From October 2020 until September 2021 I took on the massive challenge of (eventually) studying for my Masters degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Sunderland. This decision was pushed after that first lockdown and furlough stage where I eventually thought it’s now or never, something I had wanted to do probably for the past 7/8 years. It was not easy especially working full time whilst doing it, which worked out on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, using days holiday to be able to attend the lectures. These remained pretty much online for the whole course, with a few practical in person sessions when restrictions changed.
Going back into academia after a thirteen year hiatus is probably going to be one of the toughest things that I will ever do, getting back onto the style of writing and being able to read journal articles and then critically analyse them was so tough. I actually got to a point where I was confused to how I managed to do it the first time round and when I re-read my BSc dissertation I was actually really impressed with myself. That also made me realise that I had done it once so I was more than capable of stepping up and being able to do it all again, but at an even higher level.
Data Visualisation and Interpretation
The best thing about this module was learning how to put together Infographics as this was something that I have enjoyed looking at over the years as lets face it a much better way to read different facts and figures. Getting back using SPSS was not an easy task and was quite a challenge, but a good challenge in terms of being able to analyse different data sets in different ways. The best thing was being able to put together your own data set and using them from a sport or event of your choice.
Advanced Sport and Exercise Sciences
We managed to have a few practical sessions for this module which looked at ECG and monitoring subjects when they were taking part in exercise and pushing to maximal levels, this was based not only on sporting performance but on the health areas that this is used for the general public. Really thinking about how to apply different tests for sports teams and athletes and looking into the main areas of Biomechanics, Psychology and Physiology.
Professional Skills and Practice
This was an opportunity to do a project around how you are using professional skills and completing 100 hours towards it, instead of just using my coaching job and it being straightforward in that way I pushed myself to learn something new. This was coding and using RStudio to design a match analysis that could be used for football teams. Designing this was very difficult to do and changing the code was a tricky task and a lot of trial and error as well as support from one of the lecturers. The way it ended up was that the tool could be used to identify how many times and in which area of the pitch a team gained or lost possession of the ball as well as shots on/off target (and goals).
Contemporary Issues in Sport and Exercise
This was an optional module with the other choice being Strength and Conditioning. I was always going to pick this one with women in sport and PE being two of the different lectures around it. I learnt a lot from other aspect as we learnt about Vitamin D and transgender issues that have been in sport. For the assessments this was a presentation and then reports, being able to focus on areas that you are passionate about learning was the best thing as it allowed you to really get into the research areas.
Research Project (The Impact of the Menstrual Cycle in female footballers)
This was easily the toughest module and worth the most amount of marks across them on the course and it was really difficult to get myself engaged in it at times as it is a long process. Looking into the Menstrual Cycle and how female footballers viewed it and the background knowledge they had of it and the impact on performance. I had a survey that was put out for footballers to complete and the response was very good in terms of numbers. The main findings were that more education around the impact of it is needed for players and maybe even more so coaches/staff who work with them.
Overall the course was a massive challenge and at times I really did have self doubt that I could do it and complete the assignments. The gap in education was big but the knowledge I had from working full time in football and sport really was essential for being able to then back everything up with research, or even come up with some interesting ideas in small gaps within the research and what else we need to know as coaches and practitioners.