An Undergraduate students journey into football: there are no traffic jams on the extra mile

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By Sam Bagley

Last month I had the privilege of accepting a role as 9-16s Academy Sports Scientist at West Bromwich Albion FC, an opportunity that I have been able to pursue by taking on a professional dissertation as part of my degree. 

When choosing my preferences for my dissertation the chance to learn and work on a project in an applied setting stuck out to me. Of course, the environment of elite soccer, a real passion of mine, was highly appealing. However, my top choices all consisted of different professional dissertations due to the desire to use the knowledge that I had acquired across my modules throughout university. The chance to work with highly skilled people within an elite sporting environment and learn from their methods and experiences was an opportunity I was determined to seek. 

The taught aspect of the professional dissertation module has educated me on the soft skills that are not taught in other modules. Being educated on the skills that organisations feel that graduates do not show and then thinking about how this is aligned with my own skill set has been vital when working at WBA. This applied to the skills that I believe to be my strengths as well as my weaknesses. Seeing the viewpoint from a different perspective has allowed me to develop the way I deliver my practices. Additionally, looking at the wider picture, learning about multidisciplinary teams and how you can fit into that has been very transferable for me. This has allowed me to be more efficient and concise when working with coaches, players, physios and the rest of the team at the academy. Reflection is also key when working in a sporting environment. Learning how to reflect effectively in a way that can be looked back on productively is something I have utilized after the sessions within the module. Evaluating further than ‘what went well’ and ‘what could’ve gone better’. Instead,  evaluating how I delivered in multiple aspects has allowed me to constantly refine how I deliver sessions and communicate my ideas. 

I have loved my time at West Brom during my internship which ultimately led to me applying for my job. I have been able to get involved in as much as I have wanted outside of what is expected within the module. Of course, I have tried to do as much as possible and get as much exposure as possible. My project is focused on increasing match and training availability with players who are at risk of sustaining a growth-related injury. This has been done by assessing the effectiveness of proprioception and eccentric strength interventions currently within the programme. Outside of this, I have used GPS data through Catapult and OpenField to produce match, training and rehab GPS reports as well as assisting with growth and maturation reports and assessing movement competency screening. On the pitch, I have led warm-ups, foundation development phase sessions and delivered rehabilitation sessions. In the gym, I have planned and led sessions.  

What are the big takeaways from my experience over the last 7 months? Without a doubt at the top of the list is to put a professional dissertation at the top of your choices if you are aspiring to have a career in elite sport. From this, showing up and having a willingness to learn is key. As students, we do have knowledge gaps within our skill sets because our teaching is not refined to a particular discipline in a particular environment. However, these weaknesses can only be developed through experience. From these, we can reflect on what went well and what we can change if presented with a similar scenario. Here, we can grow into a greater practitioner.  

I saw a quote recently that said ‘there are no traffic jams on the extra mile’. This hit me. For me, this is what sums up my time at West Brom so far and can be applied to any student on any work placement. It might not always be easy but the consistency to be inquisitive and strive for more will pay off. Admittedly, this may not always lead to a job opportunity but it will almost certainly place you in a better position than you were a week ago, a month ago or even a year ago. This said, the drive to improve is a constant process and something that is always ongoing. Seeing how far you have come drives the motivation to push on further.  

I want to thank Tom Brownlee, Tom Page, Liam Dadd, Luke Butterfield, Dean Morgan and the rest of the staff at West Bromwich Albion FC for their support during my internship and the continued support as I have transitioned into full-time work alongside finishing off my studies. – Lead Supervisor


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