An Applied PhD Student in Professional Football: Reflections From The 1st Month 

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We have recently set up an applied PhD studentship in collaboration with Norwich City Football Club. Michael Cornes has now begun his journey on this process and has been in post for a little over 1 month. To help perspective and current students and industry partners, Mike has outlined his reflections from his 1st month as an applied PhD student in elite sport.  

“In August 2023, I started a PhD Studentship at the University of Birmingham being based in an applied setting at Norwich City Football Club 1st team. This role marked a great opportunity for me both personally and professionally. Accepting the position and moving to Norwich is a decision which was going to put me outside my comfort zone, but this is something which I would like to think I have done throughout the early stages of my career, continually aiding my development. I am certainly aware of the demands the following three years will have, therefore prior to starting this role I knew it would be important to ‘hit the ground running’ and get into a good routine as soon as possible. Below I will outline my reflections from the 1st month in the role for my own development and to help others who are looking or are about to undertake an applied PhD.  

The first two weeks of my role, both the Club and University, stressed the importance of shadowing and observing the current practice of the Physical Performance Department and getting to know players and staff. I was grateful for this focus as I was able to prioritise building relationships throughout the first team squad. I have realised that this process is increasingly important when starting at a new football club, each year I have worked in the industry. I feel as if I have made a positive start in this aspect and now feel comfortable in reaching out and building relationships with some key staff members at the club.   

During the introductory phase in the first month, I’ve had opportunities to deliver to the 1st team. On each recovery day (MD+1) I have overseen delivery of recovery strategies to the starting XI. As this was my first chance to coach, I was very excited to do so, and it also gave me an opportunity to reinforce the topic of my research project – understanding recovery strategies. Following this experience, I am going to seek opportunities to deliver pitch-based active recovery on a MD+2, to further emphasise the recovery focus of my position. In addition, I have also been able to support rehab sessions. I have found that working on a one-to-one basis has allowed me to get to know players better, communicate the nature of my role and build up more coaching experience at this level. The rehabilitation process is one I will look to continue to support, where possible, during the next few seasons. It also highlights an area of recovery I could look to understand as part of my PhD.  

After the first few weeks in the role my supervisor from the University (Dr Liam Anderson) visited the training ground where alongside my supervisor at Norwich (Dr John Iga) and Head of Physical Performance (Glyn Lewis). We discussed a potential route for my research project. This meeting gave me an opportunity to reflect and communicate my initial ideas of where I could see the project going. After a productive meeting I have been tasked with planning my research proposal and methods for my first study of the project.  

I am delighted with how my experience has started on the studentship and appreciate all the support I have been given across this period. I hope this reflection provides some useful insight for current and prospective postgraduate students, University of Birmingham and Norwich City FC staff, and my network.” 

Michael Cornes 

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