Written by Professor Barry Drust
I was lucky enough to do my PhD on the physical demands of football; a topic that I always had an interest in. I had always wanted to work within the sport and so I really hoped that the knowledge that I got from doing my PhD would provide me with an opportunity to get into the game. There wasn’t a lot of sport science going on in the football industry in the UK back in those days, so I was really lucky when my first proper job was a split between working at a university and working at a football club. I was obviously completely made up to do this job, but it didn’t turn out as I quite expected. I thought that as someone who had a lot of subject-specific technical expertise I’d be able to immediately impact players and coaches. I was so wrong. No one really cared about my PhD. I found this pretty difficult to take and ended up getting so frustrated with the whole experience that I ended up leaving the job and going to work at another university to just focus on academic things. My career working in football was over before it really ever got started.
Photo Credit: Ben White
Over time I realised that this failure was more of a consequence of me and my approach to the role that I had rather than the environment I was in. I started to understand that I’d been pretty under prepared to do the job I had got in football and as a result hadn’t been able to impact the club or those in it. I started to realise that effectiveness wasn’t just about “what you knew” but also “how you did what you did”. This was based on your personal characteristics and how you conducted yourself in the environment. As sport science roles within football started to grow and become more common, I started to hear other people say similar things. This helped support the reflections I’d had on my own experience. I also started to interact more with practitioners within clubs and started seeing how they behaved around players and coaches and more generally within the sporting environment. Again, this seemed to make it pretty clear to me that effective practice was so much about how you conducted yourself and how you did the things that you did as much as what you knew. I now seemed to have quite a lot of evidence that how you acted as a professional in this world was a key determinant of success.
Throughout my career I have always tried to use these insights and thoughts to guide the interactions that I have with those I work with. This includes all of the students on the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes that I have been involved with across 4 universities. In my own way, and with the help of colleagues, I have tried to find ways to support people in both raising the awareness of professional practice and the development of associated skills. In my mind, it was important to me to try and prevent others failing as I did in my first role. Often these attempts have been a little ad hoc and have only been able to impact a relatively small number of individuals. I’d always hoped that there would at some stage be an opportunity to do something that was a little more strategic and a little more impactful in this area in my career.
The development of the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice has provided me with that opportunity. This project has given me a chance to collaborate with a number of world leading experts to help develop a world leading evidence-based centre for the development of professional practice in sport. Here at the University of Birmingham within the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences we have created formal academic programmes and associated applied learning experiences that support the development of knowledge, skills and attributes to complement best in class technical education in the area of sport and exercise. This more strategic approach will for sure help to create a next generation on individuals who are able to better impact the environments and those in it than I managed to do in my first role.