Updated: Feb 11
University Strength and Conditioning Departments in Focus
The S&C departments within universities provide excellent examples of evidence-based practice, applying scientific principles of S&C to their unique and challenging performance environments.
Through these articles, we will be taking a detailed look at what our partners at different institutions do, sharing good practice and providing a platform for collaboration and improvement.
If you run a university based S&C department, anywhere in the world, please get in touch to share your story.
University of East London
In this article we'll be looking into the High Performance Programme at the University of East London, England. The University of East London (UEL) currently compete in the British Universities and Colleges Sport championships (BUCS), which consists of over 170 different universities, and over 50 sports in the United Kingdom. UEL currently has 34 teams that compete across a range of sports in BUCS, with 5 of those having a special focus as the university's High Performance Sports; Athletics, Basketball, Football (Soccer), Tennis and Volleyball.
East London Sport - A Brief History
Located in the docklands area of the east end of London is the University of East London. The University of East London has been pioneering futures since 1898: from the 2nd Industrial Revolution through to where we are now, the 4th. We are a careers-led university, dedicated to supporting our students to develop the skills, emotional intelligence and creativity needed to thrive in a constantly changing world.
Over the past 10 years the university has invested heavily in its sports programmes. Pre 2010 the universities sports programme was non-existent. With no facilities to call our own and only a handful of teams competing on a social level. However, investment was kickstarted in 2010 when the universities Royal Albert docks campus was selected to be one of the training hubs for Team USA during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic games. This led to the development of Sports Dock, a state-of-the-art training facility and commercial gym space.
The Olympics have been and gone but UEL continue to invest in sport and it now has a very successful high performance programme. In 2010, the University of East London was ranked just 124th in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league – the National Governing Body for University Sport. With only a handful of teams and no medallists, East London Sport was created. Since then we have won the BUCs Most Improved University for Sports, and increased our ranking 81 positions in the BUCs ranking. Since then we have helped develop nine Olympians/Paralympians, 34 teams across a wide range of sports and 500+ active students.
As mentioned above UEL is home to Sports Dock which is used by a number of professional sports teams and NGB’s for camps and training venues. However, with the increased success of the university sports programme we have created a performance hub that has been named “Aqua Gym” due to its views over the Gallions Point marina. This is now where 100% of our performance strength and conditioning programme takes place. While far from the high-end gyms than many NCAA institutions boast, its well equipped and serves its purpose to the athlete.
The university offers a scholarship programme and this is open to all athletes via online application and then selection. Scholarships range from use of services (such as strength and conditioning, physio, sports therapy, sports psychology, lifestyle and nutrition) to monetary rewards up to 60% of the cost to attend the university. In the UK university sporting system there is no stringent rules regarding eligibility like in the NCAA. Simply put if you are enrolled on a course you can compete for the university in your chosen sport, with no age limit or conflict with professionalism. A number of our athletic cohort are made up of post grad Americans who come to UEL to complete their masters and play for another year or two. Financially it makes sense for them to do this, while it also provides a stepping stone from college into a professional league.
While there is a requirement for all scholarship athletes to compete for the university, the majority will also play for semi and fully professional club teams within and around the London area. Our track and field and individual sport athletes will compete across the UK and Europe in various competition unrelated to the university competition set up. It is not unusual for a basketball or volleyball scholar to have 2-3 practices a week with the university team with games being played on Wednesday. They would then combine this commitment with having 2-4 practices a week with their professional club team and 1-2 games across the length of the country. Combine this sporting commitment with their academic studies and also their S&C sessions, you can imagine that it’s a very demanding time for these higher level scholar athletes.
Strength and Conditioning Programme
The UEL S&C programme has evolved rapidly over the last 5 years. I have worked as a S&C consultant during this entire time, so rather than employed by the university directly they hire me as a contractor. This has many positives but also some negatives that I don’t need to go into in this article. However this past year the programme had developed to a point where the university hired my S&C consultation company “DoTraining” to lead the entire S&C programme. This is somewhat of a unique position within the UK university system but it allows DoTraining to really develop the programme and bring in partnerships with external athletes and teams. Currently we have 190 scholarship athletes that are part of the programme. As mentioned above, these athletes range from Olympic level down to regional in 15 different sports/disciplines. Along side this we have established partnerships with one of the UKs leading T&F youth programmes (Newham & Essex Beagles), the current British Basketball League champions London Lions, as well as a number of smaller semi-professional and amateur senior and junior club teams. This would take our total athlete cohort to close to 250.
DoTraining have a staff of myself and 4 lead coaches, all of whom are certified with the UKSCA, NSCA and post graduate degrees. Along side these coaches we have a very successful internship programme. Currently we have 16 interns that are required to do a minimum of 6 hours per week. This is a voluntary internship, but we provide weekly development meetings, 8 in-house CPD sessions led by myself and the 4 lead coaches. We also have a number of external coaches come and provide some workshops. The internship provides both undergrad and post grads work placement opportunities that are a requirement of most degree courses. We do not limit the internship to just UEL students, we have several interns from other universities in London and the surrounding areas. We also take on several interns that are looking for more exposure, coaching and learning opportunities within the high-performance environment. Many of our former interns have moved on to full time positions following their experiences with us. This is something that both myself and the university is very proud of.
High Performance Programme Philosophy
The philosophy of the high-performance programme is to provide athletes access to professional facilities, world class coaches and sports medical support. Originally modelled on the American student/athlete scholarship system, it has evolved and now services many very high level professionals and Olympic level athletes as well. Our philosophy as an S&C programme is similar to that of my own personal philosophy and that’s based on the following priorities.
Respect both the coach and athlete.
Hard and smart work that is backed by the latest scientific and in-the-field research.
A holistic approach to high performance, with an understanding that S&C is just one piece of the performance puzzle.
A healthy and happy athlete is an athlete that is more likely to achieve success within their sport.
Our philosophy is continually evolving as a programme and we are not pigeon holed into one training methodology or way of thinking. Consider the above bullet points more of our non-negotiables. We are very focused on the individual as an athlete regardless of sports or background and enabling them to get the most out of our knowledge, expertise and experience to help achieve their sporting goals. Between myself and my 4 lead coaches we are continually bouncing ideas off each other and evolving our training programmes, communication and expertise as a whole.
S&C Programme Structure
For the majority of our team sports we will programme during in-season around the conjugated method. Each team sport athlete would be expected to attend a minimum of 2 sessions per week. This schedule is determined by class and club schedule as often the university teams are not the athletes priority but rather their clubs are. As a result, we rarely get teams in as a group which I will touch in a moment. Individual sport athletes are programmed and tailored toward their competitions. For example, in track and field we have 2 major university championships – indoors in February and outdoors in May. It is however often the case that for several of our elite athletes the university competitions are not their priority and national and international championship and qualifications are. Establishing with everyone exactly which competition is the priority will ultimately dictate the structure of their season and programme from an S&C perspective.
Our day to day routine starts from 9am until 8.30pm. Coaching sessions are broken down into 90-minute blocks and we would have 6-8 blocks on any given day (Monday-Friday). Athletes are assigned to individual blocks and coaches across the week based on their availability. These blocks will contain athletes from a variety of different sports and levels. This structure has helped to create a very positive and competitive training environment among athletes and sports within our gym.
Current Issues faced
We have a number of challenges that we are faced within the university programme. The major being there is not a huge campus life and the majority of our scholars are not living on campus. Combine this with the above-mentioned hectic schedule of university and club training commitments, it can be very hard to schedule “team” S&C sessions. As a result, we rarely have just one team as a group of athletes in the gym at one time. This has resulted in us being very specific regarding programming for each individual rather than have a generic “team” programme that is coached to all members. This also poses a challenge when programming and coaching as it’s not uncommon to have 15 athletes in at one time from 8 different sports. Another big issue is that a large majority of athletes will have more than one team they play for so to keep track of schedules and expectations of different technical coaches can be a challenge. Facility wise we are not blessed with a huge amount of space or resources and as the programme has grown over the last couple of years, scheduling to ensure maximum efficiency of contact time with each athlete is a big challenge.
Programme Future focus
Moving forward as a performance programme we have reached somewhat of a ceiling with regard to our progression up the university rankings. This simply because of the number of teams that the university can enter into competitions. As a result of this we are now focused on just 5 priority sports. These sports are Men and Women’s Football (soccer), Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis and Track & Field. As these are the university priority sports we expect to medal in each of these sports at each university championships. Away from university competition more focus and resources are now being given to developing and supporting athlete to reach the elite end of their given disciplines. We are also pushing forward our current elite athletes and providing them with a support network of coaches and staff that rival any NGB or institute of sport. As a programme we are starting to establish more partnerships with professional teams and support their professional player development while raising the profile of the university and truly a high performance HUB in London and the south of England.
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