Research partnership enhances England Athletics’ Youth Talent Programme
Two University of Exeter experts have been working with England Athletics on their highly successful Youth Talent Programme.
With Professor Alan Barker’s supervision, Dr Robert Mann has been evaluating England Athletics‘ Youth Talent Programme (YTP), which is designed to meet the needs of talented Track and Field athletes between 16 and 18 years old.
In his time as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Robert’s work helped England Athletics to implement a new and improved process for recruiting young athletes onto the programme, while also providing a suite of communications materials and a dataset to guide future decision-making.
What is a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship?
A Knowledge Exchange Fellowship is intended to strengthen existing relations between non-academic (external) organisations and academics. This funding can either enable an academic to work in a suitable non-academic organisation or for an external partner to work at a university. As the funding for this Fellowship was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council through the University of Exeter’s translational funding portfolio, the Fellow was required to be a trained social scientist. That said, most Research Councils provide similar IAA funding opportunities.
What is the Youth Talent Programme?
The Youth Talent Programme is the first step on the talent performance pathway and is designed to meet the needs of talented English Track and Field athletes aged between 16 and 18 years old (and their coaches). Approximately 220 athletes are selected onto this programme every year. Completion of the two-year programme allows athletes in full-time education to attain a Diploma in Sporting Excellence, while supporting their journey along a well-established talent pathway.
How did this research support England Athletics?
The central aim of this Fellowship has been to support relevant England Athletics staff in delivering and evaluating the Youth Talent Programme, alongside developing collaborative research ideas and future funding applications.
Evaluating how England Athletics recruits athletes
One of the main activities during this Fellowship was to evaluate how England Athletics recruit athletes onto the Youth Talent Programme. This initially included reviewing and redesigning the online application form. After presenting ideas to the interim Programme Lead, Nick Ridgeon, and UK Athletics’ Olympic Performance Pathway Manager, Dan Wagner, the revised application form was signed-off and implemented for the 2021 YTP recruitment process. This application form is due to be used for the foreseeable future, with this approach also helping to develop a comprehensive dataset that can guide England Athletics’ decision making processes.
Piloting a new recruitment approach
Alongside redesigning the online application form, this Fellowship allowed England Athletics to pilot a novel recruitment approach for the YTP. This involved designing and implementing a series of athlete profiling days. These profiling days provided prospective athletes with an opportunity to showcase their physical, technical, and behavioural attributes across a range of tasks. Having taken place at the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, Leeds Beckett University, and Brunel University, these profiling days demonstrate the real-world impact of this Fellowship. As these profiling days were introduced as a pilot scheme, they are currently being reviewed for use as part of future YTP application cycles.
Informing young athletes on the YTP
This Fellowship also included the creation of evidence-informed resources for those athletes enrolled on the YTP. As one example, a series of infographics were produced to help newly enrolled athletes to understand communication expectations and how to manage their time on the programme effectively. Both the development of these resources and the profiling days (including the creation of a ‘playbook’) were ably supported by two University of Exeter summer internship students – Izzy Bradshaw and Alex Tripp.
What next for this Research Partnership?
As mentioned, part of this Fellowship involved developing applications for further research funding with England Athletics. Conversations during this Fellowship led Robert to apply for an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the South West Doctoral Partnership. Having been successful in application, all parties have a bolstered sense of partnership and will seek to build upon recent progress.
“Working with Rob and the team at Exeter has resulted in huge evolutions of the YTP. Having youth development experts as part of the project group has enabled us to critically reflect on everything that the YTP can offer. Making sure everything we do at the first stage of the talent pathway is academically justifiable and robust is vital to ensure the sport of Athletics is in the best possible position for the long term. We are excited to continue this partnership during Rob’s Postdoc Fellowship and beyond.”
Nick Ridgeon, YTP Lead, England Athletics
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