Empowering every player

As the knock-out stage of the Qatar World Cup kicks off, a new generation of football heroes are being forged. One name now familiar in most UK households is Kylian Mbappé. In 2018, the French striker – then aged just 19 – became only the second teenager ever to score in a World Cup Final. (The first was Pelé, in 1958.) It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

2022 is already a bumper year for football heroes, with the summer success of England’s Women’s team captivating everyone, not just football fans… and also making household names of young players like Lauren Hemp (21) and Georgia Stanway (23).

There are now thousands upon thousands of youth footballers, right across the UK, who are dreaming of a future moment when they too can lift a trophy.

But football is a grassroots game – with more than 60,000 youth players registered in Scotland alone – and while not every player will make it to a Cup final, let alone a World Cup, everyone can improve and enjoy playing to the full in their local team.

The value of science in youth football/grassroots football is being promoted by Scottish-based SoccerPDP.com, based on academic research by Dr James Dugdale of Edinburgh Napier University.

“We have worked with James since he was a PhD student at Stirling University, where we funded his studies to validate data for our app” explains founder and CEO Jacob Gordon.

Dr Dugdale is now supervising his own PhD students in the School of Applied Sciences at Edinburgh Napier, and both Alban Dickson – the psychologist with Heart of Midlothian – and nutritionist Saumya Khullar will see their PhD research applied for practical benefit, helping nurture young players through the SoccerPDP app.

SoccerPDP provides an in-depth development plan across four key pillars: strength and conditioning, nutrition, psychology, and technical skills. That empowers every player to maximise their potential and help realise their long-term ambitions within the game.

“Our science-based approach provides players with a pathway to improve,” says Jacob. “We demonstrate how the exercises and drills should be carried out, along with the scientific reason behind each training task, allowing young players to gain an understanding of how each action will help them improve their game, alongside regular training and matches.”

soccerpdp empowers players, parents and coaches
The soccerpdp app empowers players, parents and coaches, allowing young players to gain an understanding of how each action will help them improve their game.

James adds: “The app focuses on players aged 10 – 18, who can track their development individually. Both our new PhD’s are looking at aspects of communication, to better engage the target market.”

The research will inform new iterations of the platform, and both PhDs are being co-funded by SoccerPDP and Edinburgh Napier, (which also offers a unique BSc degree in Football Coaching, Performance, and Development, backed by the Scottish FA).

SoccerPDP provides access to a 12-month personal development plan for players of all abilities, and can be used by players, their parents, and coaches. It provides techniques, support, and education opportunities to improve performance both on and off the pitch.

Everything Soccer PDP does is based on sound scientific theory. Developed initially in partnership with academics at the University of Stirling, the programme continues to apply the latest scientific advances and understanding to provide accurate assessment, which helps track the progress of players throughout their development.

“With support from an international research network of collaborators, our system now brings an inclusive and standardised approach to the development of grassroots footballers,” says Jacob. “We create a highly accurate ‘football CV’ that allows a player’s development to be continuously tracked and benchmarked against their previous performances and the results of others.”

More>> https://soccerpdp.com

BSc (Hons) Football Coaching Performance and Development (with Scottish FA) Undergraduate Full-time (napier.ac.uk)

Pioneering sports official graduates mark the final whistle of their Edinburgh Napier studies

Christina Barrow and Clare Daniels are the first to complete the world-leading master’s degree for referees and umpires.

Edinburgh Napier University is celebrating the achievements of two trailblazing sports officiating graduates.

Christina Barrow and Clare Daniels are the first to be shown the red scroll after completing the world’s first taught master’s degree of its kind – designed specifically for referees and umpires.

Christina took on the three-year programme with ENU alongside her work as International Officiating Manager at World Netball, a role she has achieved after only getting involved in the sport at the age of 30.

Clare undertook her studies while working as a Performance Reviewer and coach for match officials in rugby union’s Professional Group of Match Officials Team, following a successful refereeing career on the pitch.

Both carried out pioneering research as well as completing the bespoke modules on skills including decision making and communication. They have been presented with their degrees during a graduation ceremony at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Wednesday 26 October.

As part of her research into the challenges faced by female match officials, Somerset-born Clare compared the world of sport with sectors like the fire service and STEM industries.

She said: “Many of the challenges female referees deal with are very similar to those women face in industry and the corporate world. I found there are a lot of things we can learn and share from other sectors.

“Before I looked at academia and thought it was nothing to do with me, but when you dip your toe in the water you see there’s a wealth of knowledge that can help make us better. I think it’s hugely underused.

“When I left college I went straight into work, but I felt that at this stage in my life I have a much more curious attitude and a desire to learn. My mindset was right.

“I’ve become more curious in how we could do things differently, asking more questions and not just accepting the way things are done. It brings a fresh perspective.”

Christina, from Chorley in Lancashire, whose research looked at wellbeing support for officials, said: “The course seemed like a perfect fit. It’s allowed me to find out things that will help other officials in netball.

“It’s been challenging – you have to dedicate yourself – but what you gain is definitely worth it. Personally, you achieve great things.

“To be an umpire, or a referee, you have to be resilient. Netball officials are managing themselves well, but the support they get could be improved. My research found that help was often unstructured.

“It’s given me a platform to understand the problem so I can solve it and represent our officials better. I think it’s also a springboard to maybe expand into other sports and see what we can learn from each other.

“I see research as a jigsaw puzzle – you’re just looking to add more pieces. Sometimes you don’t find the pieces you want, or you need to shuffle them around, but it all helps add to the picture.”

Dr Duncan Mascarenhas, Associate Professor and Programme Leader for MSc Performance Enhancement in Sports Officiating at Edinburgh Napier University said: “It’s so exciting, I’m so pleased for them. They’ve put in the hard yards. It’s a big statement for the university that we’re able to upskill these high-profile experts in their fields.

“These two students are pioneering the programme in very different contexts – Christina as an administrator and leader in netball and Clare as a former referee and now a referee coach for rugby.

“They’re trailblazers and great role models for others coming through.

“All the modules in the programme are tailored to the students’ needs. It means we’re dealing with areas of sport which have never really been tested.

“Officiating research is relatively young. It effectively began in the eighties but only really started growing in the late nineties. There’s so much that’s still unexplored and it’s an exciting area to be involved in.”

Christina Barrow and Clare Daniels

Help the hunt for west of Scotland’s herring

Historically, Atlantic herring were a vitally important fish to the people of Scotland. Once the largest fishery globally, stocks dramatically collapsed in the 1970s. On the west coast of Scotland, herring never fully recovered, but since 2018 large shoals of spawning herring have been observed off Wester Ross.

Edinburgh Napier University is now leading a project working with Scottish west coast communities and organizations between the Clyde and Cape Wrath, including the Hebrides, to identify herring spawning habitat and help conserve it.  This will give the silver darlings’ populations on the west coast a chance to reproduce and grow again. The project is called the West of Scotland Herring Hunt (WOSHH) and funded by the William Grant Foundation*.

WOSHH launches a new website  scottishherring.org today [4 August] at the Gairloch Museum. The website is the first dedicated to Scottish herring.  It is a place to share knowledge on Atlantic herring in Scottish seas and find out more about their ecological, economic and cultural importance. The public will also see a demonstration of a forthcoming new citizen-science tool, a web app, inviting everyone to join in on ‘herring hunts’ to report signs of spawning.

Both website and the hunting tool have been co-developed by staff and students from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Applied Sciences and the School of Computing, under the guidance of Karen Diele, Professor of Marine Ecology, the lead of WOSHH, and co-investigator Dr Simon Wells.

Unlike most other marine fish, reproducing herring relies on specific benthic (on the seabed) spawning habitat. But knowledge of location and status of such essential habitat is scarce on the west coast of Scotland.

“Healthy spawning habitat could help rebuild inshore herring populations, with potentially positive social and economic impacts, as well as improving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning,” explains Professor Diele. “WOSHH will establish connections and dialogue between key stakeholders, promote co-management strategies of inshore waters, and champion the integration of essential spawning grounds into herring management.”

Dr Michelle Frost, WOSHH’s project coordinator continues: “Herring are important to a wide range of species that feed upon them, including not only humans but also sand eels, haddock, cod, many seabirds, porpoise and minke whales. By attracting these charismatic species, herring can benefit local communities, increasing income from wildlife tourism”.

Herring themselves feed mostly on plankton and help move energy from the bottom of marine food webs to top predators, functioning as a keystone species.”

Peter Cunningham, biologist from the Wester Ross Fisheries Trust says “Herring have been so important locally, and our community has a renewed interest in west coast herring now, since we observed large shoals recently near Gairloch for the first time in almost 50 years”.

Dr Karen Buchanan, curator of the Gairloch Museum explains “We are delighted to add our support to the WOSHH project, which is helping to address urgent research needs in our area, and to host the outreach event today”.

The WOSHH project will help determine the location and status of essential herring spawning grounds in inshore waters on the Scottish west coast. “The new herring hunting web-app will increase this project’s inclusivity, since it will allow everyone to contribute as citizen scientists”, says Dr Wells.

Professor Diele adds that the WOSHH project is also linking research and teaching: “It was fantastic to work with our enthusiastic and capable Undergraduate (Lewis Watson), MSc students (Serajus Salekin, Bhaavya Malpani) and volunteers (Laura McBride, former Edinburgh Napier University student) to build the citizen-science web-app, the webpage and for support of our research.”  The Gairloch Museum outreach event was supported by the University’s Public Engagement Interdisciplinary Fund, bringing Edinburgh Napier University’s research and teaching expertise to Wester Ross.

“Herring is important for healthy functional Scottish seas that provide humans and other species with so many benefits,” concludes Professor Diele. They deserve our support, so that populations can re-establish where possible.”

*The William Grant Foundation is a non-profit association established to support charitable causes in Scotland. Its work is funded by William Grant and Sons Ltd.

Contact: 

Prof Karen Diele  k.diele@napierac.uk

Dr Michelle Frost: mfrost2@napier.ac.uk