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Centre for Sport Coaching and Physical Education Studentships

Centre for Sport Coaching and Physical Education

Active Video Games (AVGs) in Physical Education: The quest for understanding, implication and application
Research into the use of Active Video Games (AVGs) within Physical Education (PE) has increased in recent years. To date, research has mainly explored the physical, psychological and to some extent social benefits of AVG use in PE (Sheehan & Katz, 2013). However, this research is still in its infancy and further investigation is required to not only understand the magnitude of these effects but also the ways in which any potential benefit can be harnessed.

Another area yet to be explored is the role AVGs may play in the acquisition of Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) (Ennis, 2013), particularly in Primary PE, a crucial stage for the development of physical literacy (Whitehead, 2010). Moreover, Stodden et al. (2008) suggest that the greater an individual’s perceived competence with regard to FMS, the more likely they are to engage in a physically active lifestyle beyond school.

Drawing on quantitative and qualitative approaches, and using multiple methods, the research would aim to (1) investigate the extent to which Active Video Games (AVG) could contribute to the four learning domains (i.e. physical, social, cognitive and affective) within Physical Education; (2) understand the pedagogical implications of implementing AVGs within the Primary Physical Education curriculum and; (3) consider methods for the applications of AVGs within Primary Physical Education.

Please contact Dr Tom Quarmby for further details
Tel: +44(0)113 8124703
Coaching for flow: the detection and controllability of positive psychological states in sport
It has long been argued that the positive psychological state known as ‘flow’ is associated with optimum performance in sport (Jackson & Roberts, 1992). Athletes who can get themselves into ‘the zone’ for prolonged amounts of time are more likely to experience success than their opponents. At a participation level, flow is often held to be a causal factor in enjoyment, which, in turn, can lead to sport commitment and lifelong participation (Weiss & Amorose, 2008). Achieving flow states is an important outcome for participants and athletes at all levels, and coaches who are able to facilitate flow states are more likely to help their athletes succeed, whatever their goal.

To date, research on flow has been unable to articulate the mechanisms by which flow occurs. Flow still remains an elusive and precarious state, with many athletes and coaches believing that it is difficult to control its occurrence (Swann et al., 2012). This leaves coaches  with little information, beyond vague theoretical prescriptions, to help bring about flow states.

It is anticipated that the PhD will address questions such as:
  • How aware are coaches of psychological states of their athletes?
  • What are the observable characteristics of flow states, if any?
  • What are coaches’ and athletes’ perceptions of how flow states occur?
  • What conditions of learning environments – practice types, coach behaviours etc. – are most conducive to facilitating flow states?

The project will involve qualitative approaches in order to explore how coaches understand the meaning of flow. It is likely that video analysis techniques of coaches in action will also be incorporated. The aim of the project is to develop an intervention programme that will enhance the practice of frontline coaches at different levels.

Please contact  Dr David Piggott for further details
Tel: +44(0)113 8127571
Examining the practical utility of implicit motor learning
Contemporary skill acquisition research has devised implicit motor learning paradigms that reduce the involvement of conscious (or explicit) processes in the learning and performance of motor tasks (see Masters & Poolton, 2012, for a recent review). Masters, Maxwell, Poolton and colleagues have shown in a large body of research spanning over two decades that compared to skills learnt in a traditional, explicit fashion - dependent on working memory to store, recall and manipulate declarative knowledge - implicit learning paradigms develop skills that display characteristics of automaticity (e.g., multi-tasking capability) and resilience to common performance stressors (e.g., psychological pressure or physiological fatigue).  

Despite its successes, advocates of implicit learning have conceded, “the chances of maintaining implicit motor learning over the many years that it takes to become an expert seem remote” (Masters et al., 2002, p.138). Encouragingly, recent work has suggested that a short initial bout of implicit learning could be sufficient to bestow the benefits associated with learning implicitly (Poolton et al., 2005).

Whilst the implication of such a finding is exciting for the learning of novel tasks, from a practical standpoint learners are often delivered to practitioners with some degree of task-related explicit learning experience. The overarching aim of this research project is to examine whether a short bout of implicit learning following a more extensive period of explicit learning elicits characteristics synonymous with implicitly learnt skills.  

The research will progress from the laboratory to the field in order to evaluate the real-world impact of implicit learning as a tool to combat common threats to proficient performance (e.g., pressure, gamesmanship, distractions or fatigue). Outcome measures will be allied to both basic and more advanced kinematic performance analysis in an attempt to quantify the effect a range of experimental manipulations have on skilled performance.

Please contact Dr Jamie Poolton  for further details
Tel: +44(0)113 8123557
Feminism, Gender and Physical Education
Over twenty years ago, Sheila Scraton published one of the first in-depth, feminist analyses of gender and girls’ PE (Scraton, 1992). Drawing on structural feminist theory, it identified key issues in the construction, reproduction and resistance of dominant gender relations in the practices of PE, not least the ways in which the structure, content and teaching of girls’ PE in secondary schools contributed to the construction of  female physicality linked close to ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ central to gender power relations.

However, the research also began to explore the potential for girls to challenge and resist gendered expectations and concluded that PE was an important site for the physical and political empowerment of girls and young women. Since then, understandings of feminism and gender have developed significantly, but the extent to which PE practice has changed remains questionable. For example, newer theoretical perspectives have focused more on identities, bodies and difference  (Azzarito and Katzew 2010), and how gender intersects with other power relations to impact on girls’ and young women’s experiences (Flintoff, et al, 2008). Despite these theoretical developments, there remains a gap between theory and practice; some also argue that the shift towards a focus on difference has been at the expense of losing sight of persistent inequalities.  

This research offers an opportunity to explore the changing nature of feminism and its impact on contemporary PE practice. To what extent has current practice changed, and can be described as ‘gender relevant’ (Gorely, et al, 2001), rather than gendered?  What might a critical feminist praxis in PE look like? Is a gendered/feminist analysis still relevant? The proposed methodology would draw on qualitative methods (e.g. ethnography, interviews, observations) or use mixed methods (including surveys/questionnaires) depending upon the exact focus chosen for the research.

Please contact  Professor Anne Flintoff for further details
Tel: +44(0)113 8126148
Investigating the Effectiveness of Physical Education and School Sport delivered by External Providers
Physical Education and School Sport (PESS) is a complex and politicised context, which has been well documented in recent times (Philpott and Grix, 2014). It is fair to summarise PESS England, in terms of subject marginalisation, resource deficit, and policy indifference. PE, in particularly, has been expected to achieve multiple outcomes (Siedentop, 2002), including the promotion of physical activity through PESS, which is a major consideration for NICE (2009) in order to support lifelong participation. In the post Olympic era, and the funding cuts and subsequent dismantling of School Sports Partnership Programme, which was previously spearheaded by the Youth Sport Trust, the new coalition government announced a new investment in PESS through the PE and Sport Premium for primary schools. This involved the distribution of over £450 million directly to primary school head teachers to improve PESS between 2013 and 2016.
This generous investment has resulted in the re-emergence and explosion of a new type of external provider after a short, but difficult year before the announcement of the PE and Sport premium. The decentralisation of decision-making on this investment to head teachers has seen an abundance and range of willing external providers, including small businesses, charities, social entrepreneurs and including professional sport clubs. These compete to deliver on this lucrative PESS investment. To our knowledge there is very little is known and even less research the role of external providers working in PESS, especially professional sport clubs (Parnell et al., 2015 in press).

With those thoughts in mind, this proposed PhD aims to assess the context, motivations and effectiveness of external providers working in PESS in primary schools.

The purpose of this research is to:

  1. Investigate the partnership context and motivations between primary schools and external providers.
  2. Investigate the delivery models adopted by external providers, which would include the role of and relationship with the teachers in primary schools.
  3. Investigate the effectiveness of delivery of external providers against curriculum and physical activity outcomes.
  4. Disseminate impact outcomes to a range of internal and external stakeholders.

Please contact  Professor Andrew Sparkes for further details
Tel: +44(0)113 8123546
What’s so ‘special’ about physical education in special schools
The PhD provides an excellent opportunity for a motivated student to study in the area of special school physical education. Within physical education it is mainstream settings that have been afforded attention by researchers. For example, there is a growing body of research that analyses the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream PE from the perspective of teachers, pupils, special educational needs coordinators and learning support assistants. Whilst this kind of research is valuable, it has not added to understandings of special school physical education. It is timely to consider special school physical education given recent claims the current education system is not fit for purpose and, thus, should be radically restructured to include more special schools. By drawing on the resources found within cultural studies, critical disability studies and inclusive education this research offers a much needed opportunity to research a marginalised yet important context of educational provision. If you enjoy engaging critically and questioning conservational practices within physical education this PhD will offer you an excellent opportunity to develop further and at the same time engage in a unique research project.

Please contact Dr Hayley Fitzgerald for further details
Tel: +44(0)113 8127570