By Jamie Kyte
As I sit down to ponder my experiences within Performance Analysis, I can’t help but recognise the key influence that early exposure to real-world sports environments had on shaping my career.
Recalling my undergraduate years, I cherished the invaluable experience gained during my initial venture into the world of sports analysis. It was during Level 4 of my studies that I first embraced a sport-specific placement, laying the groundwork for what was to come. However, it was my Level 5 internship at Portsmouth Football Club that truly accelerated my growth. Immersing myself in the dynamic environment of a professional football club provided me with insights and experiences that significantly broadened my horizons. It allowed me to apply the theoretical knowledge I had acquired into practical contexts.
Within my current role at the University of Birmingham and the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice, a significant part of my responsibility involves shaping the experiential learning program within our degree curriculum.
Photo credit: Janko Ferlič
What exactly is this concept of Experiential Learning all about?
Experiential learning is a hands-on educational approach that involves learning through practical experiences and reflections on those experiences.
Through our experiential learning program, our aim is to offer students the same kind of early exposure that I was fortunate to have across our L5/L6/L7 programs. It’s not just about securing placements; it’s about creating a platform for students to fully engage in the dynamics of sports teams, grasp the intricacies of performance analysis in action, and develop a practical understanding of the challenges and opportunities that await them in their careers.
Recent studies have highlighted employers’ dissatisfaction with the professional readiness of graduates, often citing a disconnect between university education and the evolving realities of the industry. Conversations with employers have mirrored these concerns, emphasizing the need for agility to bridge the gap between educational preparation and employment in the sports industry.
In my role, I see myself as a designer of learning opportunities for students, fostering those “aha” moments during placements. Inspired by Denise Martin’s insightful work in this field, I draw from her illuminating lighthouse analogy that deconstructs the practice of Performance Analysis.
In her analogy, applied PA practice is founded on five areas of expertise: contextual awareness, relationship building, PA and sporting expertise, technical proficiency, and professional conduct. The framework encompasses nine components of applied PA practice, including establishing relationships, needs analysis, data management, analysis, and service evaluation.
Reflecting on my role within these placements, I perceive myself as the scaffolder of students’ learning experiences, providing exposure to various facets of PA practice, aligning with the components outlined in Denise’s research.
Photo credit: Scott Graham
In facilitating student development through experiential learning, it’s essential to possess a specific skill set, offering guidance and support as students navigate diverse learning paths. Some will be structured, some will be unstructured! It’s vital to me to strike a balance, giving students the freedom to explore independently while being there to help when needed. Building a compassionate connection with students ensures tailored support as they journey through experiential learning.
Knowing when to step in is also crucial, offering timely advice and resources to make the most of students’ learning experiences
As a by-product of this process, hopefully, we can continue to shape these ‘aha’ and ‘lightbulb’ moments for our students and look to help reduce the disconnect and gap between education and industry.
While there are obvious challenges in implementing experiential learning on a large scale, the potential benefits include improved student agency, authenticity, belonging, and community engagement. Some big wins!