Student athletes have been keeping focussed on their fitness during the pandemic thanks to support from Staffordshire University's High Performance Academy.
The programme offers a range of help for students competing at elite level including specialist coaching, psychology sessions, academic flexibility, mentoring and bursaries of up to £3,000.
Sam Stevenson, Sports Development Coordinator, explained: “We offer tailored support for student athletes and this has been more important than ever over the past 12 months. Last semester, the athletes were given special access to our gym facilities on campus and could take part in workshops via online platforms, plus we attended a specialist training day at St George’s Park.
“However, during the latest lockdown that hasn’t been possible. Without access to sports facilities to train or compete as usual we have had to think outside of the box and really understand our students’ individual needs to help them keep fit and motivated.”
Performance Athlete Scholar Thea Fenwick, studying BSc Sport & Exercise Psychology is a freestyle skier who competes at European level for Great Britain. Thea has been skiing since the age of two and ultimately wants to reach World Cup level.
The 19-year-old from Scarborough would usually spend the winter training abroad in countries like Austria, France and Switzerland but unable to travel and with local ski slopes closed her training has been significantly affected.
“Doing the fitness testing at St George’s Park was really helpful. I have a knee injury so have been limited to cycling and home workouts and sometimes struggle with motivation. Having that guidance on what I need to improve has helped to give me a focus during lockdown. The nutrition and psychology workshops have been brilliant too.
“I can’t wait to get back on the slopes. One of the reasons I wanted to come to university was to compete in the World University Games so fingers crossed it goes ahead next winter and I can take part!”
The High Performance Academy was the main reason that BA (Hons) Business Management student Rich James chose to come to Staffordshire University. The 24-year-old from Loggerheads competes in the Volleyball Super League with the Newcastle Staffs Volleyball Club and has recently taken up coaching.
He said: “I’ve been living on my own so it’s been really good to keep in touch with all the staff, especially Sam who is my mentor. We’ve been given workout programmes to do at home or exercise circuits we can do outside on the grass and it’s all specific to the individual athlete.
“One of the best things for me was having the nutrition plan to make sure I’ve not been snacking at home! Now, I’m looking forward to competing again and hope to represent Staffordshire University in beach volleyball this summer.”
Fellow scholar Kevin Pickard is studying MSc Applied Sport & Exercise Science. The 33-year-old has had a lifelong involvement in swimming, travelling to the 2012 London Olympics as a training partner for a GB swimmer and then becoming a coach for two swimmers who went on to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Since beginning his masters Kevin has competed in two BUCS championships and was due to compete in the European Masters Championships, but with the event cancelled he is now training for the Great East Swim in June.
He said: “At my age weight goes on quickly and fitness drops quickly so just keeping going and injury free during lockdown was my goal. The support has adapted to the current situation focussing on what athletes can actually do at home. Based on my knowledge of athlete support, it has been brilliant and I couldn’t fault it.”
With pools closed, Kevin has been running, doing yoga, weight training and open water swimming to keep fit. He also helped to clock up miles for the University’s Virtual Landmark Challenge to ‘visit’ five campuses and 14 landmarks across the UK and was shortlisted for ‘Scholar of the Year’ in the Sport at Staffs awards.
“It’s so easy amongst all this to get lost in your own world so to be connected with the group and to be part of things like the virtual awards have kept a level of normality in what’s been a very challenging situation for anyone in sport.”
Sports Development Coordinator Sam added: “We’re really proud of the way our scholars have embraced the situation and they are now in a really positive position as sports facilities reopen and they can get back to regular training and competing.”
Applications are currently open for next year’s intake of scholars and high performing sporting students can apply to three tailormade schemes run at the High Performance Academy. Book your place at a Virtual Open Day to discover more about studying at Staffordshire University.