University programmes give athletes a sporting chance – Dr Susan Brown

Scottish gymnast Kelvin Cham
Scottish gymnast Kelvin Cham
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Sport has the potential to ­captivate and unite a nation like nothing else in life. ­Runners, footballers, rugby players and other athletes competing on the global stage can fill a pub with TV viewers, dominate online chat and become the focal point of workplace conversations the next day. However, the positive spin-offs from sport are not confined to top flight action in Olympic Games venues and World Cup stadiums.

Our strategy at Edinburgh Napier is to use research, teaching and ­community engagement to enhance and support sport at all levels, to the benefit of our students, staff and ­communities. The focus on ­communities has given us a springboard to develop partnerships that are increasing in number and ­becoming increasingly strong as their mutual benefits become ­evident.

We work with national governing bodies, including Scottish Rugby, Cricket Scotland and Scottish ­Gymnastics to improve performance and develop talent at all levels – from young athletes to coaches, and even including officials.

Take rugby. Five of Scotland’s recent Rugby World Cup squad are currently students at Edinburgh Napier, as are both of last year’s co-captains of the Scotland 7s squad. Edinburgh Napier is also the official partner of two of the new part-time professional Super 6 clubs – supporting ­Boroughmuir Bears and Watsonians in tailored ways throughout this inaugural season.

Our MSc Sports Officiating ­programme also includes officials at international level in rugby 7s and at Championship level in the English leagues for rugby union, but has an international profile across many sports.

We are also helping develop the Scottish football workforce. Chris Higgins and Paul Thomson graduated from our School of Applied ­Sciences last month, having ­completed the BSc Developing Athletes through Professional Practice. This work-based programme has allowed them to apply their developing insight and skills in their day job, developing young players using ­evidence-based practice as coaches at the Hearts FC Academy.

In gymnastics, two current ­competitive gymnasts, Kelvin Cham and Shannon Archer, who were part of Team Scotland at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, are now among seven gymnastics coaches being subsidised and supported by the national governing body on the same programme.

These degree programmes help coaches to evolve from a focus on the technical and tactical aspects of their sport, to becoming evidence-based practitioners who can analyse and understand the skill set of an athlete and help unlock their potential as an individual.

Students shift from coaching ­rugby (or any other sport) to an understanding that they need to apply critical thinking and problem solving to help coach individuals to improve their personal performance. A ­perfect example is another alumnus, Ben Fisher, now a coach with the All Blacks’ community development programme back in his native New Zealand.

Through our partnerships with both Scottish Gymnastics and ­Scottish Rugby, coaches can also study at post-graduate level here at Edinburgh Napier, finishing with a PG Diploma.

Our strategy also helps to develop dual career paths for athletes and coaches beyond competitive sport. Some student athletes progress into coaching or officiating, using our dedicated degree programmes to make that transition possible. Others study on any of our academic degree programmes, for example within the the business school, using our dual career policy to deliver effective ­academic support while they are still competing.

This policy provides flexibility around an individual student’s ­pattern of study or assessment. It ­enables them to prepare for, compete in, or coach at major events while studying without negatively impacting on either.

We now have dozens of athletes in the programme, in sports ranging from karate and kayaking to ­curling, while studying for a wide range of degrees.

To specifically meet the needs of athletes or practitioners working within the elite sport environment, Edinburgh Napier created the BA Business and Enterprise in Sport.

It’s part-time, flexible, and ­fully online, so students can keep up ­wherever in the world they happen to be training or competing. We believe the ethos of our sports strategy, with its strong support for coaches as well as athletes, makes our dual career policy unique in the UK.

Its strength was acknowledged when the university was accredited earlier this year by the UK Government’s Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS.gov.uk).

Edinburgh Napier is the only ­university in ­Scotland to hold this accreditation, recognising the ­flexibility we build into the Centre for Developing Athletes, which brings together ­programmes and partnerships under four principal objectives:

• To support the development of young sporting talent

• To help athletes to study while ­competing, through our dual careers programme

• To develop coaches, from volunteer entrants to postgraduate level study for professional coaches

• To provide flexible study routes to create a post-competition career.

Edinburgh Napier is complementing the requirements of our partners at every level of participation, from coaching beginners to officiating international sporting events.

To learn more about sport ­partnerships with Edinburgh Napier University, the dual career programme, the ­Centre for Developing Athletes or research and study opportunities visit napier.ac.uk/sport

Dr Susan Brown, lead for ­partnerships and enterprise in sport, Edinburgh Napier University.