Category Archives: Uncategorized

Under Pressure again: Can the England team bring football home?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Tonight sees England’s first fixture of this year’s UEFA Euro 2016. Roll back 2 years and 2014 saw the country gearing up for the biggest event in the football calendar, the World Cup. The 2014 World Cup saw huge amounts of pressure and expectation placed on Hodgson’s 23 man England squad. This pressure and expectation came from representing their country, the public and their manager who openly stated before the tournament that he felt he had a winning squad. Roll forward to 2016 and exactly 50 years since England’s iconic 1966 World Cup win, could this finally be England’s chance to shine?

So what could make the difference? Perhaps remarkably England still have Hodgson at the helm, although often following a poor tournament result the first person to go is the coach/manager. Just look at Stuart Lancaster’s departure following England’s disastrous Rugby World Cup performance of 2015 and football is often managed in the same unforgiving way. However, despite a contract due to run till after the France based tournament it seems that this isn’t the only reason Hodgson is still in place. He not only has the backing of the FA with Greg Dyke openly saying they would back Hodgson but also he appears respected and supported by his players, ‘we are proud to play for Roy Hodgson. He’s a great Manager.’ Match this with the fact that the team have some phenomenally talented players.  Where the 2014 World Cup squad could have been deemed a young squad, short on tournament experience, four years down the line a stronger team is most definitely evident with some new superstars emerging. Vardy has recently been termed ‘the most electric attacker in England’ with Kane called the ‘unconventional superstar’ and these are two players who were instrumental in stirring a comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Germany in March . Finally much has been made of new kid on the block Dele Alli, Hodgson himself has been quoted as saying he can do  ‘anything in midfield’. He is a player who in the England vs Germany game played in March was billed  ‘potentially the best young English midfielder for a generation left even the arch-technocrats of Germany envious of his talent’.

So while the team is stable and highly promising this doesn’t take away from the fact that any international football event carries with it huge amounts of pressure which generates an increase in anxiety and stress.  These are terms commonly discussed within all spheres of sport from school level to the global stage.  The competitive environment is designed to elevate the arousal levels of not just the players but the fans as well. Anxiety at its most basic level can lead to co-ordination difficulties, and problems with attention to detail, all of which can prove debilitating to performance. The need for the athletes to control their emotions will be greater than ever as the team will have something to prove following their early 2014 tournament exit.

However, with some solid performances behind the team in recent months and players who have faced some highly pressurized situations within the domestic game there is a hope that the team as a whole will be able to manage their anxiety and cope with the unique pressure that international events generate. Hodgson’s 2016 team is a stronger, more resilient and more experienced squad that the one that lost out in 2014 and one can surmise that such a significant defeat will have made them even more determined to lay to rest the ghosts of the last 50 years.

Becoming a superhero: what are the limits of human Performance?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss and Karen Howells


Comic book heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but each possesses that one unique ability which makes them ‘super’. As children we are excited by these super beings and dream of one day being like them. As adults, these super abilities stimulate our childhood fantasies and allow us to suspend reality for brief periods of time. Whilst many of us have our favourite superhero, and have an opinion on the best film, it has been widely recognised that every superhero falls into one of Marvel’s five categories: altered humans (e.g.,Spiderman) high tech wonders (e.g. Ironman), mutants (e.g.Wolverine), robots (e.g.Ultron) and aliens (e.g. Superman).

Utilising the latest technology in cinematography combined with breath-taking special effects, the recent superhero movie Deadpool brought to life one of these categories, altered humans. In Deadpool, Wade Wilson is a former Special Forces operative who now works as a mercenary having being transformed into Deadpool by evil scientist Ajax. Demonstrating further that the superhero phenomena is still very prevalent in our interest, the much anticipated Batman vs Superman which is due in cinemas at the end of March 2016 portrays the battle between the high tech wonder (Batman) and alien (Superman). One possesses superior intelligence, high quality training and the best technology that money can buy while the other relies on his innate unattainable superpowers. With the ever developing areas of technology and science could future advancements mean we are not so far away from creating our own superheroes, or do they already exist?  In answering this question, we can look towards the popular and pervasive social institution that is sport. Does this provide us with an environment that has inadvertently created real life super heroes?

Physical Attributes and Physiology

The goal of elite athletes is to bike, swim or row faster, to run further, or to fight for longer, with more precision and more agility. Whilst every generation must wonder about how much more as human beings we can achieve, research by Joyner (1991) found that from a physiological basis there is still more scope for further physical improvements, which can translate into significant improvements in, for example, running times.  In the same way that Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in 1954, it is possible that the athletes of today may be on the verge of attaining the elusive sub 2 hour marathon.  Whilst our imagination may wonder at the potential for the future, it has to be acknowledged that a range of physiological regulators including, VO2max, running economy, threshold running pace and thermoregulation will limit the ultimate potential of human performance. Frequently we hear of athletes challenging these limits through altering what the body would normally be capable of achieving. In the comic book world Peter Parker was a regular human being until he was bitten by a genetically engineered super-spider. Spiderman is the result, part human DNA, part spider.  Frighteningly, we are on the edge of genetic engineering in sport being a practical if completely undesirable possibility. In 2008 Professor Wells warned in the BMJ that “some commentators have raised concerns that genetic modification or “gene doping” will be the next step in the search for enhanced performance”. Although this still exists within the domain of science fiction, the recent doping scandals that have rocked World Athletics and Cycling demonstrate the lengths to which some athletes will go to achieve the physiological changes that will facilitate enhanced and superior performance.


Talking in 2013 Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman acknowledged that there is very little in terms of physiology that distinguishes between the good and the very good.  He suggested that what distinguishes the superelite from the rest, is their psychology and how they think, feel and manage the pressures of elite competition.  Maybe this is where elite athletes’ characteristics mirror those of the superheroes of our childhood dreams.  Whilst the unique ability to handle extreme competitive pressure may or may not be innate, the competitive and challenging sporting environment may allow the development of strategic understanding, mental toughness and resilience, all concepts that are vital to these athletes whose physical successes may identify them as being superhuman individuals.  For Batman, genius level intelligence was one of his unique characteristics allowing him to be a master detective. Interestingly, the literature suggests that personal intelligence is a key factor in promoting resilience.

Science and Technology

While many of our comic book superheroes possessed innate qualities and elite champions possess physical attributes well suited to their specific sport, science and technology has the potential to contribute both positively and negatively to the development of the superhero athlete. Within comic books this type of superhero is prevalent, Ironman was created and powered by scientific advancements and Batman was able to buy the most cutting edge technology available, and while these two superheroes remain comic book creations, there are already versions of this form of technology finding its way into the real world.  Take for example the advances in robotics that are being used in military sectors such as the US military utilising swarm robotics as a cornerstone of future drone development or the innovation within exoskeleton technology that has come on to such a degree that the effort can be taken out of walking.  Forms of this technology are regularly seen in a sporting arena, consider the controversy that was created in 2007 over Oscar Pistorius’ use of prosthetic ‘blades’.  This led to the IAAF amending their rules to ban the use of “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device”. Initially, Pistorius was ruled ineligible for competitions although following a lengthy appeal it was determined that blades did not provide a competitive advantage over able-bodied runners.


The fact remains that while the average human may be able to increase their speed, reaction time, power and mental strength we are still far away from the development of real life superheroes. And perhaps we should be grateful for this.  In the comic book culture, the superhero only exists in contrast to a dark force, each superhero has his or her evil nemesis Superman had Lex Luther, Batman the joker and it begs the question if we create heroes will we also create villains?


Join our team: Lecturer in Sports Coaching

Lecturer in Sports Coaching

Faculty of Education and Language Studies; Based in Milton Keynes
£31,656 – £46,414
circulation date : 03/03/2016
closing date : 31/03/2016
We are seeking someone to join our growing and vibrant team of nine staff involved in writing online/print materials, overseeing teaching activities and coaching related research that connects with our BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching. You will contribute to supporting some 2400 students mostly in sports-related employment and coaching.You will have excellent knowledge of coaching science and practice including a good understanding of sector training and development, based on some experience of working in higher education. You will be research active and have evidence of external collaborative activities; this experience may contribute to the possible development of a coaching related Masters programme.Your ongoing teaching will be in writing module materials and assessment administration. You will have an excellent command of written and spoken English, and will be used to communicating to a variety of audiences online and in print.

Experience of having used information and communications technology to enhance learning is also required.

Closing date: 5.00pm 31 March 2016


Join our team: P/T Tutor Vacancies at the OU on E314 Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sport and Exercise

image We are pleased to announce that we are currently recruiting part-time tutors for our new module E314 Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sport and Exercise which starts in October 2016.

Details about the post and how to apply can be found here:

Further details about the module can be found here:

We also have a number of E314 related posts on this blog which are available on this thread:

The module is delivered through distance learning, using online group tutorials, which gives you a unique opportunity to work with students from the comfort of your own home at evenings and weekends.


Student Story: Simon Hemsworth

In this video BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching graduate Simon Hemsworth describes how studying with The Open University helped him to change his life and achieve his dream of becoming a PE teacher.  If you are interested in studying with us please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.

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

Gender and Inequalities in Sport Conference – March 2016

diverse-hands-painting This event focuses on the theme of equality in sport which seeks to engage debates about gender, sexuality, race, disability and multiple forms of representing this sort of research. In light of the move towards being able to communicate our research to the wider community, new forms of representations can be beneficial, purposeful and intentionally effective when aiming to communicate sensory, emotional, collective memories, intergenerational, and personal stories. Therefore, there will also be a focus on alternative and innovative forms of research.

Date: Thurs 17 March 2016
Location: Mercure Parkside, Milton Keynes
Event: 10-5pm, 7pm evening conference dinner
Cost: £55 (includes lunch & conference dinner)

Various presenters will be discussing their own specialised research on these topics that include:

  • Prof Kath Woodward – gender and sport, Emeritus Professor at The Open University, UK
  • Prof Vikki Krane – social justice in sport, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, USA
  • Dr Jayne Caudwell – LGBT and sport, Associate Professor, Bournemouth University, UK
  • Dr Kitrina Douglas, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Additionally, there will be THREE SYMPOSIUMS focused on various themes to evolve around gender, sexuality, race, disability, feminist methodology, reflective accounts, and multiple forms of representing these topics. There will be 2 prizes (Amazon vouchers) that will be awarded for the following:


REGISTRATION DEADLINE 29 FEBRUARY 2016 (Places are going fast!)

To register please contact to book a place and to make payment. Payment options are cheque or card payment over the telephone.

Let the children play

By Linda Plowright

If noise levels are anything to go by then school playgrounds, ball parks and bouncy castles all seem to be high octane centres of energy expenditure and yet it still seems difficult to get our children as active as the UK Chief Medical Officers advise (UK CMO 2012 Report, published March 2014).

Meanwhile there is a steadily growing body of research reporting what children say about why they like to be active – “because it is fun” (Visek 2015 The Fun Integration Theory). It doesn’t seem that difficult to work out ways in which children can experience an hour’s ‘active fun’ each day, however over 75% of primary school aged children fail to meet this physical activity target.

How do children have fun?

Curious to try to find some answers to this seemingly simple question, I conducted a small study observing some 5-11 year olds during their holiday Activity Camp to gain some insight into how they chose to spend their time. I wanted to see what they chose to do and how much physical activity was involved. Videos, drawings and photographs that told the children’s story of what they loved about their Activity Camp demonstrated that being with friends was key to their choices. With friends they developed and sustained highly imaginative and creative fantasy games. The power of being with friends has been highlighted in a number of studies, particularly for girls. See StreetGames’ recent “How to ..” guide on understanding how to harness the impact of socialising to engage girls in physical activity (Friendships How to guide). In addition children appeared to be motivated by novel equipment and environments. They fully exploited large equipment that probably wasn’t usually available to them comprising a bouncy castle, giant sponge building bricks and ride-in cars. They appeared to enjoy a range of physical sensations, bouncing, going upside down, racing around pushing cars and having rides. Novelty also existed in the space available – a large fully equipped sports hall – and other children and play scheme leaders who the children engaged in their activities allocating them roles and tasks.

What do we mean by ‘active fun’?

What children showed and talked to me about active fun had the following ingredients:
• Opportunities for the children to interact – often noisily and in role play – with their friends: a time to chat and socialize, encourage one another, banter and make noise. These elements are often alien to a learning or coaching environment which is what differentiates ‘active fun’ from PE or sport participation most starkly.
• Opportunities for children to let their imaginations drive the activity, where they choose what they do and how they do it: room for individuality, opportunities for children to create the activity themselves with their friends. There must be the opportunity to ‘not’ be committed to the game, to temporarily leave and return at will.
• Something that the children feel competent to engage in: this might mean the activity is extremely simple or it may mean that an environment of carefreeness where taking part provides the fun – ‘failing/losing’ in the activity is as much fun as ‘achieving/winning’. Play may be entirely collaborative. In the context of an hour’s ‘active fun’, keeping it fun is not about teaching new skills it’s about creating a safe environment in which the children’s imagination can drive fantastical creative activity. This does not deny increased competence, can increase enjoyment and commitment when children have chosen to pursue a particular sport. Nor does it deny that having a skilled adult to encourage and assist children to take part in an activity can be beneficial. However these things can also get in the way of fun.

So why is it seemingly so difficult for children to have an hour’s activity each day?

One answer seems to be the age-old problem of adults over-complicating the world. The challenge of encouraging our children to be active for at least an hour a day has resulted in a focus on whose responsibility it is. Neither the PE teacher, the sports coach, National Governing Bodies for sports nor parents can be solely responsible. It needs team work! We should all applaud and learn from simple, fun, cost free initiatives such as St Ninian’s daily mile (St. Ninian’s Primary School, Stirling). At St. Ninian’s every classroom teacher, not just the PE teacher, accompanies their class on a recreational mile’s walk or run each day. It is unscheduled allowing teachers to be spontaneous and creative in how and when they use the break from academic studies. The teacher joins in and the children complete it in their own way – as an exuberant run or a sociable walk. We all need to start thinking how we can weave active fun into our time with children.

Keeping the hour’s daily activity simple, spontaneous, accessible and child-centred seems to sum up the way of developing the physical activity habit for a healthy lifestyle. Games whilst walking to school, active tea-times and novel playground equipment do not require specialist knowledge. Creating opportunities and incentives for children to have ‘active fun’ is best not viewed as a specialist’s responsibility but as a way of life to be encouraged by all those who care for children. Physical activity specialists, whether that is the PE teacher or the sports coach, can then engage children further in their subject. In short “Let the Children Play”.


Linda is a PhD Research student in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies, Department of Childhood, Youth and Sport and Centre for Research in Education and Education Technology at the Open University. Trained initially as a Physical Education specialist she had a 35 year career in sport and recreation management spanning public, private and voluntary sectors. During that time she gained an MBA and MBRM studying as an open learning student with the OU before taking up her current full time research student role.

Linda’s main interest is children’s physical activity and the power of physical activity to enrich health and wellbeing. She is particularly interested in middle childhood and unlocking the power of research with rather than on children to gain insight into their understanding and beliefs. She hopes that with greater insight, new ways may be found for motivating children to develop active lifestyles – for life. As part of her Masters in Research Degree she undertook a small ethnographic pilot study focused on how 5-11 year olds chose to experience physical activity in their recreation time. She is continuing these studies in her PhD.