Building strong relationships with professional and international rugby teams
Colleague spotlight | Professor Ben Jones
As a Carnegie School of Sport graduate himself, Professor Ben Jones is truly immersed in the culture of sport science at Leeds Beckett University. Co-director of the Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) Centre, Ben is passionate about improving the experiences of rugby athletes and coaches, and cites helping sport return during the Covid-19 pandemic as one of his proudest career moments to date.
Tell us a bit about you and what led you to working with Carnegie School of Sport
I arrived at Leeds Beckett University in 2004 as an undergraduate student in the Carnegie School of Sport. The opportunities and experiences I was afforded during my degree and MSc gave me the confidence to study for a PhD.
I knew I wanted to learn more, and the environment in the Carnegie School of Sport inspired me to be curious and make the most of the sporting partnerships our university has. I undertook my PhD in collaboration with several professional rugby teams, facilitated by the university, which led to further research and consultancy opportunities beyond my PhD, and my first academic job as a senior lecturer in 2013.
I received my Professorship in 2017, and now continue to work with professional sports teams, with a passion and curiosity to just understand a little bit more.
What makes you passionate about your work around research in rugby and why is it important?
I think research in sport science is about asking questions we don’t know the answers to – then applying robust scientific methods to ensure we are confident in the answers to the questions.
The Carnegie School of Sport has strong relationships with professional and international rugby teams, including Leeds Rhinos, England Rugby League, England Rugby Union, Scottish Rugby Union, Bath Rugby, so we have a unique opportunity to listen to real-world questions from the field and then draw on our world-leading experts to help answer them in innovative ways. We can then help improve the experiences, performance and welfare of athletes and coaches in sport – which is both important and hugely rewarding.
Sport continues to have existing and new challenges. In rugby, we know that there is a risk of injury and concussion, so we work closely with stakeholders to look at ways in which we can provide solutions to these challenges. By undertaking collaborative research and then applying the findings from our studies, we’ve been able to have an impact and make a difference to the players, coaches and sport.
How is collaboration integral to your work, and what are one or two collaborations that have been most meaningful to you?
Our research within rugby has been built on developing strong collaborations and genuine relationships with professional rugby teams.
The research we do with Leeds Rhinos continues to allow us to innovate and explore new areas, which is a credit to the forward-thinking nature of the club. Most of our research programmes started in Leeds Rhinos, as a small study, following a conversation over coffee. For example, our research quantifying match demands, and more recently head accelerations, started at Leeds Rhinos and were then rolled out more broadly across rugby league, in collaboration with the Rugby Football League and Super League.
Having collaborators like Leeds Rhinos and the Rugby Football League who continue to trust, challenge and support our research is important to ensure that we continue to ask and answer questions that matter.
What acheivements in this area have you been most proud of while working in Carnegie School of Sport?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers from within the CARR Centre were instrumental in developing the evidence and the guidance for rugby league and sports more broadly.
Experts from within the group modelled player-to-player interactions during rugby matches, which then allowed us to hypothesise the SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk, which we later investigated. This led to the development of risk exposure frameworks, which were adopted by UK Government departments, and other national and international sporting organisations. Helping sport return during a pandemic is definitely a proud moment.