From education to employment


It was impossible to ignore the impact of teenage athletes at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as national records – and average ages – came crashing down on the Gold Coast earlier this year.

As talent spotters dig deeper to discover a new breed of international star there are more opportunities than ever to take on the world…long before you hit your 20s. And the old adage ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ has never rung so true.

But elite sport can bring with it a pressure cooker of intense training and huge expectation. Emerging stars might have the raw talent but do they boast the mental strength and physical support required to juggle the trials and tribulations of teenage years with a quest for sporting success?

It’s a question that the team at the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) is keen to address. And the Sport England-backed body is encouraging universities across England to work alongside local schools and colleges in order to identify and nurture the next generation.

Teesside University, Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Derby are leading the way as early adopters of the TASS Potential project. And 2018 has seen six students at Nottinghamshire’s Trent College benefit from the exciting new scheme, in addition to a number of students from Newcastle Under Lyme College and Stoke College.

Trent’s Director of Sport, Adam Benstead, has worked alongside members of the University of Derby’s sport department to deliver a unique package of TASS support to students identified as future high achievers.

“Six Trent College athletes have been attending sessions at the university,” said Team Derby’s Sports Development Officer Kate Nelson.

“So far the college has accessed four strength and conditioning sessions taking away a four-week block programme with them after each session. 

“The sessions have progressed in content – ranging from working on total body stabilisation endurance (learning the basic movement patterns and control of body alignment) through core work, plyometric, strength and stability exercises. 

“The students have learnt about strength development and about loading the body to finally working on speed and power output through basic movement patterns.”

Dr Phil Clarke delivered a psychology and lifestyle management workshops and Jennifer Wilson presented a physiotherapy and rehabilitation-focused workshop advising how athletes can maintain a healthy body. 

“These were delivered to the Trent student athletes on home turf at their college in Long Eaton,” added Nelson. “Where possible we’ve tried to help minimise disruption to classes by programming sessions and workshops at lunchtimes.

“Trent sessions have also been attended by two Derby College athletes and one of the benefits of the TASS Potential project is that it allows for that kind of flexibility.”

It is hoped that the sixth forms and colleges will continue to work in tandem with universities and TASS Delivery Sites in 2018/19 to support the next generation of sporting star.

Kirsty O’Connor, TASS National Institutions Lead, explained: “It is vital that we discover talent and develop it and it’s important that young people can identify a pathway to help them improve and inspire.

“The TASS Potential project has enabled talented student athletes aged 16-18 to experience life as a ‘dual career’ athlete, through the delivery of a taster package of the TASS awards support services. 

“The delivery is very much from an educational standpoint. The athletes learn more about the most beneficial ways to train, eat, sleep and generally balance their hectic schedules. By involving their teachers and parents in the delivery, the hope is that the tips and techniques learned through the project will be sustainable both in the athletes’ school and home environments.”

The University of Derby embraced the project at the start of the current academic year with staff and coaches reaching out to talented athletes across Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire.

Nelson added: “We saw the TASS Potential project as a great opportunity to establish and foster formal links with key colleges and schools in our main catchment areas. 

“TASS Potential provided us with an opportunity to engage with high level junior athletes and showcase what we can offer locally to help them fulfil their athletic potential and create closer partnerships with Schools and PE departments.
“The greatest benefit of TASS Potential is raising awareness. We want emerging student athletes to know that it’s possible to both study and excel in sport here at the University of Derby.”

Nelson and her colleagues are keen to ensure that the cream of East Midlands’ sporting talent is not allowed to slip through the net. And Team Derby is determined to convince emerging youngsters that it is possible – and beneficial – to combine sport with studies long before they consider Higher Education.

It’s very important that student athletes know there is no ultimatum,” added Nelson. “They don’t have to choose between advancing their sporting career or their love for sport and furthering their academic studies. 

“By giving students support early on, at school and college, they will learn and develop self-management skills and see that there is a wider network of support close by for them to tap into for anything they might need. 

“We also recognise that some schools – and families – may have little or no experience of supporting their talented student athletes so it’s important that students, parents and schools to know there is help and support on their doorstep.”

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