TASS new ‘Understanding Athlete Transitions’ course gets top marks!
TASS’s trailblazing Understanding Athlete Transitions (UAT) course offers practitioners and stakeholders working in talent and elite level sport a fresh insight into a key area of athlete personal development. Abby Carrington, Player Care and Welfare Officer at Nottingham Forest FC, reveals more.
TASS: How would you describe your role at Nottingham Forest?
Abby Carrington: Essentially, I focus on the wellbeing of the club’s Academy players. I look at player welfare from a holistic standpoint and ensure that everything’s ok off the pitch, as well as on it. I help players transition into and out of the Academy and within the Academy. There’s a lot of one-to-one support and a lot of pastoral support. That support could include advice and understanding around parental splits or bereavements and, of course, we’ve adapted the support that we offer during the last two years.
TASS: Has the pandemic posed fresh challenges for professionals charged with player care and athlete lifestyle support?
AC: At the height of the pandemic our players were working from home but overall they coped relatively well which was really positive for us. Ideally, I’d always want to provide emotional support one-to-one and face-to-face but we did need to adapt that approach. Looking back, I think our young people actually benefited from taking some time out and some of them welcomed the break. Apart from the first lockdown we weren’t away from our natural environment too much in comparison to other people. In general, we were able to function relatively normally as a bubble. There wasn’t actually an increase in the need for support as a direct result of the pandemic and lockdowns but we were able to take a step back and evaluate the support we already offered.
TASS: Did you feel the UAT course filled a gap as far as lifestyle support-focused CPD is concerned?
AC: Definitely. From a player care perspective there’s not a great deal of CPD out there. It’s a fairly new role and relatively speaking there hasn’t been the time to develop the number of courses needed. When it comes to player transitions, where it’s included in the job, you don’t get any specific training in terms of how to facilitate those transitions successfully. On the whole, it’s a case of going off what other clubs or organisations have done or are doing, identifying best practice and coming up with new and creative ideas. Coming up with something different isn’t a bad thing but as soon as I saw that the TASS course was being offered as a pilot I absolutely wanted to do it. It was a fantastic opportunity to find out what we were doing well and what we could be doing better.
TASS: Have you been able to use what you learnt on the UAT course?
AC: I’ve already been able to introduce a number of new approaches. During the course we discussed what transitional support looks like in various clubs and sports and that helped me to assess where we were at the Forest Academy. In particular, it enabled me to rewrite the exit strategy for players transitioning out of the Academy. I approached the course completely exit-focused but I actually included transitions within the club in our revised strategy — not just focusing on those players leaving us. The UAT course gave me plenty of food for thought but also reinforced the good work that we already do in terms of supporting our players.
TASS: How important is it to fully understand the challenges and opportunities around player transitions?
AC: Successful player transitions within the Forest Academy are a constant focus. There are age group and phase group transitions that happen three times in a season. After they join the Academy, our players move from the foundation stage to the development stage and can then go on to become scholars. I also work closely with the first team player liaison officer and help with transitions into the Under 23s and the first team. I assist with personal transitions including the move from primary school to secondary school — I do a lot of work with 11 and 12-year-olds as the transitions at that age can be challenging on and off the pitch.
TASS: How did the UAT course broaden your knowledge around athlete transitions?
AC: Quite naively you only think of transitions involving your sport and it was really interesting to learn about the nature of the transitions involved in other sports. There are certain transitions that wouldn’t happen within a football academy environment and that wouldn’t be applied to my role. But I can still take examples of best practice and the experiences of other practitioners to help shape my approach to supporting athlete transitions. The course reinforced the idea that it’s important to look beyond age ranges when considering transitions. In gymnastics you might be retired by 22 but in football you might be lucky enough to enjoy a 15-year career in senior football. Transitions can look very different from sport to sport and athlete to athlete but there are many shared experiences that can be applied more widely.
TASS: Can you already see the benefits of the UAT course within your own working environment?
AC: What I learnt on the course will come into its own later this year when we start talking to and releasing some of the Under 18s and the Under 23s. I spend a lot of time with both groups in terms of helping them to transition out of the Academy. After completing the TASS course I prepared new support packs with worksheets and the released players will be receiving individualised exit strategy documents. These documents are a direct result of conversations I had during the course and reflect a realisation that we need to be more proactive and not simply cross certain bridges when we come to them.
TASS: What is your overall view of the UAT course?
AC: The TASS staff who delivered the course were excellent. I was concerned that a TASS course would focus primarily on university sports and dual career pathways and that there wouldn’t be enough of a focus on — or expertise around — football. Ultimately, I did enjoy the fact that the focus wasn’t purely on football but I also appreciated the knowledge around my sport. If there was any lack of expertise, the course leaders were quick to turn to members of the group who could fill the gap. That made for a really collaborative approach and brought more best practice to the table. The post-course support was fantastic and the TASS staff proved to be very persistent when it came to offers of help with the course work! They were great in terms of turning around the feedback quickly and ensuring that the channels of communication were always open.
TASS: Why should sport practitioners consider the UAT curse in the future?
AC: Within football at least, there’s a lack of CPD specific to player care and so anything we can get our hands on in that respect is a bonus! From a practitioner standpoint there was a particular focus on reflective writing — jobs in player care can be quite difficult when you have some really heavy stuff going on and it’s important to take a step back and reflect on your role and the work that you do. In terms of skill building and broadening my knowledge base the course worked well. I always judge a course on its quality of applied learning — what can I actually take away from what I’ve been shown and can I use it to improve the job I do? The TASS UAT course ticked all of the boxes in that respect and I was able to take away so much and add it to my resource bank.
TASS: Do you feel that the UAT course could lay the foundation for more athlete lifestyle-related courses in the future?
AC: I hope so. I’m writing my PhD on the opportunities for CPD and personal development of professionals in the player care sector. From a coaching perspective or even a sports psychology standpoint there are so many courses available. However, if the focus is on athlete lifestyle and support then there are a relatively few CPD opportunities out there. The UAT course was great in terms of being able to bring your own sport into the mix and the detail on transitions was excellent. I think a course focusing more specifically on mental health support for athletes — including resources — would be really useful. There is a lack of resources available in that area and anything that I could use to help athletes develop personally — off the field rather than on it — would be hugely beneficial. I’d like to introduce wider elements of personal development at a younger age within the Academy so that by the time our players reach the 16-18 age bracket it’s something they’re already focused on and aware of. I think they see personal development as more of a distraction at a younger age when, in actual fact, it’s all part of their overall development and wellbeing.
*The 1st4sport Level 3 Understanding Athlete Transitions course aims to provide learners with an understanding of the transitions that athletes may face across their careers.
The course places a specific focus on the demands and challenges experienced by athletes and the support they may require.
It has been designed to allow learners to reflect on how they or their organisation can optimally support athletes through transitions.
The UAT course is suitable for anyone who operates within a sporting environment, and either directly or indirectly supports athletes (eg. coaches, practitioners, NGB staff).
The next online UAT course is later this year, across Sep-Nov. For further information please visit www.tass.gov.uk/tals