Category Archives: Simon Rea

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics – Welcome to the risk takers and the fearless

By Simon Rea

On 4th February 2022 the opening ceremony for the 24th Winter Olympic Games will take place in the iconic Beijing National Stadium, also known as ‘The Birds Nest’. The Games will be opened by President Xi Jinping and will signal Beijing becoming the first city to host both the summer and winter versions of the Olympic Games. The Games will run until 20th February and there will be 109 events in 15 disciplines covering 7 sports.

These Winter Olympics are not without controversary. When the games were awarded to Beijing the former IOC President Jacques Rogge stated that staging the winter Games in China would do a lot to help improve human rights and social relations in the country. However, recent events such as the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong, the persistent persecution of Uighur Muslims, and the troubling case of tennis player, Peng Shuai, have illustrated that this has been far from the case.

Alongside the hosting of the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, which also has a questionable human rights record, questions have been asked about the integrity of and motivation behind the awarding processes for major events. Protests have been restricted to diplomatic boycotts but Andy Anson, the chief executive of British Olympic Association (BOA) has confirmed that any British athletes who wanted to protest against human rights issues would be supported by officials.

What is taking place and where?

The Birds Nest will not host any events but will be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, and is one of several venues from 2008 that will be reused as part of the sustainability agenda of these Games. There are three zones where the events will take place – the Beijing, Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou zones. Beijing will host events at its aquatic centre, including skating, ice hockey and curling. The sliding centre in the Yanqing zone will be home to spectacular speed events such as bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton and also Alpine ski events. The Zhangjiakou zone is where freestyle skiing, cross country skiing, biathlon and ski jumping will take place.

There are seven new events, designed to appeal to female and younger audiences. They include mixed team events in short-track skating, ski jumping and snowboard cross, as well as freestyle big air skiing.

What are the chances of medals for Team GB?

Because the Winter Olympics take place on snow or ice the spectacle of skiers, skaters, bobsleighers taking on the elements offers more uncertainty and excitement than their summer version. However, the UK is not a country that is known for its winter sports. Training and competitions usually take place in venues across Europe – so do we have any chances to improve on the best performance of 5 medals at Sochi (2014) and PyeongChang (2018)?

UK Sport have provided increased funding since 2018 based on the performances at those Games and have set a target of between 3-7 medals from around 50 athletes who will be competing. But where will these medals come from?

Bobsleigh events always attract attention and in these Games Greg Rutherford, the 2012 Olympic Long Jump champion, will be attempting to become the first Team GB athlete to become a medallist at both winter and summer Games. However, any medals are potentially more likely to come from the other British bobsleighs. At the recent World Cup in Latvia, Mica McNeill and Adele Nicholl won a silver medal in the two-person sled as did Brad Hall and Nick Gleeson. At these Games, Brad Hall will also pilot a four-man crew that also includes Nick Gleeson as brakeman. Greg Rutherford will be a pusher in the other crew piloted by Lamin Deen.

There are also high expectations for snowboarders Charlotte Bankes and Katie Ormerod. Charlotte Bankes competed for France in PyeongChang, won two events at the World Cup, while Katie Ormerod was fourth in the slopestyle event.

Will there be more curling success?

For me the Olympic Games are about becoming obsessed with sports that I have not previously watched, or thought I would be interested in. One such sport is Curling, which has its origins in Scotland, and is one where British athletes have enjoyed success. In fact, Great Britain won the men’s event in 1924 and were the holders of that Olympic title until it was reintroduced into the Olympics in 1998.

The most recent gold medal was when Rhona Martin’s team dramatically won gold in 2002 with the last stone of the competition. In 2014 Eve Muirhead was the skip of Team GB’s women’s curling team who won a bronze medal and after a poor performance in 2018 she is back as skip with three new teammates. Bruce Mouat is the skip of an all-new men’s team and also competes in the mixed doubles with Jennifer Dodds.

One to look out for

Finally, one other British born athlete to look out for is Benjamin Alexander who will become the first athlete to represent Jamaica in an Alpine skiing event. He has an interesting background as he is an engineering graduate and a globetrotting DJ. His mother is English, and his father is Jamaica but most importantly he is mentored by Dudley Stokes, who was the pilot of the Jamaican bobsleigh immortalised in the film Cool Runnings. He has only been skiing since 2015 and will be competing in the daunting giant slalom event.

While it may be tough for Team GB to better its medal tally from 2018 there will be plenty of top-class performances to enjoy and we must feel gratitude that these Games are actually going ahead during this global pandemic.


This article was first published on OpenLearn.

For more Winter Olympics and Paralympics related articles visit our hub on OpenLearn.

What can we expect at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games?

By Simon Rea

Simon Rea previews the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, looking at the new sports featuring, plus who are Team GB’s best chances of winning medals.

The Games are going ahead despite a host of problems

After the successes of Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and London in 2012, the 2021 Olympic Games land in Tokyo amid difficult circumstances. Only domestic spectators will be allowed in the stadiums due to concerns about athletes and spectators bringing in the COVID-19 virus. It looks like the New National Stadium in Tokyo will not allow any spectators as a national state of emergency has been called in Tokyo, due to rising numbers of coronavirus infections. Athletes will have to undergo regular testing and their movements will be restricted and monitored. Unfortunately, the Olympic flame that began its journey in Fukushima in March before being scheduled to travel across 47 prefectures and arrive in Tokyo on 23rd July has been beset by protests and eventually its journey through Tokyo was cancelled due to fears over COVID-19.

However, at least the greatest sporting spectacle in the world is going ahead and there is plenty to look forward to. The Olympics will run until 8th August and will involve a record number of 339 medal events across 33 sports. The organisers have taken inspiration from the London Games by putting together high-profile events for Super Saturday (31st July) and Golden Sunday (1st August) that includes the 100m finals.

Four new sports and new competitors to look forward to

Four new sports, surfing, climbing, karate, and skateboarding have been introduced to cater for a younger audience and to keep the Games relevant to all generations. Also, softball and baseball return to the Olympics after being dropped for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Female surfer Shino Matsuda from JapanCopyrighted image IconSurfer Shino Matsuda of Japan

Surfing will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach roughly 100 km away from the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo and will involve a series of heats of 4-5 surfers who will each have 30 minute to showcase their skills and catch as many waves as they can. They will be judged on five criteria including difficulty, innovation, and variety. Currently, the top surfers come from USA, Australia, and Brazil. Americans John John Florence and Carissa Moore are the top Americans while Australian, Stephanie Gilmore, is a seven time World Champion.

Player at Bouldering tournament in Doha beach games in Doha, Qatar Player at bouldering tournament in Doha, QatarSport climbing will feature three disciplines, speed, bouldering (pictured right), and lead, in a combined competition. Speed is measured by athletes climbing a 15-metre-high wall at angle of 95 degrees as quickly as possible. The current men’s world record in 5.63 seconds and the women’s is 6.96. Bouldering involves a climber being faced with a 4.5 metre wall that they will ascend as many fixed routes as they can. They must try and ascend as many routes as they can in four minutes. Lead climbing is where a climber uses a rope to make a vertical climb. They have to keep attaching their rope to the climbing wall over a 15-metre climb. They have six minutes to get to the highest point and if they are tied with other climbers they are separated by time. The six medals will be competed for by 20 men and 20 women with Czech Republic climber Adam Ondra a favourite in the men’s event, while Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret is favourite in the women’s event. She has competition from GB climber Shaunna Coxsey who has a chance of a medal.

Japan is the home of karate, so it is fitting that it is making its debut here. There are six events in Tokyo – three weight categories for men (67kg, 75kg, 75+kg) and three for women (55kg, 61kg, 61+kg). Japan have high hopes in these events with Kiyou Shimizu in the women’s event and Kiyuna Ryo in the men’s event.

The introduction of skateboarding seems like a radical move for the Olympics and will hopefully engage a different audience to the traditional Olympic sports. There are two disciplines of skateboarding – Street and Park. Street skateboarding is held on a straight street-style course and includes stairs, handrails, benches, and walls. Athletes are judged based on originality and execution, and the number of tricks they perform. American skater Nyjah Huston has won more prize money than any other skater in history and has over 4.5 million Instagram followers.

Park skateboarding takes place on a hollowed-out course that features curves and deep bowls. They often include halfpipes and quarter pipes. This is the event where we will see Team GB’s youngest ever Olympian Sky Brown who will be just 13 years old when she competes. She is a very modern athlete who has a huge Instagram following and learns her moves on YouTube rather than having a coach.

What about Team GB’s chances of medals?

While Sky Brown does have the chance of a medal Team GB having some hot favourites, such as swimmer Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke event. Cycling golden couple, Laura and Jason Kenny, are both close to creating British Olympic history as Laura is one gold medal away from Katherine Grainger’s record of 5 gold medals and Jason is one medal short of Bradley Wiggins’ record of 7 medals. There is real interest in the athletics as well where World and European champion Dina Asher-Smith takes on American Gabby Thomas and veteran Jamaican athlete, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce over 100m and 200m. There are medal hopes in the middle distance events with Scottish athletes, Jemma Reekie (800m) and Laura Muir (1500m) in the women’s events and the trio of Elliott Giles, Oliver Dustin and Daniel Rowden in the men’s 800m.

GB's 4x100m medley relay team featuring Adam Peaty during medal ceremony at the Rio 2016 Olympic GamesCopyrighted image IconChris Walker-Hebborn, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Duncan Scott at the medal ceremony during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

There are a couple of less known athletes to watch out for including Northern Irishman, Patrick Huston, in the men’s archery competition and Scottish shooter Seonaid McIntosh who is reigning world champion in the 50m prone event. Boxer Pat McCormack is favourite in the men’s welterweight category and along with his brother, Luke, is one of eight sets of siblings who will compete for Team GB.

While it may be hard for Team GB to better their medal haul of 67 medals, including 27 golds, from the 2016 Olympics there is excitement that the Games actually going ahead after the barren summer of 2020.

This article was originally published on OpenLearn.

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

By Simon Rea

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Final thoughts

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

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


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

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 or through the Amazon bookstore search ‘Careers in Sports Science’.

Sport is in a state – why has drug use become such a major issue?

By Simon Rea

As someone who has been involved competing in sport, working in sport and watching sport all my life I have become increasingly concerned about the negative reports about its association with drug use.

Image courtesy of sscreations at

Image courtesy of sscreations at

Team Sky has had a particularly bad couple of weeks with speculation over the contents of a ‘mystery package’ that was sent to Bradley Wiggins in 2011 added to by revelations that ex-Team Sky rider, Josh Edmondson, had been using a pain killer, Tramadol, and injecting vitamins in 2013 and 2014. Although vitamins are not a banned substance it is contrary to the policy brought in by the cyclist’s union, UCI, in 2011 that banned cyclists from the use of needles.

Added to this is the revelation that US anti-doping agency (USADA) are investigating whether any rules were broken when Mo Farah was injected with a legal protein supplement, L-carnitine, by Dr. Robin Chakraverty. These two incidences are interesting because neither is illegal as the substances are not banned but they are considered as dubious or underhand practices that contravene the spirit of sport. In particular, it is the use of needles seems to cross the line between acceptable and unacceptable practices for professional sports people.

However, top level sport in the UK seems to have a relatively minor doping problem. According to UK anti-doping (UKAD) there are currently 52 athletes or coaches banned due to the use of illegal substances and only 12% of these are involved in professional sport. Most banned athletes are involved in amateur sports (62%) or semi-professional sports (21%). A BBC poll (BBC, 2017) showed that 35% of amateur sports people know someone who has used drugs and 8% said they had personally taken steroids.

The use of drugs is a major problem because as well as being cheating they can have devastating side effects, such as heart conditions and liver failure, that are ignored in favour of their benefits. Also, as they become more prevalent people will start to adopt the dangerous attitude that ‘they are only doing what everyone else is doing’.

Which substances are being used and why are they being taken?

The BBC poll showed three motives for drug use with 41% saying they took drugs to improve performance, 40% for pain relief and 34% to improve how they look. This fits in well with the three categories of substance most commonly used. Anabolic steroids, such as nandrolone and stanozolol, mimic the hormone testosterone and promote muscle development that can enhance performance or improve the perception of an individual’s body image. Semi-professional and amateur rugby union and league have a particular issue with anabolic steroids as success is increasingly allied to strength and bulk. These sports have accounted for 46% of the sanctions issued by UKAD (BBC, 2017).

Stimulants, such as amphetamines and ephedrine, are taken to reduce fatigue and allow an athlete to compete at maximum intensity for longer thus enhancing performance. They also create a ‘fat burning effect’ which can be desirable for those wanting to improve their appearance. Narcotic analgesics, such as morphine and pethidine, act as painkillers and can mask the effect of injuries and allow athletes to train harder and longer. Tramadol has a similar effect but is an opioid rather than a narcotic.

The motives for drug use are clear but there are two main factors that are contributing to its growth.

Firstly, the ‘win at all costs’ mentality or what Team Sky described as a ‘medallist’ culture. This can lead to athlete welfare being compromised at the expense of ensuring they are successful. The song ‘We are the champions’ which was played during the ceremony as Manchester United were recently presented with the EFL Cup has the line ‘No time for losers ‘cause we are the champions’ exemplifying attitudes to success and failure. Possibly a dubious message to send to our children.

Secondly, the obsession with body image and pressure to conform to stereotypes of male and female beauty. This is often media driven through images in fitness magazines and increasingly training seems to be about attaining an attractive physique rather than gaining health benefits. Indeed, the practices of training for health and training for body image are often at odds with each other as steroids are used to build muscle and stimulants to promote fat burning. The psychological condition ‘bigorexia’ where muscular people see themselves as having physical flaws or not being muscular enough has become as much of a concern as anorexia where people see themselves as being overweight irrespective of their actual appearance.

Is sharing negative experiences of drug users a solution?

Nicola Sapstead, the head of UKAD, has described drug use in UK sport as ‘fast becoming a crisis’ but it is possible that a potential solution is already available. On the BBC 5live phone on 20th March there was a steady stream of people who had used drugs describing the damaging long-term consequences of drug use’ with one male gym user who had to have to surgery to remove excess breast tissue that had developed due to the increase in oestrogen levels caused by steroids.

Creating effective education programmes and showing people that despite what they may experience many athletes, such as Jess Ennis-Hill, experience success without taking supplements or resorting to dangerous practices.

BBC Sport (2017) ‘Doping in sport: Drug use ‘fast becoming a crisis’ – Nicole Sapstead [online]. Available at: (accessed 21st March 2017)

Waddington, I. and Smith, A. (2009). An Introduction to Drugs in Sport: Addicted to winning? Abingdon, Routledge.

Cheating in sport and the issues surrounding drug use are covered in our new module E117 that will be available from October 2017. For more information visit the Study with us section of this website.


Reflections on the Student Hub Live Olympics Special

On Friday 19th Aust 2016 members of the OU sport and fitness team (Simon Rea, Karen Howells and Caroline Heaney) took part in the Student Hub Live Olympics Special. This was our first experience of a live streamed event, but we all thoroughly enjoyed it. We were joined by Kath Woodward and Elizabeth Silva and the session was expertly hosted by Karen Foley.

imageOn our arrival we were delighted to see that the green room was well stocked with tasty treats, possibly as an incentive to take a green room selfie!

We then participated in a short Facebook live video talking about what we would cover in the session. This helped us to overcome some of our nerves about the main event and we were impressed how many students watched the video. This filled us with excitement about what was to come and the amount of student interaction that was possible.

imageThe session kicked off at noon and Simon Rea was up first discussing the history of the Olympics. He also shared his experience of racing 1980 Olympic 100m champion Alan Wells!




Simon was followed by Elizabeth Silva, Professor of Sociology, who examined some of the economical and political aspects of the Olympics, and gave some interesting insight.






Karen Howells was up next discussing the coach-athlete relationship and the role of sport psychology. This session highlighted the importance of the team behind the athlete.





Karen was followed by Caroline Heaney who discussed the links between mental health and sport and exercise. As well as looking at exercise as a treatment for mental health conditions, the session looked at the incidence of depression in elite athletes.


imageThe session concluded with an interesting discussion about gender and the Olympics with Kath Woodward who challenged the audience to consider whether traditional views of gender are too narrow.

The Student Hub Live Olympics Special provided us with a great opportunity to interact with students and share our knowledge on sports related topics. We hope that those who engaged with the session found it interesting.

If you missed the session it will be available through the catch-up link on this page, or you can watch the video below.

If you are interested in studying sport and fitness at the OU please click here to find out more.

European Championships 2016: Home Nations dare to dream or will it be an early Brexit?

By Simon Rea

On Friday 10th June the 15th UEFA European Championship will commence when the host nation, France, play against Romania in Saint Denis. This will be the first time the tournament has comprised of 24 teams and shows a huge expansion from the 4 teams who competed in the first tournament. The French are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the tournament but who else should we look out for?

The big three

Spain are the holders of the title and have won the last two tournaments whilst Germany are the world champions so these two are major contenders. However, the Spanish squad is in transition with new players such as Nolito and Morata replacing Torres and Mata in the squad. The German squad still retains the majority of their World Cup winning team but their results in qualifying were underwhelming and included defeats by Poland and Republic of Ireland.

As host nation the French will have home advantage and they won as hosts in 1984 in a team inspired by Michel Platini. Their team is centred around a core of English Premiership stars, such as Hugo Lloris, N’Golo Kante, Anthony Martial and Dimitri Payet, as well as world stars like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann. Their will have become increasingly focused after the November terrorist attacks in Paris. The argument against a French triumph is a potential quarter or semi-final against the Germans.

Making up the final four

Portugal, Italy, Belgium and England will be hoping to get into the semi-finals. Portugal have probably the best European footballer in Cristiano Ronaldo, while historically Italy historically do well at major tournaments. Belgium are the team to look out for as in Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaka and Toby Alderweireld they a magnificent selection of individual players. However, they now need to show they can develop into a team and challenge at a major tournament.

This is an exciting time for England. They qualified with 10 victories out of 10 and have an exciting young team lead by a now experienced Wayne Rooney.  However, all England’s talent seems to be in attack where Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli have all excelled in the last 9 months.  They have good attacking full backs but a shortage of centre backs.  It may be that England will need to score freely to make up for any weaknesses in defence.

Outside bets

It is worth bearing in mind that 12 years ago this tournament was won by an unfavoured Greece team and 12 years before that in 1992 by Denmark who only qualified as a replacement for the war torn Yugoslavia. Two teams who may be interesting outside bets are Austria and Poland. Poland are inspired by striker Robert Lewandowski and recorded a qualifying victory over Germany. Austria qualified strongly winning their group with 9 wins out of 10.  They have star players in David Alaba of Bayern Munich and Marko Arnautovic of Stoke City and have one of the weaker qualifying groups.

What about the other Home Nations?

This is the first time since the World Cup of 1958 that four Home Nation teams have qualified for a major tournament and Wales were the team who progressed furthest reaching the quarter finals on that occasion. The 1958 team was built around their star player, John Charles of Juventus, just as the 2016 team revolves around Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid striker. He is backed up by other stars, such as Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams. The other players include a mixture of Premiership and Championship players.

This is also the case with Northern Ireland who would appear to have no big name players, although they do have a core of well experienced Premiership players in Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley. However, this band of brothers have the elusive quality of team spirit and are backed up by the raucous support of the Green and White Army. Also, they may be the only team who has a player with a current top 40 hit about them. Expect to hear the anthem ‘Will Grigg is on fire, your defence is terrified’ ringing around the stadium whenever they play. Something happens when players like Kyle Lafferty pull on the green shirt so expect some surprises.

The Republic of Ireland qualified through the play-offs and have an excellent manager in Martin O’Neill. Like Northern Ireland they are a team of honest, hardworking professionals with strikers Shane Long and Robbie Keane offering a bit of star quality.

A word about penalties!

Invariably at some point we will be subjected to the particular pain of the penalty shootout. Unfortunately, England have one of the worst records of all the nations involved. With 6 failures they have lost the most shootouts with a single Stuart Pearce inspired victory at Euro 1996 being their solitary success. Only Italy can come close to England with 5 failures, while Germany with 5 successes and Spain with 4 have the best records. Penalty shootouts need to be avoided at all costs!

Who will win?

In the spirit of 1992 and 2004 I would love to predict success for an outsider but a Northern Ireland v Wales final seems unlikely sadly. I think we could see a France v England final with England being inspired by in-form strikers, Kane and Vardy. It may be fanciful but in the words of the Northern Ireland slogan we should ‘dare to dream’.

For more coverage of Euro 2016 visit the OpenLearn Euro 2016 Hub

Wimbledon is here – finally the summer of sport begins

By Simon Rea

This summer in the absence of an Olympics Games or major men’s football tournament sports fans are relying on events such as the women’s Football World Cup, the first European Games in Baku and the ICC women’s championships for entertainment.  From Monday 29th June this will be supplemented by two weeks of Wimbledon fever and a supply of tennis from lunchtime to bedtime.  The British tennis fans will be asking whether all our hopes of glory rest with Andy Murray or can any other British players have a good run in the tournament.


Image courtesy of PinkBlue at

Who will win?

The men’s singles and women’s singles could not be more different at the moment in terms of predictability.  If asked most people would answer that one of four, possibly five, men will win the men’s title while it seems that anyone could win the women’s title.

Women’s tournament

Serena Williams is once again the favourite for the women’s title and has been in spectacular form winning the last 3 major tournaments.  Most recently she won the French Open on her less favoured surface of clay but she hasn’t won Wimbledon since 2012.  Is she overdue to win or is her time at Wimbledon over?  If not Serena then two time winner and defending champion Petra Kvitova must be a favourite to succeed or Maria Sharapova, who has not won since 2004. These three stars of the game are joined in the top 5 by Simona Halep of Romania and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, both of whom have appeared in Grand Slam finals. Personally, I think this may be the year for Wozniacki who has underperformed at Wimbledon but in the last two years her performances have steadily improved and she has gained the consistency needed for success.

Men’s tournament

Novak Djokovic is favourite for the men’s title just ahead of Andy Murray.  They recently shared an epic semi-final on clay at the French Open that Djokovic just won before he was beaten in the final by Stanislas Wawrinka.  We are living through probably the toughest era in men’s tennis where four men, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray, have been competing for the major titles.  There has often been a rivalry between two players but never have we had four of the best players ever to play the game competing in the same era.  This has meant that each man has had to raise their game and work on every weakness to remain competitive

I think that this year may be Andy Murray’s year to win a second title.  Firstly, he came very close to beating Djokovic after producing incredible tennis to drag himself back from two sets down. Djokovic is probably his closest rival at the moment and grass courts represent Murray’s favourite surface.  He recently replicated his form of 2013, when he previously won Wimbledon, at the Aegon Championships to win the tournament convincingly.  His form has been up and down over the last two years but he finally seems fit and strong after his back surgery towards the end of 2013.  Murray needs to ensure that he doesn’t lets his opponent back into the match during the second set after he has won the first.  If he can show his ruthless streak he would be very well placed to succeed this year.

Are there any other British players to watch out for?

Heather Watson and Laura Robson are now well established on the tennis circuit but Robson has only recently overcome a wrist injury that had kept her side-lined for 17 months.  Watson is joined in the top three British women by Naomi Broady and a relative newcomer, Johanna Konta.  Konta is Australian born and has never got beyond the first round at Wimbledon, however, she performed impressively at the pre-Wimbledon Aegon tournament in Eastbourne where she knocked out 2 top-20 players so she is definitely one to watch.

British men’s tennis has a new number two in the shape of Aljaz Bedene who is ranked 74 in the world and has held a British passport since March, having moved to Britain from Slovenia seven years ago to develop his tennis career.  It is the first time since the days of Henman and Rusedski that Britain has had two men in the world’s top 100. He has never won a grand slam match but is one to watch to see how he responds to the fervent support of the British public.

This summer may be quieter than others but hopefully along with the England women’s football team and England cricket teams there will be plenty of success to savour.

Mind games: the psychiatrist hoping to help England stay in the World Cup

By Simon Rea

England play Uruguay tonight in a crucial match that, if lost, could leave the team with one foot already on the flight home. It’s for situations like these that Steve Peters, England’s sport psychiatrist, was invited to accompany the team to the World Cup.

It’s worth considering why England’s manager Roy Hodgson has chosen Peters over the more traditional sport psychologists who have been regularly employed by England football teams in the past.

Peters does have a great track record – he worked with the British cycling teams who enjoyed huge success at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, as well as snooker great Ronnie O’Sullivan. But psychiatrists are nevertheless more commonly associated with mental illness. Hodgson will have found himself getting a different service from Peters than his predecessors will have had from psychologists.

Psychology vs psychiatry

Sport psychology is still a relatively new discipline, having only been around since the 1950s. Its aim is to understand the mental factors that underpin successful performance and influence them positively. Among other things, a sport psychologist will help people to think and act in different ways by constructing skills (or interventions) that can be used in sports environments. Skills such as relaxation to control anxiety and stress, self-talk to promote positive thinking and imagery to mentally rehearse skills are all commonly taught. Sport psychologists will also work with coaches to help build cohesion and systems of leadership within a team.

Sports psychologists and psychiatrists are educated in different ways. The term “sport psychologist” is protected by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and anyone claiming to be one will need to have an MSc in sport psychology and be a member of a professional body, such as the British Psychology Society.

A sport psychiatrist, on the other hand, is first and foremost trained as a medical doctor. They will have qualified in psychiatry and then chosen to work with sports people. Peters calls himself a consultant psychiatrist, perhaps because sport psychiatry is not recognised as a speciality in the UK. He describes himself as being a doctor who specialises in looking after the human mind.

Psychiatry in sport does not necessarily look at treating illnesses but it recognises that thoughts and thought patterns developed by athletes can be detrimental to their performance. A main difference with psychology is that sport psychiatry is not aimed at producing performance enhancement, rather it focuses on how the brain is working and any problems that the brain is causing. It may produce performance enhancement but unlike the interventions of a sport psychologist, this is not the primary aim.

The Chimp Paradox

Central to Steve Peters’ work is a system he has developed of mind management, which he presents in his book, “The Chimp Paradox”. This concept is used to present a simplified view of how the brain works. He explains that thoughts are generated in two parts of the brain. The frontal lobe is responsible for rational thinking based on facts and the limbic system is responsible for emotional thinking.

The “chimp” sits in the limbic system and has the first opportunity to process what is happening around you. The chimp produces what are described as catastrophic thoughts, such as “this is terrible”.

Take the example of a footballer striding up to take a penalty kick. He may experience anxiety and tension due to the pressure of the situation. He may have thoughts like “I have got to score or I’ll be a failure” and “I’m going to let everybody down”. He should feel confident about taking the kick, but his thought processes have been hijacked by his chimp.

England currently face the looming prospect of exiting the World Cup at the first group stage for the first time since 1958 – high potential for catastrophic thoughts to thrive in players’ minds. Peters will be working with players to overcome these and maintain positivity.

If athletes can bypass their chimp then they will start having rational thoughts, which will aid their performance in these situations. Peters explains that the anxiety produced by the chimp gets the better of people, but once they recognise that these feelings are unwanted and are stopping them performing at their best, they can start to manage their chimp.

Sport psychologists and psychiatrists have both been successfully used by sports people. Ultimately a professional’s title or chosen field of study matters little if they can deliver the support needed by England footballers. Let’s hope Peters can help England’s footballers to replicate the success of the Olympic cyclists and produce their best performances on the world’s biggest stage.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

World Cup 2014 – it’s here again but is it coming home?

By Simon Rea

It’s upon us again – the football circus that is the World Cup.  Flags are appearing on cars, houses and pubs and the talk is of heat, humidity, samba football and penalty shoot outs.  If you have no interest in football now is the time to book that once in a lifetime trip to Albania or Kazakhstan, or other countries who have not qualified, for the next month.

Brazil has a special significance in the hearts of football fans.  They are the most successful team in World Cup history with five titles and have been represented by outstanding footballers such as Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo.  They boast iconic stadia, such as the Maracana, placed in breath-taking settings. Certainly my interest in football was cemented by watching Brazil beat Scotland 4-1 in the 1982 World Cup. I could not believe that football could be played like that.  The sport of football may have developed in England but somewhere along the line Brazil became its spiritual home.

In this article I will consider some of the important factors that may contribute to one team rising above the others and claiming the title on 12th July.

Who will be in the quarter finals?

FIFA rankings show Spain, Germany, Portugal and Brazil as the top ranked teams with England rated as 11th.  The Elo ratings, developed by Arpad Elo which take into account skill levels of players and teams, the performances of teams in recent competitions and home advantage are almost in agreement.  They say that the semi-finalists are likely to be Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina with Brazil and Argentina making it to the final.  These statistical predictions look fairly sound but do not take into account what may happen during the tournament – injuries, lower ranked teams over performing or the role of luck.  Also, Brazil, Argentina and Germany are three of the four most successful teams in World Cup (based on matches won) with Italy being the fourth.  In a bid to raise optimism it is worth noting that England are the fifth most successful team, just ahead of Spain. Brazil are the clear favourites to win a sixth title but what are the key factors for success?

The effect of home advantage

This will be the 20th World Cup and of the previous 19 tournaments 6 have been won by the host nation.  Even more relevant is that 17 tournaments have been won by a team from the Continent that has hosted the event.  Spain’s 2010 victory in South Africa was something of an anomaly as was European teams gaining the first three places.  Pollard (2006) identified that factors such as crowd support, less travel, familiarity with grounds and conditions, referee bias and psychological factors (the expectations of success) can all play a part.  Home advantage is often reframed as away disadvantage as the tiring effects of travel, living away from home, changes in diet and lack of familiarity with weather conditions can all play a negative role.

Team dynamics

While performance on the pitch is the only thing that counts this can be effected by what happens off the pitch.  Players are forced to live, eat and breathe with each other for periods of up to six weeks.  There may be clashes of personality, battles of egos, loyalties divided along club lines and all manners of barriers to team cohesion.  In 2010 the French team, who had been victorious in 2002 and runners up in 2006, boycotted their final training session in protest at the sending home of Nicolas Anelka.  Anelka was involved in an argument with the coach and this caused a rift between players and coach.  The outcome was that France went home after the group stage.  Dutch teams have also often been characterised by infighting and group conflict.


Teams need to be aware of the heat when working on tactics.  The high tempo, pressing game favoured by European teams, England included, is not suited to the heat of the Brazil and particularly the jungle in Manaus.  Many South American teams favour a passing team where the ball does the work and saves the energy of the players.

My choice of quarter finalists

I think Brazil and Argentina will be there and joined by two of Chile, France and The Ivory Coast.  I think that the Spanish team are one major tournament past their peak and their age may work against them; Germany will be hard to beat but their reliance on Miroslav Klose to score goals is risky.  Chile have two world stars in Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez and they play very attacking football.  France are developing as a team and in Rafael Varane and Paul Pogba have two outstanding young players.  If the Ivory Coast can develop a team ethic then players such as Yaya Toure, Chiek Tiote and Didier Drogba could make them a major force.

What about England’s chances?

I think that England are developing into a very effective team and that they will have the chance to grow throughout the tournament.  In 1990 the England team was introducing players such as Paul Gascoigne and David Platt to their first tournament and they excelled on the big stage. England’s Daniel Sturridge has to be scoring goals for England to progress but it is the players who supply the chances that are the central to success. The English players to watch are Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling.  Lallana has neither pace nor power but he has fast feet and can find space in tight areas; on the other hand Sterling has searing pace that can scare defenders.  If England are to progress they must beat Italy as it will be difficult for them when they face Uruguay.

Who wins then?

The World Cup favours the host nation, those with the best players and the most fanatical supporters.  I have to tip Brazil to win and Neymar to be top scorer.


Pollard, R. (2006). Home advantage in soccer: Variations in its magnitude and a literature review on interrelated factors associated with its existence. Journal of Sports Behaviour, 29, 169-189.