Pointing the way to a more accessible Dual Career Pathway

When Lauren Kamperman was handed the opportunity to unpick the issue of inclusion and exclusion in dual career sport, the former swimmer dived right in. We caught up with an ambitious American determined to make a difference to UK athletes.

Whether you highlight her record-breaking division one college career with the Davidson Wildcats swim team, her tireless work to encourage underprivileged girls and women to get involved in sport or her determination to make the dual career pathway for elite athletes more inclusive, there’s no doubting Lauren Kamperman’s lifelong commitment to sport.

Photo of Lauren Lauren Kamperman

“I’d wanted to turn my career towards equality, diversity and inclusion for some time,” explained the daughter of two tennis players, who swapped a career supporting women in sport based in New York City for a PhD at Durham University. “I’m now in a position where my research can have an impact within the UK’s dual career space and I can really try to improve the experience for athletes. I can help to better prepare practitioners and help stakeholders to understand the challenges facing athletes who aren’t connected to traditional sport networks. Inclusivity within sport is a real passion of mine.”

Back in the Big Apple, the fruits of Lauren’s labours working in community impact and athlete leadership enabled aspiring Paralympians and Olympians to achieve their goals. “Within the Women’s Sport Foundation I managed the Athlete Ambassador Program which saw Olympic and Paralympic athletes visit young girls involved with community sport organisations,” she added. “There was a focus on empowering discussions as much as physical activity.”

One of Lauren’s many roles for the Women’s Sports Foundation involved co-managing the ESPN-funded Sports 4 Life programme grant. And her reach extended as far as underserved communities in Detroit and Buffalo where she helped to train and support organisations committed to getting more girls into sport.

“When I was with the Women’s Sports Foundation the slogan was ‘All Girls, All Women, All Sports’ and inclusivity was a recurring theme,” added Lauren. “I’d qualified as a diversity recruiter before I moved there but I didn’t really jive with the world of recruiting…even if I did jive with the mission. The Women’s Sport Foundation got me back into sport and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I was so fortunate to work across so many facets of the organisation and I was like a sponge there. I learned as much as I possibly could.”

Fast forward two-and-a-half years and Lauren is ready to put the finishing touches to research that could revolutionise the way sport organisations and practitioners perceive dual career opportunities. Supported and funded by TASS and Durham University, her PhD looks at inclusion and exclusion through the filter of the dual career space.

“I got my Masters degree in Women’s Studies at the University of York and a friend of mine from back then saw there was an opportunity to take up a doctoral studentship based in Durham,” added Lauren.

“She called me straight away and said ‘this sounds right up your alley’. She was right!

“A lot of the first part of the study is about the dual career system that exists in the UK.

“Most of the interviews are with folks at TASS, stakeholders in the system and practitioners within the network who support dual career athletes.

“I wanted to know what the dual career space looked like — who’s included, who does the system support and what’s the environment like.

“Part two shifts focus to the athlete’s voice. It’s very much centred on the athlete experience and I wanted to hear what the people on the ground had to say.

“Instead of focusing on the funded athletes — who I could easily talk to because TASS supports so many every year — I thought ‘where’s the research on the athletes who aren’t funded or who aren’t in education?’.

“I recognised that there were big gaps in the representation of those athletes.

“Of course, it’s harder to find the athletes who aren’t ever asked about their experience and who aren’t plugged into these support networks where they already know people who can point them in the right direction.

“But I found them.

“And what I discovered is that there’s a danger these people can be excluded without ever realising they’re excluded.”

Lauren has been working closely with TASS since arriving in the North East of England in 2019 and she hopes that her findings, due to be published in 2023, can positively influence the approach of an organisation renowned for its groundbreaking work in the dual career sector.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to drive this research and it’s been wonderful working with TASS,” she added. “I have a great relationship with the team there and they’re clearly intent on making this work applicable to the dual career space.

“TASS want these findings to be impactful and they want to build on the work that’s been done during the last two years.

“From our early conversations it became clear that they were very supportive of my aims and objectives.”

Lauren’s desire to make the dual career pathway more inclusive aligns with her wider held view that sport can have a hugely positive impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing. She believes in breaking down barriers to participation and impacting on communities traditionally excluded from the life-changing opportunities sport affords.

“We know the value of sport and I don’t have to be convinced of it,” added Lauren. “It’s always been a positive part of my life.

“It’s not just good for people’s health but it helps with communication and leadership skills, bonding with team-mates, taking responsibility and collective problem solving.

“There are so many benefits to be gained from sport and once you’re involved in sport it opens up so many doors. We have to ensure that those doors aren’t closed on disadvantaged groups.”

For Lauren, timing is everything. And hot on the heels of TASS announcing plans to nearly triple the number of athletes who will benefit from its support, she believes the stars have aligned at a key stage of her career.

“It’s an incredible time for me to be here,” she admitted. “There’s a huge push for inclusion in sport right now.

“Post-London 2012, sport in the UK continues to grapple with the issues of diversity and inclusivity.

“At Olympic level most of the country’s medal winners are privately educated and talented athletes are missing out because they’re not recognised or hit obstacles along the pathway.

“I hope my research can go some way towards changing that and I’m confident that my data will have at least a small impact on the way TASS develops its dual career approach in the future.”