Special populations and contexts

Understanding and supporting the specific needs and fair treatment of all who perform or operate in sport-related contexts.

We investigate how performance enhancement in sport can become more accessible by people, communities, and societies.

Drawing on multiple scientific disciplines and methods, we seek to better understand the factors associated with creating inclusive environments and use this knowledge to enable athletes, teams, coaches, and organisations from diverse backgrounds. We also focus on the promotion of equitable opportunities to empower more people to benefit from performing in sport.

If you would like to learn more about our sport performance work, collaborate on a project, or complete a research degree, please contact Professor Mark King.


Our research and enterprise projects include:

  • Female athletes
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes
  • Youth sport
  • Student-athletes
  • Performing across the lifespan
  • Disability and parasport
  • Athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Elite sport
  • Leaders and coaches
  • Multidisciplinary performance support staff.

Real-world impact

Examples of how our work has had an impact include:

  • Creating more opportunities in parasport – Our research has shaped new events and rules, supported international development, and improved the number of sporting opportunities for people with disabilities worldwide. Impact has been achieved in the sports of Paracanoe, Wheelchair basketball and Paratriathlon.
  • Supporting clean sport initiatives in Para sport – Our researchers are working alongside the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF), to explore the role of athlete support personnel in promoting clean sport behaviours and cultures.
  • Tailoring the international spinal cord injury (SCI) exercise guidelines – We have worked to ensure international guidelines were relevant to the language, research, needs and preferences of adults with SCI and SCI clinicians in Asian countries, specifically Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.
  • The 5Cs – In line with an increasing focus on improving organisational practice around the psychological development and health of young footballers, Professor Harwood developed the 5Cs framework as a user-friendly tool to support coaches in encouraging this important learning process.
  • Teaching children to be active – Although physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, more than 80% of children are not active enough to benefit their health. Our research has led to changes in health-related physical education (HRPE) policy, curricula and practices worldwide as well as the expansion and enhancement of HRPE professional development.
  • Revitalising junior cricket – A partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has examined whether the length of a conventional cricket pitch is detrimental to player enjoyment and technical development of young players. The work has resulted in the positive adoption of several recommendations.
  • International Safeguards for Children in Sport – Research led by Dr Daniel Rhind has been fundamental to the development, implementation and evaluation of the International Safeguards for Children in Sport. The safeguards have been translated into 11 languages and endorsed by more than 125 organisations, who work with over 35 million children.
  • The forgotten stakeholder – Our research underpins initiatives by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) which are helping parents around the world to enjoy their children’s sport participation – and play an active and positive part in encouraging it.
  • Transwomen and elite sport – The eligibility of trans athletes to compete in the category aligning with their gender identity is an area of intense debate. Experts at Loughborough University are investigating the physiological and biological effects of GAHT on athletic performance in transwomen athletes.
  • Faster, healthier, longer – Our biomechanics research – conducted in partnership with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – focuses on players’ fast bowling techniques with a view to enhancing individual performance whilst reducing the likelihood of injury.


If you would like to collaborate with our researchers, engage in consultancy or discuss potential PhD projects, please contact them using the information on their staff profile.

Staff in this subtheme include:

  • Dr Jamie Barker – Exploring clean sport culture in para-football and mental health and wellbeing in para sport.
  • Dr Laura Barrett – Development of the physical and performance characteristics of youth athletes.
  • Dr Richard Blagrove – Strategies to enhance performance and maintain health in endurance athletes.
  • Dr Ed Cope – Coaching behaviour, coach learning, and educational learning design.
  • Dr David Fletcher – The psychology of performance excellence in sport, business and other performance domains.
  • Dr Robin Jackson – Deception; visual behaviour; anticipation and decision making; choking and thriving under pressure.
  • Professor Sophia Jowett – Coaching, coach-athlete relationship, coach leadership and the impact on performance and wellbeing.
  • Professor Mark King – Maximising performance and minimising injuries in sport.
  • Anna Martin – Evidence-based classification for athletes with vision impairment.
  • Dr Sarabjit Mastana – Human population genetic studies; biochemical and morphological variation; genetics of sport performance and endurance; and forensic and paternity analyses.
  • Dr Thomas Miller – Wheelchair tennis and grass courts.
  • Dr Emma O’Donnell – The female athlete: effects of the menstrual cycle on athletic performance; The transwoman athlete: understanding the influence of gender affirming hormones on athletic performance.
  • Dr Anthony Papathomas – Exploring experiences of mental illness and poor mental health within elite performance settings.
  • Donghyun Ryu – Evidence-based classification for athletes with vision impairment.
  • Katelynn Slade – The coach-athlete relationship, managing selection and deselection, safeguarding in sport, and behaviour change.
  • Professor Vicky Tolfrey – Optimising para sports performance from an ergonomics approach. Exercise prescription and rehabilitation sciences in wheelchair propulsion.

Current PhD projects

Doctoral Researchers in this subtheme include:

  • Hanoof Aljohani – Low-intensity exercise with blood flow restriction (BFR): feasibility of a novel rehabilitation intervention in COPD patients.
  • Pippa Bailey – The physiological demands and recovery status during international wheelchair basketball gameplay: Implications for ‘What it takes to Win’. 
  • Yash Deshpande – Studying anticipation and deception to improve the quality of serve returns in wheelchair tennis.
  • Iain Gowans – Safeguarding the integrity of athlete classification in Paralympic sport.
  • Joanna Harper – Transgender athletes and participation in sport: Effects of hormonal intervention on cardiovascular and muscular biomarkers of athletic performance.
  • Elliot Lam – Elite youth hockey player development during the transition into university.
  • Anna Martin – Evidence-based classification for athletes with vision impairment.
  • Paul Miller – The phenomenon of thriving in elite sports coaches, teams and sporting organisations.
  • Thomas O'Brien – Optimising training strategies for wheelchair rugby players.
  • Nicola Rawlinson – The Influence of the Menstrual Cycle on Sports Performance.

To find out more about PhD opportunities in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, visit our Postgraduate research webpages.

Para Sport at Loughborough

Our vision is to create life-shaping opportunities through the development of an inspirational and inclusive Para sport offer.


Para Sport at Loughborough Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport