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

Former Scotland rugby coach reflects on his time at Edinburgh Napier and discusses his new All Blacks role

Ben Fisher may not be the most recognisable name in the sport of rugby but he may well be one of the most influential. After a successful career playing for Boroughmuir RFC and Edinburgh Rugby, Ben took his experience and knowledge to the training grounds, where he has coached Scotland U16, U18 and U20 teams, as well as working as an Academy Manager and Coach for Scottish Rugby for 10 years. While Ben has been instrumental in the development of Scotland’s 2019 Rugby World Cup squad he’s now changed his navy blue colours for an “All Black” one. Upon graduating from Edinburgh Napier University in 2018 with a Master’s degree in Sports Performance Management, Ben was offered the role as a High-Performance Talent Development Manager for the famous New Zealand national rugby union team, also known as the All Blacks.

Ben’s new position within the All Blacks setup sees him managing the 14-strong Provincial Union Academy structure across New Zealand.  He said, “We have around 400 players in those academies, aged 18 – 21. I work to ensure the players’ holistic development is catered for and that the curriculum delivered in the academies, and personalised player development plans are all of a high standard. The aim is to ensure a steady supply of high-quality professional players; great people, and future winning All Blacks.” Other parts of his role see him perform ambassadorial duties, as he recently embarked on a trip to Japan, ahead of the Rugby World Cup, to represent the All Blacks on promotional duty.

While the All Blacks are currently in Japan, looking to retain the World Cup for a third consecutive time – a feat that has been unrivalled so far – Ben believes his time at Edinburgh Napier has prepared him for such a high-profile position. He said “I chose to study at Edinburgh Napier University as it offered an excellent programme that was tailored to fit the needs of my learning. The university is very supportive of Rugby in general and its collaboration with Scottish Rugby is excellent. They help develop coaches and players in Scotland via the Edinburgh Academy partnership, the UKSS Level 4 coaching course, and also two Super 6 teams.

During my time at university, I learned a lot of new skills and the course also reinforced a lot of the things that I was doing. Critical analysis and reflection skills were well practised, to dig deep into what I do as a practitioner and why. As a coach, you take on a wide range of roles and the course helped to broaden my understanding of sports psychology, pedagogy, leadership and talent development environments. It was excellent to be able to talk and share experiences with other students and the relationships I formed through my research helped to open my eyes to new ideas and gave me confidence in my own coaching behaviour. This has now given me the confidence to challenge current practice based on what I learnt in the course and the experience I gained in my research.”

After many successful years in Scotland, Ben is now back in his native New Zealand, with his family, a globally recognised Master’s degree, and a highly sought-after position at one of the most successful sport squads of all time. So, what would he recommend for anyone who may be interested in following a similar path? “Experience. Gain as much experience as possible through working, but also volunteering in your community.  Learning doesn’t stop: so listen, read, watch and most of all ask people about what they do and why. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas. The more you share, the more the ideas will grow & develop and refine.”