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Loughborough University

Honorary Degree Orations


Mr Roderick David Thorpe

Public Orator, Professor Clyde Williams presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 17 July at 10.30am


The Royal Society of Medicine recently convened a conference entitled ‘From Playground to Podium’ with the aim of identifying the pathways to international success in sport. They highlighted ‘teaching children sport, quality coaching and an environment with the very best sports facilities. They should have consulted Rod Thorpe who during a 35 year long career at Loughborough has made significant contributions to each of these stepping stones to success in sport.

Rod Thorpe qualified with distinction as a teacher of Physical Education and Biology at Loughborough College and after 4 years as at teacher at Watford Grammar School, he returned to Loughborough College as a temporary lecturer. It was clear to his senior colleagues that they had in Rod Thorpe a gifted teacher with a passion for education and sport. As a young lecturer he completed a postgraduate research degree and so was well prepared for the new environment following the amalgamation of the College with the University in 1977. His teaching and research interests were in the fields of sports psychology, skill acquisition, teaching and coaching studies. These were not simply his academic interests as reflected by his ability to translate theory to his own practice as a successful tennis coach. He raised tennis from a minor sport to one of the sporting strengths of the University so much so that the LTA were readily persuaded to contribute to the construction of the Dan Maskell Indoor Tennis Centre at Loughborough rather than elsewhere in the county. This was one of the first externally funded sports facilities on campus and this was only the beginning of Rod Thorpe’s pursuit of the very best sport environment for Loughborough.

In his day job as teacher and researcher he was equally productive. His interests in skill acquisition and sports psychology led him and his colleagues to develop a new way of teaching sports skills to young people. His book ‘Teaching Games for Understanding’ provided the background to some of the most successful national schemes such as Top Sport and Top Play, introduced by the Youth Sport Trust, that are delivered in every school in the country.

This approach to teaching games to young people has become the foundation for the formative years of coaching programmes in several countries and in particular one of our main sporting rivals, namely Australia. It is rumoured that the success of the Australian coaching system is due in no small measure to the many workshops that Rod Thorpe has run for Australian coaches over the last ten years. However, when reminded of the success in sport of other countries especially Australia, I almost regret that the University allowed Rod Thorpe to travel so extensively to deliver so many coaching workshops to our competitors in sport.

Rod Thorpe’s contribution to developments in coaching was recognised in 1997 by the International Olympic Committee through their ‘Services to Sport’ award that was presented by the then president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. In 2001 Rod was honoured by SportsCoach UK for his sustained and hugely influential contributions to coach education in the UK by being inducted into the ‘UK Coaching Hall of Fame’. Rod’s contribution to sport in higher education was also formally acknowledged by the Directors of Sport in UK Universities and Colleges who presented him with the prestigious David Munro Award for services to sport.

Nationally and internationally acknowledged for his contributions to coaching, education and sport, Rod ranks highest amongst these honours his unanimous nomination by his colleagues in the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences and in the Sports Development Centre as their representative to accompany our former Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Wallace to Buckingham Palace to receive Queen's Anniversary Prize on behalf of the University. Reflecting what is well known in sport yet rarely mentioned – that earning the respect and esteem of one’s team is as much an honour as the winner’s medal.

In 1997 he took on a new ‘day job’ as the director of the Sports Development Centre at Loughborough with the challenge of further developing sport on campus. He brought to the job not only has academic background and experience of sport at the highest level but also his passion for the personal and broader social potential that sport has for peoples lives. Rod Thorpe enhanced the role of the Sports Development Centre into more than just the responsibility for Sports facilities and programmes on campus. He extended the University’s involvement with a range of National Governing Bodies of Sport, national and regional Government Agencies, and a host of other partners and most notably led the £35 million sports facility development as part of the English Institute of Sport on campus.

These outstanding sports facilities are now not only enjoyed by sports men and women of all ages and abilities at Loughborough but also by international teams and sports people who also want to share in the ‘Loughborough Sport Experience’.

Through his inspirational teaching, his translation of research into practice and his vision of sport for Loughborough, Rod Thorpe has crafted and nurtured the Loughborough Sport Experience which has become an international brand for success in sport.

Therefore Chancellor, I present Mr Roderick David Thorpe to you and the University for the degree of Doctor of the University honoris causa


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