Dual Career Focus Puts Post 16 Athletes Ahead Of The Game
The TASS Dual Career Accreditation Scheme was established in 2016 and continues to drive best practice for post-16 athletes in full-time education. An independent evaluation of the scheme, conducted by Canterbury Christ Church University, provided an invaluable insight into the positive work undertaken by accredited institutions and established a framework for future development. We summarised the major talking points with the key players driving dual career support at accredited TASS centres across the country.
TASS: Ensuring athletes have a voice and an identity is a key focus of the Dual Career Accreditation Scheme — is there strong evidence that this aim is being met?
Steve Wilkinson (Loughborough College): As an example, I was sat in a meeting looking at accommodation. It was with the senior management focus group and there were seven students in the room. Of those seven students, five were sport students. And of those five, three were on dual career pathways. They were more than confident in terms of voicing their opinions and sharing their experiences with staff. They’re able to support each other and also ensure that senior managers put the appropriate interventions in place to make the student experience even better. It was nice to see that our dual career students have such a strong voice and that they’re keen to make that voice heard.
Hannah Marshall (TyneMet College, part of the TyneCoast Group): We encourage our TASS athletes to develop confidence, resilience, independence and leadership skills. There’s a tried and tested package of support to help them with that. We also run a successful leadership academy where dual career students have access to volunteering and leadership opportunities. TASS supported students have an opportunity to become leaders, mentor younger athletes, develop their personalities and raise their profiles.
TASS: Why do dual career athletes require a full support network and how can this benefit them on and off the pitch?
Becs McCairns (King Ecgbert School): It’s hugely important. Dual career athletes face unique challenges that it’s impossible to understand if you haven’t ever been in that position. As a PE teacher and head of sixth form, I know how exhausting it can be to combine sport with studies. Communication and celebrating students’ successes is essential. We are hugely proud of them.
James Bedwell (Itchen Sixth Form College): A full support network is vital and the TASS Dual Career Accreditation Scheme is focused on ensuring that network exists for our student athletes. Our TASS students have regular access to me as the Dual Career Coordinator and that means at least one meeting a week as a group. That’s where we can go over their schedule — both sporting and academic — and touch base on how everything is going. Of course, this year has been far easier in terms of keeping track of schedules even if it’s been more difficult in almost every other respect. In previous years we’ve had students spending long periods of time abroad so the contact time we do have becomes even more important. We also deliver specific workshops to the TASS athletes. We focus on things like mental health, stress around exams and the quality of sleep required to improve academic performance. And we offer flexibility to students who are forced to miss classes as a result of their sporting commitments.
Carl Jones (Sunderland College): Athletes in further education truly benefit from targeted support. At Sunderland we’re able to ensure that they get the support that’s specific to their sport. We cater for everyone from boxers to track and field athletes to golfers. We work with a wide variety of sports and there are no barriers to what those dual career athletes can achieve give the right level of support. We’re very flexible with our student athlete offer and our TASS accreditation helps with that flexibility.
TASS: How much of an emphasis do you place on your dual career athletes gaining the life skills and practical experience required to pursue their goals?
HM: Traditionally, many of the courses at TyneMet have been vocational with a focus on getting work-based experience. That crosses over into what we can offer our dual career athletes. TASS students are able to access workshops covering a range of disciplines from cooking to psychology. They can gain skills which support them as athletes and as young people. The additional life skills they learn as TASS athletes can be very important to future employers. Dual career athletes are very aware of their potential career pathways and keen to pursue education as well as sport. And they want to know that the support to do that is there. It’s our role to provide them with the basic skills they need to thrive as athletes and achieve their career goals on and off the pitch. Being the best athlete that they can be is hugely important but combining that with career development is the key.
SW: Our workshops for dual career athletes help students to focus on their goals and we often introduce individuals who have been there, done it and worn the tee shirt. Before Christmas I invited a student who left us in 2014 to talk to the current students. Her name’s Amelia Coltman and she made her World Cup debut for GB in November in the skeleton bobsleigh. She was an elite tennis player during her time at Loughborough before transition to the bobsleigh and that, in itself, is impressive. Amelia was sat in Latvia talking to 37 of our sport students via Zoom and they hung on her every word. They fed off her enthusiasm and knowledge and related to an athlete who has transitioned from student to full-time athlete and even from sport to sport and successfully overcome a series of challenges. For our students to know that someone like Amelia was in their shoes just a few years ago is invaluable. She has dealt with the pressures of university, living away from home and evolving into a world class athlete — using her life skills and practical experience every day.
TASS: Communication is key between dual career athletes, their tutors and their coaches. How clear are those channels of communication?
CJ: There is clearly a need for clear channels of communication between athletes, coaches and academic staff. I work with the college lecturers to ensure they’re well aware of individual students’ sporting commitments and how those commitments may impact upon their timetable. On the other side of the coin it’s hugely important that we don’t hinder what our students’ education looks like and so it’s all about collaboration and communication. We work closely with coaches and governing bodies in order to plan in advance. A good example is Caitlin Cambrook who’s one of our students and an elite swimmer. She studies Sport and Exercise Sciences at the College and is on the TASS programme. Her coach is in constant communication with me and it’s my job to pass on that information to the relevant lecturers and tweak Caitlin’s timetable to reflect her training and competition commitments. It’s a three-way conversation and we’re all connected to ensure students’ study programmes are adjusted accordingly.
JB: We signpost the students early in September and they’re tagged as dual career athletes straight away. All of the staff are aware of their status and the students know that they can approach tutors to discuss additional support. Our Iris system allows all staff to monitor attendance and adjust timetables if necessary. We can comment and keep each other informed and ensure that the students can get back up to speed as quickly as possible if they have had to miss classes due to their sporting commitments.
TASS: Do dual career athletes find it challenging striking the balance between their sport and their studies?
BM: They’re a fairly well organised and mature bunch because of the nature of the lives the lead. I think a lot depends upon the relationship and partnerships that we have with the athletes’ clubs and governing bodies — a positive relationship with regular dialogue can really help a dual career student find his or her feet. I see both sides. But I guess our dual career athletes do have to learn fast when it comes to balancing their commitments on and off the field.
JB: The second years who have been through the process before are definitely better at managing their time now. At the beginning of their time as TASS athletes we ask all students to really focus on their schedules and fill in calendars detailing all of their upcoming sporting commitments. During the academic year, at least two weeks before they require some flexibility with their timetable, they’re asked to fill in an absence form. That form goes to the assistant principle to be signed off and it doesn’t affect their attendance. It’s one of the skills that we encourage them to develop because if they go on to become a professional athlete or work for any kind of organisation then managing time and schedules will be key.
TASS: Does the association with TASS strengthen your position as a key player in the FE sport sector?
SW: When the TASS Dual Career Accreditation Scheme was initially rolled out we were part of the pilot. We already did some of the things being asked of us but what we didn’t have was the recognition and kudos associated with the TASS name and logo. There are also a few buzzwords dominating the conversation within FE sport right now and ‘dual career’ is a hot topic of conversation. As far as the majority of governing bodies are concerned that’s the way forward and so it’s important that we’re part of that conversation and part of that move. The association with TASS has helped us to recruit talented athletes but the two things go hand in hand. We know we’re a good place for sports development but the TASS logo increases the recognition of what we offer here. By increasing the recognition we attract more students and need to recruit more staff but it’s a positive cycle and something we’re keen to promote.
CJ: Students considering Sunderland as a college know that we’re a TASS accredited centre and they know that extra support is part of our offer. It’s very much on their agenda when they’re looking at why to study here. We are committed to supporting our dual career athletes both in terms of their overall fitness and their profile. Students in further education don’t always have a programme that’s stipulated by their specific sport and not all of them are on talent pathways. Some are — and we do have students who are already attached to Loughborough and Leeds as an example — but as a TASS accredited college we’re able to tailor what we do to the particular needs of our dual career students.
JB: We’re able to offer a dedicated package of support to a wider range of students and especially to dual career athletes studying non-sport specific courses. From the senior leadership team’s perspective, the TASS accreditation is an added marketing tool in what is a very competitive FE sector. From my point of view it’s an opportunity to work with athletes who we didn’t historically cater for. Previously, we just didn’t have the same provision for individual sports but that’s no longer the case.
HM: Being a TASS accredited college definitely helps in terms of recruitment. From our perspective it’s a public pledge that we’re committed to supporting talented athletes. We have a responsibility to our dual career athletes and the association with TASS rubber stamps that.
Watch this 3 minute video to find out more about the TASS Dual Career Accreditation Scheme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnScFrpzCfo&feature=youtu.be