increased media coverage on stars such as Nadal and Federa and their role away from the court as fathers and husbands.

John McEnroe admits that having children brought out the best in him, describing how often on the tennis circuit players lose touch with reality but having children changes that. Karlovic acknowledges that having a child does change things for a father stating that before having a child everyone is a little bit selfish but once you have a child life completely changes and everything is about the child. Research also suggests that fatherhood ‘may lead to a decrease in the output of cultural displays (behaviour used by males to compete for potential mates, such as the competitiveness in sport) which could have a negative effect on sports performance. Studies also document that married men and in particular married fathers have lower testosterone levels but to date there is no research on the effect of this on tennis performance. There is also a lack of sufficient data on fatherhood and the role that social and familial status has on sporting performance.

So whether you are a professional tennis player and a mother or a professional tennis player and a father it would appear that parenthood brings about change and challenges men and women in different ways. Some of the change incurred has a positive effect on a player’s career and some of the transitions to being a parent may be difficult to manage alongside the lifestyle of being a professional athlete.

Where have all the teenage tennis prodigies gone?

By Jessica Pinchbeck

Over the years tennis has seen many teenage stars grace the courts and defeat their more senior competitors. One of the youngest teenage tennis prodigies was Jennifer Capriati who turned professional and had attained top 10 status by the age of 14 in 1990. However following her successful teenage years of tennis Capriati experienced many issues away from the court and ended up taking a year out of the game in 1995. Following this she resumed her career and won three grand slam titles before retiring in 2005. Martina Hingis also reached great heights at a young age becoming the youngest ever player to win a match in a grand slam at 14 and at 15 the youngest player to ever win at Wimbledon in 1997. Injury forced her to retire at the age of 22. For both of these cases one must surely question the physiological and psychological implications of achieving excellence at such as young age. Monica Seles and of course Serena and Venus Williams also spring to mind when thinking of teenage tennis prodigies, all of whom specialised in tennis from a very young age. However it would appear that teenage prodigies are few and far between in the modern game and in Wimbledon this year 18 year old Belinda Bencic and 17 year old Ana Konjuh are the youngest top ranked players to watch.

This decrease in the number of teenage prodigies hitting the top world rankings is also replicated, possibly even more so, in the men’s game. In the past we have seen Boris Becker win Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 1985 and Michael Chang taking the title at Roland Garros aged 17 in 1989, with other teenage stars such as Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal winning Grand Slams under the age of 20. However top ranked male tennis players under the age of 20 are becoming rarer in the modern era and this year Borna Coric aged 18, is currently ranked at 40 but failed to take his Wimbledon journey any further after losing to Andreas Seppi in the second round.

So why is this the case?

The age at which children should ‘specialise’ in one sport is always a discussion point and early specialisation has frequently been fuelled by Eriscsson’s 10,000 hour rule with early specialisation in one sport being reported as the only way to accrue this amount of practice and achieve expertise. With the majority of research on 10,000 hours conducted outside of the sports domain Ericsson’s theory has received some criticism within sports research with the majority of studies concluding that early specialisation is not an essential part of elite athlete development. Instead sports can be classified as either early specialisation or late specialisation sports which is dictated by the age at which peak performance is typically attained. Those sports classified as early specialisation sports include diving, figure skating, and gymnastics where early sport-specific training around the age of 5 to 7 is traditionally seen as the route to achieving excellence. Late specialisation sports consist of all other sports including racket sports, where there is no advantage at specialising in just one sport at an early age.

Back in 1988 Carlson investigated the development of 10 elite tennis players in Sweden and remarkably found that non-experts engaged in more tennis during early adolescence than the expert group. The results showed that the non-experts specialized in tennis by age 11, while the experts did not specialize until age 14, concluding that ‘early life specialisation did not benefit the development of elite tennis players’. So is the current lack of teenage prodigies due to the combination of evidence and common sense prevailing and young tennis stars being encouraged to sample a range of sports and specialise in tennis at a later age?

Interestingly this shift at the top does not appear to be preventing early specialisation from occurring. A study of 519 US Tennis Association junior tennis players found that 70% began specializing at an average age of 10.4 years old. There are also reports in the media of young child prodigies such as Jonah Ziff who appeared in national papers aged 2, 8 year old Diego Quispe-Kim and 9 year old Gabby Price. Of the young Wimbledon stars this year Bencic remembers playing tennis at the age of two with her her father (and coach) and at just 4 years old began training at the Melanie Molitor tennis school. Ana Konjuh started playing tennis at 5 years old and left home at the age of 10 to develop her tennis career. Borna Coric also started playing tennis at age 5. So in Wimbledon this year we have a few examples of early specialisers that have managed to break through and it will be interesting to see the path that their careers take as a result of such early specialisation. However the question remains as to what is happening to the rest of our young tennis stars?

Assessing the evidence there would appear to be two possible answers to this question. The first explanation attributes the lack of youngsters at the top of the sport to the increased speed and strength of the modern game whereby players, particularly in the men’s game, need to be physically mature to be able to cope with the demands of the game. In addition careers are now lengthier with improved training methods and advancing sports science knowledge keeping players injury free and physically and mentally match-fit for longer. The second conceivable answer is that intense specialisation at an early age is having a detrimental effect on the performance of young tennis players and may even be causing young tennis stars to burnout and dropout before they reach their peak performance age. Studies show that youth sport is becoming increasingly competitive which in turn has led to children taking part in extensive training, specialising in one sport at a young age, and playing large numbers of competitions at young ages. The result of this is an increasing occurrence of overuse injuries and burnout. John O’Sullivan author of ‘Changing the Game’ reveals in the US that a shocking 70% of children drop out of sport by the age of 13!

So whether it is due to the increasing demands of the current game creating a longer road to the top or the fact that tennis continues to encourage early specialisation at the risk of future champions losing motivation and burning out or withdrawing from the sport, either way it is highly unlikely that the pattern of teenage champions as young as Hingis, Becker and Capriati will repeat itself any time soon.

‘This girl can…’ with the right balance of inspiration and support

By Jessica Pinchbeck

‘I used to love playing netball at school’ is the standard response I get when I happen to mention to a female friend or colleague that at the age of 34 I still play netball. This response is typically followed by a few minutes of reminiscing about their school experiences and what position they enjoyed playing. However when it is suggested that they join a local club or come to a training session, among the all too familiar barriers of time and family commitments, I have frequently observed a lack of confidence and even fear of taking the plunge to return to sport . For many women I talk to there appears to be something scary and intimidating about playing competitive sport and it is possible that this mind-set is contributing to the current figures and insight on female participation in sport. However, where does this ‘mind-set’ come from and what else might hinder a woman’s involvement?

It is quite well known that there are fewer women participating in sport in the UK. Indeed, the latest Sport England (2015) research shows that 40.9% of men play sport at least once a week, compared to 30.3% of women, but 75% of women would like to participate more, so what might the barriers be and how can we increase the number of women playing sport?

Campaigning and role models
Sport England are investing £10 million in national campaigns such as ‘This Girl Can’ and £2 million to extend local campaigns such as ‘I Will if You Will’ to attempt to close the gender gap that exists in sport participation. Close to my own heart is the ‘Back to Netball’ campaign where over 60,000 women have taken part since 2010. Netball has seen increases in participation in England each year in all age groups of the Sport England Active People Survey, showing a more positive outlook moving in the right direction. The weekly TV coverage of the Netball Superleague on Sky Sports has helped to raise the profile of our top netballers such as Pamela Cookey and sisters Kadeen and Sasha Corbin to provide positive role models for women, but its reach is limited to those who subscribe to Sky. With the growth of netball and England’s recent Europe Championship win more media attention needs to be given to women’s sport to promote these positive female role models more widely.

Not only do national campaigns and media coverage need more development and attention to raise the profile of women’s sport to inspire participation, there is also a need to address the logistical, financial and emotional support required for many women to play sport at any level. Family responsibilities can often take precedence because women are still typically regarded as the main caregivers.

The importance of family
Parents provide the early opportunities for children to be active and a child’s experiences of sport and their enjoyment of it are often shaped by the family influences which determine participation later in life. In a research project on 1507 pupils aged 8-16 years the influence of the family played a central role in the children’s attitudes towards sport and physical activity. There are also certain stages in life where participation is most vulnerable. For teenagers family support is essential to maintaining participation at what are termed ‘key transition phases’ with the transition from childhood to adulthood being a crucial risk time for dropout. In a study investigating girls and young women’s participation in physical activity the majority of participants who always played sport lived in households where parents and siblings also regularly participated in sport, with many examples of family members acting as role models. Therefore the importance of the family in encouraging and supporting girls to play sport is a key strategy to ensure the future generation of women continue to participate into adulthood.

Similarly at certain phases during adulthood participation is ‘at risk’ such as moving into full time work and having children. At times such as this encouragement and support from family to help balance work and life commitments is essential to being able to maintain participation. Playing competitive sport is less flexible than other fitness pursuits such as going to the gym and so an extra layer of organisation and commitment is often required. This is where a good support network is invaluable to maintaining participation.

So for me encouraging more women to play sport requires two key strategies in addition to the national campaigns and media hype. The first is to educate parents on the importance of providing opportunities and positive sports experiences for their daughters growing up to ensure continued participation later on in life. This will ensure that women’s sport plays a key part in future generations. The second is to inspire and empower women to seek much needed support to help overcome the barriers of work and life commitments that often prevent competitive sport participation. If we get both of these right then surely more women will feel inspired and supported to play competitive sport throughout all of life’s more difficult transitions.

Morality in sport: Suarez strikes again!

By Jessica Pinchbeck

Global sporting events such as the World Cup or Olympic Games see individuals placed under immense pressure to make split second decisions and for some the outcome can be questionable when viewed from a moral standpoint. Examples of this are common within football, for instance diving in the penalty box, handling the ball off the line or deliberately injuring another player. Luis Suarez from Uruguay is a prime example of someone who appears to struggle with his self-control and moral reasoning (deciding what is right or wrong) in the heat of the moment. In Uruguay, Suarez is a national treasure; the poverty stricken boy who went from working as a street sweeper to becoming an international football superstar. He is portrayed as a family man and loving father who married his childhood sweetheart (Thompson, 2014). Yet his football career is certainly not flawless. In the 2010 World Cup Suarez was penalised for handling the ball on the line to prevent Ghana beating Uruguay in the final minute of extra-time in the quarter-finals, Ghana missed the resulting penalty and Uruguay won the shootout to reach the semi-finals. Whilst playing for Dutch side Ajax in November 2010 Suarez received a seven- match ban for biting Otman Bakkal on the shoulder and in April 2013 received a ten game ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic (BBC, 2014). Last night the world saw this side of Suarez again when he bit Italy’s Chiellini on the shoulder. So what is it that makes players like Suarez react in such a way?

At crucial times under intense pressure a person’s moral reasoning plays a key role in their decision making. Within sport the most widely used approach to understanding morality is named the structural development approach (Kohlberg, 1984; Haan, 1983). This views a person as moving through three stages of moral development which occur as a result of interaction between the person and the environment. Moral growth and maturity influences a person’s moral reasoning and it would seem that Suarez is lacking in both.

In the first of the three stages of moral development an individual puts their own needs first and does not understand the impact of social norms and rules on their own moral responsibility. At the second stage a person relies on their group or society to define what is right. At the third and most developed level individuals do not rely on societal norms but instead apply universal values such as justice, equality and honesty upon which to base their moral decisions. Suarez’s three almost identical incidents would imply he is not functioning at this top level and it seems a very unfortunate pattern of behaviour. It would be fascinating to discuss with him to see the extent that he is unaware of social norms and rules and simply responding to immediate heightened emotions or if he is relying on the moral environment of those around him. Bredemeier and Shields (1984) suggest that aggression, in particular an attack with the intent to injure someone, is an issue of what they term contextual morality i.e. when morality is influenced by social-environment variables such as the moral atmosphere and goal structure of the team.

Studies investigating morals in sport support the view that team sports, in particular those involving medium to high contact, are linked to lower levels of moral reasoning, aggressive tendencies, beliefs that acts to intentionally injure are acceptable, and moral intention. The social context of the sport also plays its part, in particular the moral atmosphere of the team and the moral climate set by the coach. For example the ‘win at all costs’ mentality can be related to low moral reasoning and unsportsmanlike attitudes and behaviours. Similarly the morals of significant others such as parents and friends is associated with moral development. If those close to the athlete do not see improper actions as out of the ordinary then the individual is more likely to engage in such behaviours. These can all impact their moral reasoning, culminating in an incident such as those displayed by Suarez.

With FIFA opening disciplinary proceedings we will soon know the implications that Suarez’s poor moral reasoning will have on both him as an individual and the Uruguay team.

References:
BBC (2014) ‘Luis Suarez ‘bite’: Uruguay striker in World Cup controversy’ [online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/28008605 (Accessed 25 June 2014)

Bredemeier, B.J., and Shields, D.L. (1984) ‘The utility of moral stage analysis in the investigation of athletic aggression. Sociology of Sport Journal. Vol.1. pp.138-149.

Kohlberg, L. (1984) ‘Essays on moral development’. The psychology of moral development. Vol.2. San Francisco. Harper & Row.

Haan, N. (1983) ‘An interactional Morality of everyday life’. In N. Haan, R. Bellah, P. Rabinow and W. Sallivan (eds) Social Science as a moral inquiry. New York. Columbia University Press.

Thompson, W. (2014) ‘Portrait of a serial winner: A journey in pursuit of Louis Suarez, who – when he’s not biting opponents – is the most beautiful player in the game’ [online] Available from: http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/10984370/portrait-serial-winner-l (Accessed 25 June 2014)

Rio 2014: the participation legacy in England

By Jessica Pinchbeck

In my attempt to be a good sporting parent I encourage my children to both participate in and spectate as many different sports as possible. However in spite of my attempts at diversity when faced with a range of activities or equipment to choose from, nine out of ten times they’ll opt for kicking a football. There appears to be something about football that possesses an unexplainable attraction for my children and many like them. When you pass any school playground at lunchtime it is easy to see that football dominates; rarely do you witness a game of rugby or volleyball being played. So is this obsession with playing football in the playground reflected in the sports participation of the general public?

What do the facts and figures say?
The number of people over 16 in England who play sport at least once a week is on the rise, therefore one might assume that the number of people participating in football would also be increasing, however this is not the case. The 2013 Sport England Active People Survey actually shows a decrease of around 100,000 in the number of people aged 16 and over that participate in football once a week. Nevertheless let us not under estimate football’s popularity as it still remains the fourth most popular participation sport with only swimming, athletics and cycling preceding it, rendering it the most popular team sport. Figures show that team sports are generally on a decline, perhaps due to people wanting to participate in individual activities that they can schedule around their own timetable, yet football still has 1.8million participants every week compared to its closest team rival rugby union, which has only 159,900. If we delve into these statistics further we note that only 18.5% of participants are members of a football club, although 25% have played competitively, both a slight decrease on previous year’s figures. This suggests that the majority of adult football participation takes place in a more recreational context.

This decrease in participation, alongside other issues, have resulted in public funding cuts to the FA of 1.6million by Sport England, potentially impacting grassroots football and young people in particular. In the 14-25 year old age bracket football is by far the most popular sport with 1.3 million participants, illustrating that this age group make up the majority of footballs demographic. Similarly The Taking Part survey (DCMS, 2013) shows that for 11-15 year olds football was the most popular with 56.1% having played in the last four weeks, seeing significant increases since 2010/11. Schools also had the strongest club links with football clubs. This suggests that football is still the most vibrant sport being played in secondary school, and regular participation appears to continue up until the age of 25.

These trends are also replicated in a survey by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in 2012 showing football as the most popular team sport for women, with around a quarter of a million participants. Figures from the FA show that 1.38million women and girls in England participate regularly, reinforcing the importance of the younger demographic in these participation figures. As with the Active People’s Survey individual activities are still the preferred choice for women with football only the 9th most popular sport overall and continuing to see decreases in participation rates each year.

The story behind the statistics
The statistics paint the picture of football being the most popular team sport with children aged 11-15 and also into adulthood represented by the 14-25 age group. Yet with a wider range of sports becoming more accessible to the general public through national governing body funding initiatives and the London 2012 legacy there has been, and continues to be, a gradual shift in the types of activities people are engaging in, with individual activities growing each year. So although overall participation numbers in sport are rising those participating in the more traditional team sports such as football appear to be declining at adult level.

In addition various media reports attribute government cutbacks to the steady decline of grassroots football stating the local authority playing fields used by the majority of amateur football clubs are just not up to the standard required (Winter,2013). Furthermore the fees to use these poor facilities continue to rise, making grassroots football more expensive but also less enjoyable and more of a challenge for those involved in its organisation. Lack of coaches qualified to a high level is also cited as a key failing of grassroots football (Winter 2013), with perhaps poorly qualified coaches producing inadequate sessions and discouraging continued participation amongst participants.

Following the success of Team GB in London 2012 and the subsequent increases in swimming, athletics and cycling participation it may be feasible to suggest that the success of the England men’s team in Rio 2014 may be a crucial factor to help give football participation levels a useful boost.

References:
DCMS (2013). Taking Part October 2011 to September 2012 Supplementary Child Report. Statistical Release, April 2013.

Department for Education (2013) ‘Evidence on physical education and sport in schools: key findings’ [online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226506/Evidence_on_physical_education_and_sport_in_schools-summary.pdf (Accessed 9 June 2014)

Sport England (2014) ‘The National Picture’ [online] Available from: http://www.sportengland.org/research/who-plays-sport/national-picture/ (Accessed 9 June 2014)

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (2012) ‘Football Factsheet’ [online] Available from: http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CEgQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thefa.com%2F~%2Fmedia%2Ffiles%2Fthefaportal%2Fgovernance-docs%2Fequality%2Fwomen-and-girls%2Fwomens-football-fact-sheet-oct-2012.ashx&ei=TJiVU8rLD8He7AaQiIEg&usg=AFQjCNHLM40pRUljBuVjWCB7KZraRG1OVw&bvm=bv.68445247,d.ZGU (Accessed 9 June 2014)