Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
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Loughborough University


Swimmer carrying books

The best of both worlds

With less than 500 days to the start of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Team GB choosing Loughborough as its pre Games base, interest in the country’s elite athletes has never been so high.

Many people, however, may not be aware that 58 percent of the athletes that represented Team GB in the Beijing 2008 Games went through the higher education system and a number of athletes preparing for 2012 are managing an academic career alongside their sporting ambitions.

Robert Knott met with Professor Ian Henry, Director of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research, to discuss how his work is helping to explain the factors behind managing a ‘dual career’.

Loughborough University is renowned for sport. It is home to some of the UK’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff and has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world, with the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports. It is this environment that attracts elite athletes to come and study at Loughborough.

Although combining sporting achievement with studying for a degree is a tall order, Ian Henry explains this is not necessarily the case. “Although the pressures on elite sportspeople are high, many actually respond well to additional demands, such as studying for a degree,” he says.

A number of research projects on the ‘dual career’ of sport and study have come out of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research. Most recently the PhD study of Loughborough’s Dawn Aquilina looked at negotiating dual career paths in elite sport and university education in Finland, France and the UK.

The study focused on 18 sportspeople, six from each country, from a range of Olympic sports, who were all balancing a dual career. The countries were selected as they provided different models of management for elite sport, based on a typology from earlier work by Professor Henry and Dr Aquilina undertaken for the European Commission.

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