Category Archives: #TeamOUsport

The importance of psychological resilience in extreme environments

By Dave Harrison

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

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

Why is it important to study resilience in extreme environments?

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

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

Emerging research on resilience in extreme environments

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

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

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

Adopting a challenge mindset

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

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

What can we take from this?

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

By Simon Rea

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final thoughts

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

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

 

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

A level playing field – Should Transgender athletes be allowed to compete in the category that matches their gender identity in the 2020 Olympics?

By  Rachael Pugh, Hannah Lake, Sula Douglas, Daniel Breacher and Ryan Williams (E119 19J Students)


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


 

The participation of transgender athletes in Olympic competition raises issues not just about sport regulations but of society’s overall attitudes to gender. The whole subject of transgender people can still be divisive and misunderstood in our society. Many people have limited or no contact with transgender people, this can cloud their judgement leading to fear and rumours. From anger over which bathroom people can use, to which clothing a child gets to wear, it is a contentious subject. Transgender participation in sport is a complex issue and may well become more so in the future with the rise of gender neutrality. Sport has long had issues of discrimination and many sports’ governing bodies are working hard to provide fairness and reduce discrimination. Sport in general and the International Olympic Committee in particular, needs to find a way to make participation fair for everyone; transgender athletes as well as cisgender athletes.

One of the main points involved in this discussion is providing equality and equal opportunity for everyone. By excluding transgender athletes from participating in high level events such as the Olympics, we are not promoting equal opportunity. When looking at transgender participation not only high-level athletes need to be considered. Young people often look to athletes as role models. One role model is Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter, who transitioned from male to female.  After her transition, she went on to successfully compete in the commonwealth games, achieving a record breaking performance in the women’s weightlifting category (Brown, 2018). Kristi Miller, a transgender athlete and activist stated, “Hopefully Laurel’s given some hope to some young trans kid sitting around the world” (Davidson, 2018). Having visible transgender role models for young transgender people is very important – it gives the young people someone to look up to and as a consequence, helps to promote participation in sport for everyone.

However, Laurel’s wins and participation have created some controversy amongst other female competitors and their coaches. Jerry Wallwork, Head Coach for the Samoa weightlifting team said, “A man is a man and a woman is a woman and I know a lot of changes have gone through, but in the past Laurel Hubbard used to be a male champion weightlifter” (Davidson, 2018). Wallwork’s comments illustrate the issue of how gender is viewed in society and how often transgender people are not accepted. If more transgender athletes were allowed to compete – this would result in society being exposed to more transgender people in the media.  This exposure would allow them to become more accepted and allow young transgender people to be inspired and participate in sport.

Conversely, there is the issue of fairness for female athletes – how being transgender may give athletes an advantage over other female competitors particularly in the case of Laurel Hubbard who used to compete as a male weightlifter.  “The athletic advantage that Hubbard herself gleaned suggests as much. As a man, the Kiwi scarcely registered in the sport at international level. Today, as a woman, she is a world-beater,” (Brown, 2018).

Currently athletes who have transitioned from female to male can compete without restriction (BBC, 2019). However, for an athlete who has transitioned from male to female it is much more difficult. This is mainly because officials are trying to make it fair for all the female cisgender competitors and there are many physiological differences between males and females. These physiological differences are why we have separate male and female categories in sport in the first place. On average women have two thirds the strength of men, have smaller bones and a lower oxygen carrying capacity (Latham, 2018). The benefits of these physiological differences mean that men are usually stronger, faster and bigger. Not all of these physiological differences can be managed in the medical transitional process, therefore some of the advantages of being born male, remain in the transgender athlete.

When examining the difference between male and female bodies the issue of testosterone is often discussed. In order for a transgender athlete to compete as a female the IOC guideline from 2015 states “the total testosterone level in serum must be kept below ten nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months” (Ingle, 2019) however this is controversial as “women’s testosterone levels tend to range between 0.12 and 1.79 nmol/l, while men’s are typically between 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/l.” (Ingle, 2019). This means that transgender athletes, even those following the IOC Guidelines, could have testosterone levels up to 5 times higher than most female athletes. Higher levels of testosterone increase muscle mass and reduce fatigue both of which are important when competing at a high level of sport (Pietrangelo, 2016).

Many high profile athletes feel passionately about the potential damage to female sport when transgender athletes compete. Sharon Davies, the internationally renowned and celebrated swimmer, said ““I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex you are born with and the gender you may identify as. To protect women’s sport, those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport.” (Ingle, 2020). These higher levels of testosterone and other physiological advantages mean that cisgender women could have a disadvantage when competing against transgender women.

To conclude, on the one hand society now recognises peoples’ right to change gender however it is very difficult to create a level playing field in some areas and competitive sport is very much one of these. The question of how transgender people compete in Olympic events raises issues of equality of opportunity and fairness of competition. The sports’ governing bodies are attempting to address the issues of physical fairness through regulation but this is not a straight forward process. Scientific development may be ahead of society’s ability to regulate for its consequences in this area. Given the diversity of genders and people in our society this may be an area for adapting and compromising in 2020 and beyond.

 

REFERENCES

Davidson, H (2018) Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s eligibility under scrutiny (Online) The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/apr/09/transgender-weightlifter-laurel-hubbards-eligibility-under-scrutiny (Accessed 28 January 2020)

Latham, A (2018). Physiological difference between male and female athletes. (online). (last updated 28 June 2018). Available at: https://work.chron.com/physiological-differences-between-male-female-athletes-20627.html (Accessed 27 January 2020)

Pietrangelo, A (2016) How testosterone benefits your body (Online)  Healthline. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-testosterone (Accessed 29 January 2020)

Brown, O (2018). Transgender weightlifter under strain: Laurel Hubbard’s exit may be blessing in disguise as eligibility debate rages (Online) The Telegraph. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/weightlifting/2018/04/09/transgender-weightlifter-strain-laurel-hubbards-exit-may-blessing/ (Accessed 29 Jan, 2020)

Ingle, S. (2019). IOC delays new transgender guidelines after scientists fail to agree. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/24/ioc-delays-new-transgender-guidelines-2020-olympics [Accessed 28 January 2020].

Competing in Saudi Arabia: A Moral Controversy

By Lucy Kafourous-Smith, Daniel Morrison, Sam Hughes, Kyle Murray, Sean Gilfillan, Rebecca Murphy and Sam Hughes-Finn (E119 19J Students)


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


 

Vision 2030: Saudi Arabia’s ambitious, pervasive overhaul of its economy and society put into motion since 2016. It paints a picture of a nation keen to refurbish its global image and integrate itself with the western world – no small feat considering its historical rejection of western culture, and strict implementation of Islamic laws and values. Aggressive investment into sport has particularly attracted mass media interest as the nation strikes deals for world-class events, such as the boxing rematch of Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr held in December 2019, the European Tour for golf, as well as F1 gearing up for Saudi participation in the coming years. The speed at which entirely new venues are being constructed for these events, also reflects the extent of this ambition. Construction of the Diriyah arena for Joshua v Ruiz began a mere two months before the fight.

However, the kingdom’s political track record has roused many sceptics and caused a controversial backlash. Sporting organisations and athletes are facing waves of scrutiny, often being accused of supporting the ambitions of a nation that has an extensive list of human rights abuses under its belt. Human rights group Amnesty International (2019) describes such acts including – but not limited to – repressing government critics, and human rights campaigners with prison sentences; extensive use of the death penalty and state-imposed torture for conduct that isn’t recognised as crime under international law; and continued discrimination against women, LGBTI groups, and the Shi’a Muslim minority. Not to forget the widely reported murder of Arabian journalist Jamal Kashoggi in Istanbul back in 2018, for which the Saudi government were held responsible (Aljazerra News, 2019). Amnesty’s critique resulted in them coining the term ‘sportswashing’ to describe the perceived attempt to use high-profile sport to furnish over these offences. Despite that, purely focusing on historical events would limit the chance of successful future sporting events, and any positive cultural change, however uncomfortable the decision may be.

Prior to his fight, Anthony Joshua was interviewed on the decision to fight in Saudi Arabia, where he simply stated: “My only focus is just the boxing”, but incited scrutiny by commenting that “the country is trying to do a good job politically”(BBC 2019). It would seem he desires to stay politically neutral and is happy to fight and promote his sport wherever it may take him. However, when asked about the possibility of ‘sportswashing’, he replied: “…I would be bothered” (BBC, 2019). He also admits that the decision to fight in Saudi Arabia was a collective one taken by his organizers, as well as his promotor, Eddie Hearn, admitting that the choice to fight there was primarily motivated by the sizable financial offer, leading many to believe that he is being manipulated by money.

Conversely, golfing superstars Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods opted out of participating in the Saudi-hosted European Tour, but state that their decision was not politically influenced. Despite this, McIlroy commented that: “…there’s a morality to it as well” (The Guardian, 2019) but makes the interesting point that there are other countries with political stains where these events are held. Woods notably defended golf’s participation in Saudi Arabia by saying: “I understand the politics behind it but also golf can help heal a lot of that too” (Gray, 2019). Interestingly, Woods turned down a $3m appearance fee offer (Gray, 2019), and McIlroy refused to deny that a similar offer of $2.5m was made to him (The Guardian, 2019), causing many to raise sceptical eyebrows at the copious financial offers in place to persuade key players to simply participate.

In football, the Spanish Super Cup has gone as far as significantly changing its format for the foreseeable future as it holds its next innings in Saudi Arabia. Moving from a 2-team to a 4-team line-up and holding the event in January instead of the pre-season Summer, caused a stir. Yet again, the main motivation for such a shift is believed to be the amount of money flowing. As stated by the BBC (2020) the Spanish media reported a yearly worth of 40m euros. Despite Barcelona benefitting from a 6m-euro cash-in, the team’s coach, Ernesto Valverde, expressed discontent as he preferred the old format from a sporting point of view, and affirms that the 6m offer was the deciding factor for the change (BBC, 2020). However, this deal came with the condition that women were allowed to attend the event – an intriguing outcome from a country that has typically segregated women. Similarly, the Italian Suppercoppa showed positive developments, by allowing women to enter the stadium, albeit form the family enclosures only (Burnton, 2019). But this move signalled the start of culture change, which would allow women the same rights as men, even if it is for a 90-minute game of football.

Formula 1 also has its sights set with a $50m per year Grand Prix deal on the table which could kick off as early as 2021, with a purpose-built circuit being constructed for 2022 (Benson, 2020). Mcevoy (2020) identifies The Grand Prix event is no stranger to countries with unfavourable human rights records as it has previously been hosted by the likes of Abu Dhabi, Russia, and China, but it attempts to deflect criticism by insisting that it is politically neutral. Part of the “vision 2030” plan includes Saudi Arabia holding the desert round of the new Extreme E championships -electric off-road SUV (Auto sport 2019). Criticism to holding it here is defended by its founder, Alejandro Agag, who supports the positive changes occurring in Saudi Arabia, and how it can help strengthen the sporting pillar of vison 2030.

With a variety of perspectives to consider, we may justifiably ponder if the Saudi government is heart-felt in redeeming itself from past mistakes, or if they are leveraging their great wealth to simply ‘gloss over’ its most fundamental flaws. Regarding the athletes themselves, do we judge them as aiding a possibly dishonest regime change, or do we praise them for attempting to bring positivity, and culture to a troubled country?

Reference list

Aljazerra News (2019) ‘Khashoggi’s murder: one year on, here’s what we know’, Aljazerra, 1 October [Blog]. Available at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/year-jamal-khashoggi-murder-190930100740798.html (Accessed 6 January 2020).

Amnesty International (2018) Saudi Arabia 2018 [online]. Available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed on 6 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Joshua v Ruiz II: Anthony Joshua responds to ‘sportswashing” Saudi human rights claims’, BBC, 5 December [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/boxing/50633807 (Accessed 7 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Joshua v Ruiz II: 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena venue revealed’, BBC, 26 November [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/boxing/50557116 (Accessed 8 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Spanish Super Cup – who, why and where?’, BBC, 8 January, [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51013150 (Accessed 8 January 2020).

BBC (2019) ‘Spanish Super Cup: We are in Saudi Arabia because of money, says Barcelona boss Valverde’, BBC 8 January, [Blog]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51042079 (Accessed 8 January 2020).

Benson, A. (2020) BBC [online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/formula1/51137520 (Accessed 17 January 2020).

Burnton, S. (2019) The Guardian [online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/jan/13/supercoppa-controversy-rages-saudi-arabia-treatment-women-jamal-khashoggi (Accessed 16 January 2020).

Grey, W. (2019) Golf channel [online]. Available at https://www.golfchannel.com/news/report-tiger-woods-turned-down-appearance-fee-saudi-arabia-event (Accessed 7 January 2020).

Kalinauckas, A. (2019) Auto Sport [online]. Available at https://www.autosport.com/fe/news/146900/saudi-arabia-to-host-extreme-e-desert-round (Accessed 28 January 2020).

Mcevoy, J. (2020) Daily Mail [online]. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-7882935/F1-poised-join-Saudi-sportswash-50m-year-deal-table.html (Accessed 16 January 2020).

Ordonez, V. (2019) ABC News [online]. Available at https://abcnews.go.com/International/clash-dunes-saudi-arabia-fights-overcome-criticism-controversy/story?id=67562255 (Accessed 28 December 2019).

PA Media (2019) The Guardian [online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/dec/10/rory-mcilroy-says-morality-played-part-turning-down-saudi-arabia-event-golf (Accessed 3 January 2020).

Saudi Gazette (2014) Al Arabia[online]. Available at http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2016/04/26/Full-text-of-Saudi-Arabia-s-Vision-2030.html (Accessed 8 January 2020).

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