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

Pitch perfect. Falkirk’s visit to Sport Exercise Science Labs

In line with the Edinburgh Napier’s commitment to students gaining valuable first-hand experience, two postgraduate Sports & Exercise Sciences students were recently scheduled to work with Falkirk FC’s squad, to produce a pre-season assessment.

The Club’s players assembled at the state-of-the-art laboratories at Sighthill in June, to take part in a series of tests designed to record everything from their percentage body fat to their counter movement jump height.

The session was run by Laboratory Technician, Russell Wilson, and two Sport Performance Enhancement MSc students, Kieran McManus and Jack Brennan. They soon had the squad working hard:

  • Using the School’s new SECA portable body composition analysers to measure variables such as overall body fat percentage, resting energy expenditure, sectional skeletal muscle mass measurements and visceral adipose tissue.
  • Performing counter movement jumps and squat analysis using Kistler force plates. These provide information on jump height, relative maximal power and time spent in each phase of the jump/squat.
  • The club’s physio also requested hamstring force measurements, to establish pre-season baseline hamstring strength.

Falkirk players in ENU Sports labs

The following day, Kieran and Jack attended Falkirk’s stadium to assist with some additional testing. There, the students ran the players through some speed and agility drills, including straight sprint speed testing and the 5-0-5 agility test, using Witty timing gates to provide accurate velocity information.

Graeme Henderson, Head of Performance at Falkirk FC, was delighted with the sessions, which were also attended by Falkirk’s head coach, Paul Sheerin, and the club’s head physiotherapist, Rachel Gillen.

“The data will prove invaluable over the course of the season,” said Graeme. “It gives us an ability to provide a comparison throughout the season in relation to the physical levels we expect of our squad. It also helps with return to play protocols, should any player unfortunately suffer from injury, as we can compare to the baseline scores we now have.

“Throughout the process, the support we received from Edinburgh Napier has been excellent and highlights their ability to assist elite level athletes. The Master’s students provided insight in interpreting data, further underlining the world class level of academic learning provided at Edinburgh Napier.”

These interactions underline the University’s commitment to strengthening its existing relationship with the Scottish FA, who accredited a new undergraduate degree in Football Coaching, launched in 2019.