Monthly Archives: March 2016

Student Story: Michael Trott

Michael Trott joined the Army in his late teens and spent two years with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) before being medically discharged. He decided to embark on the OU’s Foundation Degree in Sport and Fitness as he felt education was the only way forward. Michael says he is now a different person. He recently won ‘The One’, a competition for fitness instructors from all over the world and will be travelling to New Zealand early in 2016 to take part in the masterclass filming. Michael hasn’t ruled out the possibility of further OU study and is considering the MBA, which he hopes will gain him entry to the world of sports management.

“I left school with no A levels and joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) when I was 19. After two years I was medically discharged from the Army and a few years later decided education was the only way forward. I’d heard about the OU, so I had a look at the website. I’d always enjoyed sport and because of my injuries was attracted to physiology, Michael Trott 2so the Foundation Degree in Sport and Fitness appealed to me. I discovered that I was eligible for financial aid because of my injuries, so I signed up. An additional benefit of the OU was its flexibility – I’d be able to carry on working while I was studying.

The registration process was very easy; I enrolled for all my modules online. The only paperwork I had to complete was the application for financial aid.

My tutors were great and I was completely blown away by the TMA feedback they gave; it was so detailed. They were also very prompt to respond whenever I emailed them to ask questions. The module materials were easy to follow and the quality very high. One of the best things about the OU is that everything is given to you on a plate – you always know what you have to do and when. For me, the online discussion forums and tutor group forums were also helpful.

Michael Trott 1I can honestly say that without my OU qualification, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was what you might describe as a ‘typical’ soldier, but studying with the OU has changed me as a person. There’s a lot of respect out there for an OU degree, which helps career wise. I now work at the University of Cambridge as a fundraiser and I teach fitness classes around the city. Recently, I represented the UK at ‘ONE LIVE’ in Stockholm in the final of ‘The One’, a competition for fitness instructors from around the world and I was delighted to be declared the winner!

Getting my degree wasn’t without its challenges. The biggest one for me was learning to write academically. What kept me going, though, was the fact that I was enjoying my studies and was able to apply what I was learning to my everyday life; quitting would have been counterproductive. Learning to write well has obviously paid off: I’m now a guest blogger for WatchFit and a contributing writer for Myprotein.

I’ll always remember my graduation ceremony at the Barbican Centre. It was a great day and being there made everything ‘official’. Another major highlight of my OU experience was getting good grades for my assignments.

Who knows what’s next for me? Winning ‘The One’ means a trip to Auckland, New Zealand in January 2016 to take part in the masterclass filming. As regards further study, I’d definitely do an MSc with the OU if one in sport and fitness were available. At the moment I’m looking at the possibility of doing an MBA with the OU as it’s such a highly regarded qualification and would help me enter the world of sports management.”

If you have been inspired by Michael’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.

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

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss and Karen Howells


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

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

Physical Attributes and Physiology

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


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

Science and Technology

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


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


Superqueeroes: Gender and superheroes

By Helen Owton & Meg-John Barker (With expertise input from Joseph de Lappe)

The new Batman v Superman film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is coming out on 25th March 2016 so we thought this would be a good chance to reflect on superhero movies: particularly the place of gender in them. 

We’re particularly interested in the role of binaries and hierarchies in these kinds of films. Batman v Superman pitches two well-known superheroes against each other in a binary way, and – of course – the superhero genre as a whole is based on the linked binaries of hero v villain, good v bad, and right v wrong, with the former winning out in the end. More recent versions of superhero movies trouble these simple distinctions somewhat. For example, The Dark Knight version of Batman is less clear cut, and the two groups of X-men can be seen as more about assimilationism v radical approaches to activism. However, audiences may well not pick up on such nuances.

An additional binary and hierarchical consideration in Superhero movies is needed. Characters are male or female, with predominantly male characters, and masculinity is privileged over femininity in various ways.

Currently, we are living through a golden age of comics, with a vibrant independent comic and graphic novel scene which includes strong representations of womenExternal link  and LGBT+External link  characters, much of which has been taken up by mainstream superhero comicsExternal link  too. Nonetheless, there is a serious disparity between this shift in comics, and the continued limited representation in the movies which are based on these comics.

Wonder Woman and women/men in superhero movies

You might be surprised to learn that Wonder Woman is making an appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice given that both title and trailer suggest that the film will revolve around two well-known male superheroes. In superhero comics Wonder Woman has been part of the recent positive trend towards strong representations of women, notably with Gail SimoneExternal link ’s seminal run writing for Wonder Woman. However, turning to the movie, Wonder Woman actor Gal Gadot (who served two years as a sports trainer in the Israeli Defense Forces) has been blasted on social media already for being too slim, not busty, and not fit enough to play the part, but this should not be surprising given that women tend to be more heavily criticised on appearances. Not only is there a complete lack of women in superhero films, but the women are either cast as damsels in distressExternal link (e.g. Lois Lane) which serves to infantilise women, or as sidekicks to a main male character(s). This is the case in many of the recent X-men and Avengers movies, for example, very few of which pass the Bechdel testExternal link  (a simple test with three criteria: 1) features two or more female characters, 2) who have a conversation with each other at some point, 3) about something other than males). It also seems a shame that the Bechdel test is still what we’re aiming at rather than, for example, equal numbers of male and female characters, and female characters playing a major role.


(Illustration: ‘Wonder Women’ by Helen Owton, 2016, Pencil, 297x420mm, 130 gsm white cartridge paper)

Hopefully, the inclusion of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman is a precursor for the specific Wonder WomanExternal link  movie due for release in 2017. However, we fear in the Batman v Superman movie that she will end up merely a sidekick behind the two white heterosexual hyper-masculinised superheroes, thus positioning her as second-class to the men.

It is worrying that Batman v Superman continues with the same hyper-masculine aesthetic that has defined superhero movies for so long. For example, superheroism enables individuals to express aggression, competitiveness, speed, strength, invincibility, and skill – traits commonly associated with hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is white, heterosexual, privileged/middle-class, and able-bodied masculinity which is generally represented as opposite and superior to femininity and homosexuality (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). Thus hegemonic hyper-masculinity marginalises other masculinities (e.g. black, disabled, working class, gay) and devalues femininity (Connell, 1987). Also, the hyper-masculinity expressed in superhero movies is frequently tortured, addicted, lonely, and painful. We could reflect on the gendered violence inherent in the messages this gives to young male viewers about (hyper)masculinity requiring such suffering.

Unlike Wonder Woman there are many female superheroes that have not made it into films as sidekicks let alone solo or lead roles in a film (e.g. Ironwoman, Batwoman, Spiderwoman, Ms Marvel, She-Hulk). When women superheroes do appear, often they are dressed in over-sexualised costumesExternal link  in an attempt to appeal to a presumed male heterosexual audience. They are scantily clad (e.g. Elektra) or dressed in PVC (e.g. Catwoman). Attempts to gender-flip the outfits and posturesExternal link  of superheroes have usefully drawn attention to how sexualised and ridiculous female superhero costumes and postures often are. These attempts also draw attention to the clear male/female binary that is in play (when women are represented at all in superhero movies). It is possible to gender flip characters – and find the results ridiculous – because the depictions are so very binary: hypermasculine male characters and hypersexualised female characters.


Battling the super-binary

Just as superhero films rarely radically challenge binary ways of thinking about moral values (e.g. good v bad, wrong v right), also they rarely question gender binaries (men v women, masculine v feminine), or the related ways in which men have been privileged in terms of legal status, formal authority, political and economic power, access to resource, and sexuality. They do little to challenge a gender ideology that is based on a simple binary classification model which comes with quite fixed ideas about how to understand sex and gender. This binary model suggests that all people can be classified into one of two sex categories: male or female. These sex categories are identified as oppositional and defined in biological terms. According to the model, males are assumed to be completely different (in terms of feelings, thoughts and actions) from females which then form the expectations for the ways people define and identify gender (masculine and femininity). This gender ideology is so deeply rooted in our social worlds that we hardly think to question this organising principle (Coakley & Pike, 2009). This means that many people resist thinking about gender in new ways and often feel uncomfortable when others do not fit neatly into one sex category or the other; a problem experienced by many trans athletes competing in sport. This classification of all bodies into two separate categories appears to reflect social and cultural ideas rather than biological facts (Jordan-Young, 2010). Evidence suggests that sex/gender isn’t entirely binary on any level of physiology or psychology (chromosomes, hormones, brain structure, personality, gender roles, Fausto-Sterling, 2000). For example, Daphna JoelExternal link ’s research (2011, 2015) has found that it is extremely rare for anybody to have what used to be thoughts of as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain: most people’s brains display a mixture of featuresExternal link . And on the level of experience, over a third of peopleExternal link  said that they were to some extent the ‘other’ gender, ‘both genders’ and/or ‘neither gender’.

Superqueering gender

If we are to shift the hierarchical positioning of men as superior to women in the superhero movie genre (and beyond), perhaps we need to go further than fighting for the inclusion of equal numbers of female characters at an equal level to male characters, and no more sexualised than male characters. Perhaps we need to also encourage the inclusion of characters who question the assumption of a fixed gender binary. One way of shifting the notion of fixed binary genders is to challenge the expectation that conventionally ‘male’ characters need to remain male in the movie versions, and to be played by male actors. Given the historical context of most of the superhero comics things are unlikely to change until some of the sidekick/damsel in distress female characters are elevated to heroes in their own right and writers and directors recognise that just because a character was originally depicted as a straight, white, male, doesn’t mean they have to remain that way. There are several examples of such shifts in superhero comicsExternal link , although these are often received with at least as much criticism as celebration from readers. Another, more radical option, is the inclusion of more characters who explicitly challenge the gender binary, either by focusing on already non-binary characters, or by making currently binary characters non-binary. There are a few possibilities already available in the superhero canon. For example, the character of LokiExternal link  in the Thor/Avengers comics and movies who can shapeshift different genders. Although Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (not a conventional superhero series) has come up against glitchesExternal link  in attempts to be developed into a movie, it also includes an androgynous character, DesireExternal link , who appears in different genders (as do other characters at times). However it’s worth noting that both these characters are probably closer to being villains than heroes, reflecting the way in which non-binary characters – like bisexual characters – tend to be represented as evil, manipulative, and suspicious. Also already non-binary characters do not have to be the limit. Just as there seems to be no reason not to have a female actor playing Hulk or Professor X, is there any reason not to have a non-binary Spider or Bat person? There are already a number of far more explicitly queer/trans superhero comics which could be adapted for the screen, such as The Young AvengersExternal link ,the wicked + the divineExternal link Astro City #16External link , or Grant Morrison’s and Rachel Pollock’s runs on Doom PatrolExternal link , if film-makers could get past always returning to the same set of heroes and villains. Queering superhero movies in this way not only has the potential to empower queer and trans audiences through seeing themselves represented, but also it can liberate straight and cisgender audiences by offering something other than rigid binaries of hypermasculinity and sexualised femininity.


As with other intersecting identities such as disability, race, class, and sexuality, clearly there is still a very long way to go with gender in the superhero movie genre. Whilst the inclusion of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman could be seen as a step forward, it still feels like a small step indeed, and it remains to be seen whether the movie even passes the low bar of the Bechdel Test. In future media representations it would be great to see female characters on an equal footing with male characters, women actors playing originally male characters, films with central female superheroes (like the Netflix series, Jessica JonesExternal link ), and all-female cast superhero movies (as with the new GhostbustersExternal link  film), explicit gay/lesbian characters (like Xena: Warrior PrincessExternal link ), men playing more feminine characters and women more masculine ones, and explicitly trans and non-binary characters and actors in both leading and supporting roles.

This entry was posted on OpenLearn. Read the original article.

Adam Johnson guilty: Why is there so much depravity in football?

By Helen Owton


Adam Johnson leaves Bradford Crown Court after being found guilty of one count of sexual activity with child (Getty)

On 2 March 2016, 28-year-old former Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson was found guilty of grooming (a strategy used to convince or coerce a child or young person to engage in sexual behaviour) and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl. At the time of his crime, his then girlfriend Stacey Flounders had just given birth to their daughter, and he has since also admitted to cheating on her several times.

Now he faces a ten-year sentence, serving a minimum of five years. Although in this case the offence concerned a child, this is certainly not the first instance of sexual or violent offences, or disrespectful behaviour towards women we have seen from footballers.

In 2012, Ched Evans was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman and he has since served half of his five-year sentence. Since his release in 2014, he has pushed to return to his club Sheffield United, but they withdrew an early offer after the intense public response.

Even when not committing a crime, some footballers’ lack of respect toward women has been exposed to the public. In 2015, three Leicester City footballers – Tom Hopper, Adam Smith and James Pearson – were sacked from the club after being seen on film engaging in what has been described as a “racist orgy” with a group of Thai women.

These recent cases have sparked debates about whether sportspeople who have crossed the line should continue to occupy the exalted status of “sports star“. However, why do they think they will be able to get away with it in the first place?

Jock culture

One of the problems with the culture of sport is that it places athletes on a pedestal that gives them celebrity status. Many argue that competitive sporting environments provide a unique socio-cultural context that offer possibilities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place.

Research has found that male college student athletes were responsible for a significantly higher percentage of reports of sexual assault on the campuses of Division I institutions (the highest level of intercollegiate athletes).

Other research showed that while male college athletes in the US made up only 3.3% of the collegiate population, they represented 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators. While sport does not cause domestic and sexual violence, “it can provide the conditions that enable forms of domestic violence“.

When sportspeople believe that they are above the law, invincible, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour

Men’s football, in particular, provides a platform to global celebrity, bloated salaries, corporate sponsorship and fan adulation that can catapult male footballers into famous millionaires. This status comes with power that has the potential to be abused.

As Scott Goll wrote, professional athletes seem to be “used to getting what they want. They get the attention. They get the money. To some extent, I believe there’s a sense of entitlement.”

Therefore, when sportspeople believe that they are above the law, invincible, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour. They believe that the “jock culture” of which they are a part takes precedence over any other authoritative structures outside their sporting world.

Reinforced entitlement and invincibility

Furthermore, this sense of entitlement and invincibility seems to be preserved; when they do commit serious offences (e.g. violent or sexual), evidence suggests that “professional athletes are not punished by the leagues, teams, or criminal justice system as harshly or consistently as their general public counterparts”.

The overwhelmingly high value placed on men’s sport, specifically men’s football, means that they think they can get away with it and maybe many of them do given that abuse is likely to be underreported.

“We need to enable and support victims, bystanders and other sportspeople to become ‘whistleblowers’ in order to continue to challenge the ‘lad culture’ that seems to exist in football”

During the trial at Bradford Crown Court, Johnson claimed he told Sunderland’s chief executive Margaret Byrne “everything from the start” and that he had kissed a 15-year-old fan. Following his arrest, he was suspended. However, this suspension was lifted 16 days later with him then playing nine months of football, during which he earned £2m.

Sunderland FC have now issued a lengthy statement denying they were aware of Johnson’s intentions to plead guilty and would have sacked him earlier if they did. The statement added that Johnson’s claim he informed the club of his intentions “is utterly without foundation and is refuted in the strongest possible terms.”

‘Lad culture’

In response to Johnson’s guilty verdict, football fans have also taken to social media and some of the responses following Johnson’s conviction highlight the way ‘lad culture’ can trivialise and normalise the issue.

Breaking the Silence

When victims are subjected to abuse by a famous footballer, it can be extremely difficult to report it; they feel they won’t be believed and there is a risk of victim-blaming and trivialisation from football fans. Not only did Ched Evans’ victim experience the worst victim-blaming ever seen in this country after moving house five times because she was repeatedly named on social media, but she will have to relive this ordeal again when his conviction is reviewed later this month.

Similarly, Adam Johnson’s victim was subjected to bullying and abuse when her name and picture were unlawfully posted online. She was called a “slag” who was “making it up”, or a “slut” who must have lured the footballer by claiming she was over 18.

We need to enable and support victims, bystanders and other sportspeople to become ‘whistleblowers’ in order to continue to challenge the ‘lad culture’ that seems to exist in football. In the US, the Major League Baseball Players Association have done this by suspending Ardolis Chapman for 30 games after domestic violence allegations from his girlfriend. This action demonstrates a strong statement that the MLBPA does not condone this sort of behaviour and are adhering to the sport’s new policy on domestic violence.

Since 2014, debates have emerged that question whether sportspeople should be able to return to compete after a conviction involving a sexual offence, and be positioned on a pedestal where they continue to hold wealth, power and be glorified in the public eye. But should footballers be granted this much power in the first place.

This article was originally published on IBTimes. Read the original article.

Rugby: A game of risk and reward

By Jessica Pinchbeck

As a parent I fully support and actively encourage my children’s involvement in a range of sports activities. Sport can bring about so many positive developments and watching my son play rugby this season I have seen improvements not only in his physical skill level but also his psychological and social skills. For example, his decision making, concentration and attitude have all developed. Similarly, his confidence, and general maturity when talking to coaches and referees have carried forward into every aspect of his life. Despite this at the back of my mind is the knowledge that as he gets older and tackling becomes part of the game (from U9 onwards) perhaps the risks will begin to outweigh the rewards. In particular the risk of spinal injury is the scariest to contemplate. But what is the nature of such a risk and am I just being an overprotective mother?

What is the risk?
Fuller (2008) found that “the risk of catastrophic injury in rugby union was comparable with that experienced by most people in work-based situations and lower than that experienced by motorcyclists, pedestrians and car occupants” and concluded that “the risk of sustaining a catastrophic injury in rugby union could be regarded as acceptable and that the laws of the game therefore adequately manage the risk”. MacLean and Hutchinson (2012) conducted an audit of U19 player admissions to spinal injury units in Great Britain and Ireland. They found that U19 rugby players sustained serious neck injuries requiring admission to spinal injury units with a low but persistent frequency, with the rate of admission in Scotland being “disproportionately high”. The study also highlighted the lack of a register of catastrophic neck injuries making it difficult to accurately track the number of rugby related neck injuries in U19 players. Whilst the risks involved in rugby have received a lot of media attention in recent weeks it is important to note that any sport which involves movement and force can cause spinal injury, like football, water sports, wrestling, rugby, and ice hockey (Mishra, 2010).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was first published on OpenLearn

Is sleep the secret of success for athletes?

Today, March 18th, is World Sleep Day. We all recognise the importance of sleep and know how it feels when we don’t get enough, but how important is sleep to sports performance?

This is a question that is explored in our new module E314 Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sport and Exercise. In the video below Caroline Heaney gives an overview of the role that sleep plays for athletes.

For more articles and posts relating to sleep CLICK HERE.

Student Story: Alan Campbell, Olympic Medallist

Alan Campbell is an Olympic rower competing for Great Britain and is also studying for an OU degree. Alan’s coach encouraged him to think about his future after rowing and so Alan enrolled onto a degree in Leadership and Management. Having a competing career as an athlete whilst also trying to complete his studies has not been without its challenges, but Alan is due to complete his studies in 2016 and compete at his 4th Olympics games in Rio.

Alan Campbell 2

My rowing coach, Bill Barry, was the person who encouraged me the most to study. He’s a businessman himself and had a business background outside of rowing. He’s an Olympic silver medallist from 1964 but realised that rowing will come to an end one day. As an athlete there will come a time when you get too tired and can no longer compete, so there has to be something beyond sport, or beyond rowing for me. Effectively one career will be coming to an end and I need a way into another career, the OU presented that opportunity for me.

Alan Campbell 3The OU was convenient, well known and could fit around my life. The fact is that I wouldn’t have been able to go to a normal university and attend lectures whilst being an athlete. My life involves attending training camps around the world and I’ve got a family at home, so I need to be able to study whenever I can and not when someone else tells me to study. I don’t know of any other university that can offer that opportunity in the same way and at the same level.

My OU experience so far has been a very positive one. It’s a degree and it’s not easy – it’s a hard thing to fit around an already busy life, but you’ve got to make time for it. There are times when I’ve had to cram work in at the last minute, times when I’ve been up very late and I shouldn’t have been because I had rowing the next day. There have been times where I’ve found it very frustrating but I’ve always felt like I’ve been well supported. I seem to be getting good marks and doing well at the same time.

CAS000301_highres_0I’ve had to contact the tutors previously for extensions, which I’ve fully utilised, and sometimes for a re-mark. What I like about the OU tutors is that they haven’t all come from a purely academic background, they are from business backgrounds and a lot of them still work full time in their field and the OU is part time for them. I’ve found whenever I’ve asked them questions related to my course they are talking from personal experience too – this is something I’ve always found much more helpful.

Alan Campbell 4If I had to sum up my overall OU experience I would say that it’s been tough but rewarding. It’s given me an opportunity for the future.

My advice would be to have a look at degrees you like the look of and to start with level 1 courses and certificates – they really give you an insight into what studying is like. I feel like my degree will open up a lot of opportunities for me and that people will notice the OU degree. Unlike a lot of other athletes, I didn’t finish my degree first time around – I started an Engineering degree before I left to go rowing. But my OU degree will be relevant because it’ll be more recent. I’ll come out of rowing in 2016 after Rio, which will be my 4th Olympics, and will finish my degree in 2016 too.”

If you are interested in studying sport and fitness at The Open University please visit our ‘Study with us‘ page.

Join our team: Lecturer in Sports Coaching

Lecturer in Sports Coaching

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

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

Closing date: 5.00pm 31 March 2016


The road to ruin: are Ultra-endurance events worth the risk?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Sport, exercise and physical activity hold different significance and meaning to every individual, whether it is a part of your daily life, something you watch from a distance or something all-consuming that defines who you are. Maintaining a regular routine of exercise is frequently cited as being highly effective for prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases and unequivocally improves cardiovascular health (Sharkey and Gaskill, 2007). However, with ever growing participation in ultra-endurance events all over the world research has started to look in more detail at the impact this type of exercise has on the human body (IAU Ultra Marathon, 2013).  Ultra-endurance is the term given to events that last for over 6 hours, with the term ultra-running being applied to distances over a marathon distance of 26.2 miles (Wortley and Islas, 2011).  People seem to seek out these ultra-type events in order to test themselves, with Hinton (2016) a former double ironman competitor reporting ‘Ironman didn’t break me, mentally or physically.  I wanted to know my limits’ and while this form of challenge carries with it a huge sense of achievement and success, is there a downside to it all?

Watching the actor/comedian Eddie Izzard take on yet another ultra-marathon event in the name of Sport Relief is a prime example of the potential downside to endurance competition. Izzard is currently embarking on the challenge of 27 marathons in 27 days, and while he has already earned the title Marathon Man following his 2009 achievement of 47 marathons in 51 days this current challenge (one he failed to complete in 2012) carries with it the additional factor of 30 degree heat (Izzard, 2016).  Izzard doesn’t look well, he was forced to take a rest day on day 5, and now three days later the strain on his body is starting to visibly show (BBC, 2016).  The warning 4 years ago was that if he didn’t stop he would die (Izzard, 2016), but is the challenge worth the potentially permanent damage he could do to his body?

Physical Effects

Many of us have experienced delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) which tends to occur 24 hours after exercise (Sharkey and Gaskill, 2007). Although uncomfortable DOMS will probably be the least of Izzard’s worries. Endurance events put increased stress on the body, in particular on the immune system making a person vulnerable to risk of infection (Walsh, et al, 2011). Specifically, a substantial body of work accumulated over the last 20 years has shown that intense endurance exercise, such as running, swimming, cycling or rowing results in significant changes in white blood cell count (Lancaster and Febbraio, 2016). While exercise is universally shown to have health benefits (up to one hour daily), researchers looking at long distance races have cautioned that as well as inhibiting the immune system this form of exercise may lead to overload of the heart atria and right ventricle which could ultimately make someone more prone to unfavorable heart arrhythmias later in life (O’Keefe, et al, 2012).

That said there is much contrary evidence to support that those who do participate in ultra-sport in a measured manner are very happy and due to the slower paced and reduced impact compared to elite marathon runners actually get far less overuse injuries (Wortley and Islas, 2011).  Research by Krouse et al, which looked at female ultra-runners also concluded that they tended to have much better mental health, and psychological coping strategies (2011).


An interesting factor that could actually be in Izzard’s favour is his age, research into this area has found that being over 40 can be a huge advantage when it comes to endurance sport. Knechtle et al (2012) found that when looking at results from the 100km ultra-marathon the percent of finishers significantly increased for the 40–49 and the 50–59-year age groups indicating that this is an optimum age to compete in these type of events. This was also echoed by Hoffman and Krishnan, (2014) who found that runners over 40 tended to have a lower occurrence of injury. Another key benefit of age is that it comes with a higher level of resolve, older athletes tend to have more mental strength than younger athletes (Li, 2016 cited in BBC, 2016). So while we see Izzard ‘physically wilting’ his determination is at an all time high, giving him the willpower to push on (BBC, 2016).

What’s clear is that endurance sport is a way of life, and that ultra-athletes are a unique subculture of people who are striving to challenge themselves both mentally, physically and emotionally. I am constantly in awe of many of my friends who take on such extreme and challenging competitions, whether they are competing in 24 hour running races or 250km treks across the desert. Their motives are pure, as Varvel a multiple ultra-competitor sums up, saying there is a sense of ‘self-fulfilment’ and these varied experiences are seen as ‘life-affirming’ (2016). The primal desire to be at one with nature and bond with others in the face of adversity are all needs that are met by the world of ultra-racing.


BBC. (2016). How will 27 marathons affect Eddie Izzard. BBC News. Available at Accessed 28th February 2016.

BBC, (2016). Marathon Man. Available at . Accessed 1st March 2016.

Hinton, L. (2016) Personal Communication. 24th February 2016.

Hoffman, M.D. and Krishnan, E. (2014). Health and Exercise-Related Medical Issues among 1,212 Ultramarathon Runners: Baseline Findings from the Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) Study. PLOS. 10. Available at Accessed 29th February 2016

IAU Ultra Marathon. (2013), available at accessed 1st March 2016

Izzard, E. (2016). Marathon Man. Available at Accessed 1st March 2016.

Knechtle, B., Rust, C.A., Rosemann, T. and Lepers, R. (2012). Age-related changes in 100-km ultra-marathon running performance. Age. 34 (4), 1033-1045.

Krouse, R.Z., Ransdell, L.B., Lucas, S.M. and Pritchard, M.E. (2011). Motivation, Goal Orientation, Coaching and Training Habits of Women Ultrarunners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25 (10), 2835-2842.

Lancaster, G.I. and Febbraio, M.A. (2016). Exercise and the immune system: implications for elite athletes and the general population. Immunology and Cell Biology. 94. 115-116.

O’Keefe, J.H., Patil, H.R., Lavie, C.J. et al. (2012). Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(6), 587-595.

Sharkey, B.J. and Gaskill, S.E. (2007) Fitness and Health. Champaign. Human Kinetics

Varvel, M. (2016). Personal Communication. 24th February 2016.

Walsh, N.P., Gleeson, M., Shepard, R.J. (2011). Position Statement Part One: Immune function and exercise. Exercise Immunology Review, 17, 6-63

Wortley, G. and Islas, A.A. (2011). The problem with ultra-endurance athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 45 (14), 1085.

Taster material from OU sport and fitness modules

If you are interested in studying with us and would like to find out more about the sport and fitness modules available as part of our BSc (hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree at The Open University you may find these taster materials useful.










For more information on the Sport and Fitness qualifications we offer click here.