Each year, hundreds of talented athletes benefit from invaluable lifestyle support as a part of the TASS programme. Lifestyle practitioners are familiar with the demands of sport and education and help to balance an athlete’s busy schedule.
Solent University Athlete Support Officer, Kelly Jones describes her role…
TASS: What is your view on the support that TASS offers to dual career athletes?
KJ: I think the support TASS offers to young, talented athletes is world leading. Being able to access lifestyle, strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, nutrition and sports psychology at a young age gives the athletes the platform to excel and thrive. With the support being delivered at university institutions it opens up the athletes to higher education and shows them it is possible to pursue both sporting and academic goals.
TASS: How difficult can it be to juggle a full-time education with elite sport?
KJ: There are challenges to balancing elite sport with full-time education but it is definitely doable. So many high-profile athletes are gaining an education whilst competing at the highest level and speaking about it which is great for young athletes considering their next steps. For example, Laura Muir just completed a veterinary degree whilst competing for Team GB! It highlights that with a good support network and planning, anything is possible.
Physiotherapy plays a key role for talented athletes in terms of injury assessment and treatment, injury prevention, performance enhancement and body awareness.
Physiotherapist Neal Reynolds from Buckinghamshire New University explains more…
TASS: Describe your current role and what attracted you to the profession?
NR: My role as a Senior Lecturer involves teaching Sports Therapy students on the BSc programme and I also provide a physiotherapy service to two Under 17 lacrosse athletes on behalf of TASS. I decided to pursue a career in physiotherapy when I was 16. The inspiration for me to study physiotherapy was as a result of fracturing my ankle at school and not receiving adequate post-injury therapy.
TASS: As a physiotherapist how can you make a positive difference to athletes and enable them to achieve their goals?
NR: Injuries are, unfortunately, part of playing sport and therefore athletes, more often than not, develop close working relationships with their physiotherapist. In addition to treatment and rehabilitation, the role of the physiotherapist is to implement injury prevention strategies to minimise the risk of injury and improve performance. The existence of this close relationship means that the therapist can have a significant influence on the psychological attitude of the sportsperson and it is a vital part of the process to achieving success for both parties.
One of the core services on TASS programme is psychology support, which helps athletes to maximise their performance by focusing on the mental side of their sport.
Leeds-based psychologist Ross Shand discusses the importance of the discipline…
TASS: How important has sports psychology become to the overall package of services available to elite athletes?
RS: I think it’s now as important as any other service available. The potential impact of sport psychology on performance is becoming more widely recognised and accepted and therefore I think it’s moving from a nice addition to have within a support system to an integral part of that system. This can only be beneficial as its allowing athletes to access the most appropriate support for them.
TASS: In your opinion, is it very much a case of healthy body, healthy mind – how important is it for elite athletes to focus on their mental as well as their physical health and wellbeing?
RS: It’s vitally important! The impact of mental health and wellbeing both athletically and personally can be huge and the effects can be wide ranging. Being an elite athlete is a challenging and turbulent career to pursue, which will consist of many positive and negative experiences. How these are managed can be important to an athlete’s mental health. I think there could be greater education for athletes, coaches and support staff around mental health. We need to work with athletes to help them develop the strategies to manage the challenges they face during their athletic career and consider post career options. We need to promote and normalise athletes seeking support for mental health and wellbeing, as they would for physical health.
Strength and conditioning
Strength and conditioning (S&C) is one of the six core services available to TASS-supported athletes. It is invaluable in developing an athlete’s speed, strength and power, as well as being important for injury prevention.
Dr Lucinda Howland is a full-time lecturer in Strength, Conditioning and Performance at Canterbury Christ Church University – and a former TASS athlete.
TASS: Strength and conditioning is seen as a key contributor to athlete development – why is it so important?
LH: The term athlete development is a very broad term but strength and conditioning can develop an athlete physically, mentally, socially and, I think, with a well-crafted environment can even develop life skills. S&C teaches athletes how to learn and develop specific movement patterns that have dynamic correspondence to their sport. It also shows them how to succeed in areas beyond their field of play and sometimes outside their comfort zone. This develops the athlete holistically, increasing the chances of them becoming physically balanced and active lifelong learners.
TASS: As a former TASS athlete how did you benefit from S&C support?
LH: Being a TASS athlete carried an element of prestige, it benefited me immensely as a young athlete, at the time TASS athletes were provided with free gym memberships at local leisure centres and I had monthly access to S&C coaching at an institution which provided high performance sports provision. I had to travel but the distance travelling to receive S&C support was far less intense than my travelling demands for rugby. I also received remote programming prescribed by a trained strength and conditioning specialist. I even received some sessions at my school at times during the year when I was extremely busy! I was never the most naturally powerful player on the pitch and these sessions enabled me to begin my journey to develop a more explosive presence on the rugby field.
Nutrition is the final element of the TASS package of support services. Steve Marshall from Northumbria University is undertaking a PhD in addition to delivering nutrition support to athletes at the institution.
TASS: Please describe your current role – where are you based and what does the role entail?
Steve Marshall: Alongside my PhD, I lead on the performance nutrition programme at Northumbria University and TASS. As a practitioner, I deliver nutrition education to our athletes at a squad and individual level. This can range from some basic advice on diet and creating some useful resources – all the way to some physiological assessment and in-depth nutrition planning and cooking sessions. No two sessions are the same which is what makes the job so interesting.
TASS: What attracted you to the field of nutrition and have you always been interested in the discipline in a sporting context?
SM: I originally chose to specialise in nutrition after completing a module in my first year of my undergraduate degree in sport and exercise science. This was a sports nutrition module so it really shaped my interest in the area and how good nutrition could maximise performance and recovery. As a keen rugby player myself, I would always try and apply my new found knowledge to my own training and competition.