Category Archives: Gavin Williams

Referencing In Sport: Getting your head round it!

By Helen Owton and Gavin Williams

Many students find referencing confusing and it seems that confusion comes from not fully understanding what is meant by voicing your own opinion in the context of an academic essay. Indeed, you are asked to write about what others have found and argued yet at the same time, you are told that you need to think for yourselves and come up with your own ideas and interpretations. According to Norton et al. (2009), those who are skilled essay writers respond to the essay by:

  • Reading the relevant sources
  • Formulating an argument that represents their personal stance
  • Ensuring that all the points they make in their essays are supported with evidence from the literature

Knowing when to reference and the specific conventions required can prove difficult, however, particularly for students new to studying at university level. The flowchart below “Is a reference needed?” provides some useful guidance for you:

Adapted from Cardiff University, 2006

As the diagram points out, you cannot make claims about knowledge in your essays without backing up with reference to the appropriate sources. It is the same with concepts and ideas. It might help to think about your own experiences; for example, think about how annoying you might find someone passing off one of your ideas in a meeting as their own without mentioning that the original idea came from you. As Jill, a student (cited in Norton et al., 2009, p. 79) points out “You can’t just make a point and leave it at that, you need to show the evidence is out there. This has been said and it is in this journal or this book” At undergraduate level, most points and ideas should be referenced, therefore, search through relevant journals and find previous research in order to support your points. First and foremost, you should use the module materials in order to show your understanding of what you have studied. As you increase through the levels (e.g. level 3), you might start to use other different sources of information as listed below:

  • Journals: the quantity and quality of your evidence will increase greatly and so will your topic of the area
  • Textbooks e.g. the Study Guide or Reader for your module(s).
  • Other credible documents

In E217 Sport and Conditioning Science into Practice, for example, you are encouraged to explore sources outside the module material to produce a “Personal Investigation”. Not only must you cite where you found ideas or knowledge, you must do this accurately as referencing is essential in higher education. You must do this in 2 ways:

  • In the text, by putting in brackets the author’s surname (not their initials) and the date when the study/book was published
  • And in the referencing section at the end of your essay, by alphabetically listing, by author, all journals, books, websites and other sources you referred to in the main text of your essay

Additionally, in sport, the general rule of thumb is to avoid using too many quotes because summarising information helps you understand something better as well as demonstrate your understanding to the person reading your work. Including too many quotes can result in a very superficial response to a question and when you are being marked you are not demonstrating your understanding to the reader/tutor. You should therefore keep direct quotes to a minimum and look to summarise (paraphrase) the information you have read whenever possible. Despite the need for referencing and citing appropriately, you must write about it in your own words. This can help demonstrate your understanding of what you have read and that you can apply this understanding to the question you are attempting to answer. Remember to reference it in the text AND in the reference list at the end of the essay. By doing this you are meeting academic criteria.

Getting penalised

It is important to get your head round referencing because a lack of referencing can directly affect the overall quality of your response to a question and consequently affect how tutors mark the essays. Many tutors take the view that when students have been told how to do something in their writing and then do not do it, it is valid to penalise them by lowering their mark (Norton et al., 2009). This happens particularly when a student’s turnitin scores are high (e.g. over 25%) which shows a high level of copying directly from another source or putting things in your own words. plagiarism

In order to gain further information about referencing on your module take a look at the Assessment Guide, available from the module website. The Open University library provides a range of resources to assist with academic writing and referencing. The Referencing and Plagiarism section here contains further information along with a very useful video about plagiarism. In addition, the Study Skills section on your StudentHome page also contains some very useful resources to help you plan and write assignments. Remember too that your tutor is there to provide support so do get in contact with them if you would like some specific advice about referencing.

In essence, “Every single name that appears in anything you write must be followed by a date in brackets, and the full reference must be presented at the end of your assignment” (Norton et al., 2009, p. 83). These cited references should then be listed at then end of your assignment in a reference list.

Reference List

Norton, L., and Pitt, E. with Harrington, K., Elander, J. and Reddy, P. (2009). Writing Essays at University: A Guide for Students by Students. London: London Metropolitan University, Write now Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Doping in rugby union: a case of papering over the cracks?

By Gavin Williams

Image courtesy of sscreations at

Image courtesy of sscreations at

An average of 7.8 million viewers tuned in to watch events at Twickenham on Friday 18th September as the self-proclaimed third largest sporting event in the world, the Rugby World Cup, began.

In the lead-up to the event – and amidst the current turmoil surrounding other elite sports such as athletics and cycling – World Rugby’s Anti-Doping Compliance manager, David Ho, has boldly claimed that the sport’s anti-doping programme is the envy of sports around the world.

Ho cites numerous reasons for this including an increased budget, the introduction of the athlete biological passport in 2014, and mandatory anti-doping education for players from under-20 level. The results appear to support Ho’s claim with only four positive tests from 2,100 elite samples taken in 2014 – less than one percent.

This however does not tell the full story. The timing of Ho’s proclamation coincided with the news that the 22-cap South Africa hooker, ‘Chiliboy’ Ralepelle, had been suspended for two years after testing positive for drostanolone, an anabolic steroid. And of course, some may argue that the lack of positive results simply indicates that elite athletes who choose to cheat are merely one step ahead.

While this positive test may be one of only a small number of exceptions at the elite level, further investigation of the sport closer to home reveals a slightly more disturbing picture.

Inspection of the UK Anti-Doping list reveals that of the 50 athletes and coaches currently serving bans for an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV), 16 are rugby union players. If we include rugby league, this figures rises to 29. The vast majority of sanctions are for the use of anabolic agents but the more surprising statistic is they are predominantly issued to players at lower levels of the sport. So what are the potential reasons for this?

Research evidence indicates that during the 20th century the stature and weight of rugby union players increased significantly, with body mass increases far exceeding those in the general population of young males during the same timeframe. Since the game turned professional in 1995 this trend has continued. Evidence from 2002- 2011 shows that the average height and weight for elite players in England increased for almost all positions, with significant differences in weight evident for fly half and back-row forwards (Fuller et al., 2013).

An interesting case comparison to demonstrate this is the New Zealand World Cup winning squad of 1987 and the squad of 2015 – favourites to retain the title. In 1987, the average weight was 99.5kg and 79kg for the forwards and backs respectively compared to 113kg and 95kg in 2015.

When accounting for the importance of size, strength and power it is perhaps slightly less surprising that the majority of doping bans are issued to those players attempting to gain entry to the elite levels of the game. The pressures faced by young people aspiring to ‘make it’ to the pinnacle of the sport – including the need for players to become bigger and stronger along with the benefits and rewards – can lead some to take short cuts. These pressures are the precise reasons cited by Sam Chalmers, son of former Scotland and British & Irish Lions fly-half Craig, who received a 2 year ban after testing positive for two anabolic steroids at a Scotland under-20 training session in 2013.

So, in returning to David Ho’s comments, one factor above all else is clear: while there may or may not be a problem at the elite level of the game, alongside rigorous testing procedures, sanctions and campaigns, education must begin at the junior level for all players so that they are aware of the inherent dangers and consequences of doping in the sport. Only then perhaps can rugby address the issue of doping at all levels.

An age-old rivalry decided by modern scientific advances? Hitting the peaks of performance

By Gavin Williams

Picture by Tomos Evans

Picture by Tomos Evans

Picture by Tomos Evans

Picture by Tomos Evans

Saturday represents the 127th International match between England and Wales, in what is the most significant game of the Rugby World Cup so far and undoubtedly the most significant match-up between the two nations in over a decade. At this point in the tournament, the stakes couldn’t be higher. A win could ensure one foot is firmly placed in the quarter finals but a loss ensures a must-win game against an in-form Australia XV who have just won the Rugby Championship. Of the 126 International matches between the two, England have won 58 and Wales 56.

The potential impact of home advantage is well documented, but Warren Gatland’s side have won twice at Rugby HQ since 2008, so the Twickenham fear-factor felt by Welsh teams of old is one not shared by the current group. Others have commented on the psychological impact of kit colour, and this may bode well for Wales as red has been shown to be associated with greater success. Debates will rage about the respective starting XVs, what they mean for the style of play adopted and how each will attempt to manage the game. These debates will extend beyond kick-off, at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening and continue well after the final whistle sounds.

At this level of the sport, what is clear however is the fine margin which differentiates between success and failure. This is encapsulated in a term, marginal gains, often associated with British Cycling and Team Sky and coined by Sir Dave Brailsford who describes it as “… the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of … and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”.

So how does this relate to Saturday’s game?

The search for these marginal gains and the extra edge to enhance performance explains the reason behind the intense – and somewhat gruelling – training camps undertaken by both teams in preparation for the tournament. The phrase attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” certainly cannot be directed at either camp in advance of the tournament.

Wales held a two-week camp at high altitude in Switzerland, employing a ‘live high-train low’ (LHTL) methodology. There were training camps in the heat of Doha where the squad continued to sleep at high altitude, in Colwyn Bay, north Wales and finally at their oft-utilised camp in Spala, Poland. England meanwhile utilised a two-week high altitude camp travelling in Denver, Colorado, approximately a mile above sea level, employing a ‘live high-train high’ (LHTH) methodology followed with training at their base in Pennyhill Park, Surrey.

Although the specific method employed by both teams differed, the use of high altitude highlights the investment in state-of-the-art training methods to gain an advantage.

But how would this impact on their performance at the Rugby World Cup?

Altitude presents a distinct physiological challenge to the body due to decreased barometric pressure, and thus, decreased partial pressure of oxygen (PO2) – termed hypoxia. It is widely documented to adversely affect human performance in the short-term (West, 1999), and initially lessens the intensity and duration of training that athletes are able to sustain due to the decreased availability of oxygen for working muscles.

Acclimatization to altitude however can result in central and peripheral physiological adaptations that improve performance, perhaps the most important an increase in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This is achieved through a proliferation of red blood cell production initiated by erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone predominantly produced in the kidneys and perhaps more commonly known for its use in blood doping by cyclists, which can enhance endurance performance and recovery.

More traditionally associated with endurance athletes, the potential impact of altitude training for team sports is now being explored (Brocherie et al., 2015).

The use of a LHTH methodology may be limiting as it detrimentally impacts on training intensity so other methods have been sought. Live-high train-low (LHTL), the method adopted by the Wales camp in Switzerland and Doha, is seen as the ‘Gold-standard’ altitude training method to enhance athletic performance (Levine and Stray-Gundersen, 1997). It is increasingly being used by sports teams at the elite level, as it can realise the benefits of increased red blood cell production attained through living and sleeping at higher altitudes without compensating training intensity. It therefore avoids the potential issues encountered with LHTH methods. This is of particular importance for relatively short stays at altitude, like those undertaken by the Wales and England camps.

Furthermore, in an intermittent sport such as rugby, increased red blood cell count and enhanced oxygen-carrying capacity can promote recovery between the bouts of exercise, which may have an impact during the latter stages of the match. This of course may influence the tactical approach with the sides seeking to employ a high-tempo game, keeping the ball in play for long durations to tire their opponents.   The Welsh squad is renowned for the emphasis placed on fitness levels while the commentary team during last Friday’s opening game against Fiji highlighted the importance of keeping the ball in play for the English side. It could well be, then, that the side which is better prepared physically will emerge victorious as the impact of fatigue on decision making and the ability to stick to the game-plan may well have a significant impact on the outcome.

So off the back of a strenuous summer of training, which team will be savouring the fruits of their labour? By 9:45 p.m. tomorrow evening, we will find out.