Published: 8 June 2020
We caught up with Dr Eddie Bradley, programme leader of BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Sunderland, to find out why sport is a great subject to study at degree level.
What do you teach and what is your academic background?
My name is Eddie Bradley, I’ve been a member of the Sport and Exercise Sciences staff for eight years and have been programme leader for the BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Sciences course for the last six years. I currently teach in the areas of biomechanics and Sport Science support. Prior to my time at the University, I worked in Higher Education as a physiology lab technician and post-doctoral researcher in osteoarthritis at Leeds University. I undertook my undergraduate Sports Sciences degree and masters degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences at Teesside University before studying for my PhD in Mechanical Engineering. I am currently completing a masters degree in Education here at the University of Sunderland.
What do you enjoy most about the subject area of sport and why should students study it?
Sport is a universal language that brings together all parts of society. This is most often seen when the national football team do well in major tournaments or during the Olympics (especially the London 2012 Games) and people who usually show no interest in any sport are suddenly engaged and are talking about it on the street and in supermarkets. Physical activity is also vitally important for everyone and it brings about both physical and mental health benefits. I have always been involved in sport for as long as I can remember, be it playing, watching, supporting and working with sports players and athletes. It is something that brings me pleasure to be involved in.
Students who study sport are studying a subject that is of immediate interest to themselves, but it also something that is both everyday activity for many and massively high profile at times. Sport is something that students have a passion for and perhaps is a topic that they didn’t even realise could be studied at degree level.
Are there any recent developments in the sector that make the subject particularly relevant at the moment?
One area that is currently relevant is the role of exercise during the Covid-19 global pandemic. Exercise was listed as one of the reasons to be outside, and taking responsibility for our individual health and wellbeing through exercise is important. Studying sport, exercise and health develops subject knowledge and opportunities for employment beyond university, and I think those are growth areas as sport and physical activities sit at the heart of strategies for improving physical and mental wellbeing.
I think the other main growth area, in terms of employment, is around physical education, particularly in primary schools. There is recognition now that we need to try and work with children at a young age to instil in them a love of physical activity and the fact that it is important to be physically active for the future.
What skills do sport courses give you, and how can they help students in their careers?
The skills that make for a good sportsperson are also the sorts of skills that employers are looking for. We often think of sports people as being highly motivated, good team players, having ambition, setting goals, being able to respond to changing circumstances, being good problem-solvers, and being able to manage themselves. I think one of the great things about studying sport at Sunderland is that we spend a lot of time trying to help students develop those qualities and those graduate skills and attributes. But what we want is for them to be able to leave, not just with the greater knowledge of sport in all its various guises, but to have developed as people. I think sport is a really great way to do this because it immediately resonates in terms of examples that we can use.
One area on which we focus is to help students become aware that they need to manage their careers. We try to give them the skills to help them do that from the minute they enrol as students. They need to recognise the attributes they already possess, as well as the skills and knowledge that they are developing, with a view to employment. Our students need to recognise that life, academic and practical skills that they develop at this University are also the same things that employers are seeking across many domains in business and industry. We try to impress on them that it may take them several steps to get to where they want to be, or they may never get to where they thought they were going because something much more interesting has come up.
To aid this we have embedded practical placement opportunities across all of our courses to help build student experiences of real-world situations. These range from working with athletes in a support role, developing coaching skills with local sports teams or spending time on placement in local primary and secondary schools. In the modern jobs market, standing out from the crowd with extra skills and experiences will make our students more employable. Students have commented that such placements are one of the areas they see as most useful on our course and they are really rewarding as they allow them to apply the knowledge and practical skills they learn in class. They see how the degree fits with their plans.
What kinds of careers can students look forward to after graduating with a degree in sport?
To start with, a sport degree is just like any other degree. It’s a baseline that an employer will look at and see that you are educated to a graduate level. So one of the things I would strongly encourage sports students to do is, by all means look at what you can do that is sport-related, so you could look at teaching, coaching, sport performance, GP referral schemes, exercise, health and fitness, gym instructing, etc., but also bear in mind those fantastic graduate skills and attributes that we are supporting you to develop can take you into various graduate training schemes. Because you’ve got that generic set of skills, you can make your career into whatever you want it to be. I like to flip the question around and say it’s not what can a sport degree do for you, but it’s what do you want to do with your sport degree?
What areas of sport can students specialise in at Sunderland?
It depends upon your interest. If you are more of a person who likes science and working with athletes and sports people to help drive improvements in performance, then BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Sciences might be the course for you. If you like applying that knowledge in a health and fitness setting, so you’re not necessarily working with people who want to improve their sport performance, but with people who want to be healthier and live a more active life or within health providers, then you might look at BSc (Hons) Nutrition, Exercise and Health. If you’re interested in working with people who want to get better at particular sport for instance, then there’s BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching. Finally, if you want to help develop physical activity and health within younger age groups, our BA (Hons) Physical Education and Youth Sports degree would be the one to choose. It doesn’t qualify you to be a PE teacher, but what it does do is offer opportunities for placements in primary and secondary schools and in coaching settings to ensure that you’ve got the relevant experience to allow you to apply for a postgraduate or schools direct place.
What kind of opportunities are there for students while they are studying?
It depends what course you’re doing. In first year, all students are required to do some work element of experience, and then linked to that is the Sunderland University Professional Award. The purpose of the award is to get students to reflect on the skills and knowledge they have developed throughout their university experience, which would serve them well in terms of preparation for a job application or interview. We also encourage them to do the Sport Career Academy which provides the opportunity to volunteer. We hope that students engage with these sorts of activities so we can have discussions with them to see what they’ve learnt and to take them forward.
Throughout the course, students have opportunities to be involved in research and outreach programmes that staff are working in. For instance, BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching students would be expected to have engaged in some kind of coaching placement and reflection, and there are opportunities for the BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science students to do something similar with athletes who come in to use our lab space for training. For example, we have had Olympic distance runners and boxers come in and use our environmental chamber to prepare for upcoming competitions and students have assisted staff during these. We’ve also got opportunities with Durham County Cricket Club and Sunderland's Foundation of Light to work around strength and conditioning, coaching and leadership.
We are working towards reaccreditation from the professional development body for the Sport and Physical activity sector in the UK, to award vocational qualifications (related to the health and fitness industry) to students who successfully complete specific modules and additional assessments.
Why is the University of Sunderland a great place to study sport?
We’re a smaller department, which means we really know our students. The University has recently invested in refurbishing the teaching building we are based in, with state-of–the-art laboratory and teaching facilities. We have high specification equipment in the labs – we don’t have separate research labs and teaching labs as we want the students to be part of our research and work with us. More importantly, our students have access to all of the equipment in the labs for their learning and research and we promote this to the students to help develop their skills. The labs are, I think, some of the best equipped in the country, and certainly the access that the students get in these facilities should be seen as really positive. We have staff who are external examiners in other institutions and when they go to those other institutions and see what the students have access to, they come back and openly reflect that we do very well by our students!
What resources and facilities do students studying sport have access to?
In addition to the new lab facilities, there is CitySpace, the University’s sports building. This houses a large indoor sports hall, health and fitness gym, and a high-performance strength and conditioning gym. There’s a huge climbing wall for the students to use as well. When we need to go outside to access facilities, we can use the University’s recently built outdoor multiuse games area, and we can also run lessons at local clubs and local authorities in the area. In terms of working on essays, presentations or assessments, we’re subscribed to a large number of journals and the biggest database of sport materials called SPORTDiscus. Everything is very accessible and students can access these remotely from home as well as in the library.
What advice would you give to students thinking about studying sport?
Do the subject you’re most interested in. When you’re interested in a subject, you’re more likely to work harder and you’re more motivated to study it. Go in for the three years and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. The University of Sunderland has an awful lot to offer; from the Sport Career Academy and opportunities to volunteer; being part of one of the sports teams and getting to meet different people; and opportunities to work with coaches. See the experience like a rucksack, and you’re just throwing everything in, as much as you possibly can, so that when you’ve finished your degree you can take off your rucksack and pull out all of those things and think about how you can use those experiences in your life going forward.