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Changing lives with positive youth sport development

We caught up with Dr Sergio Lara-Bercial, Reader in Sport Coaching at our university and recent PhD graduate, to find out what life has been like as part-time research student.

Sergio Lara-Bercial

Hi Sergio - what was your PhD all about?

My PhD was all around trying to understand what children and young people get from being part of sport. There’s lots of examples where sport hasn’t been that great to people so I wanted to find out what children can get from sport beyond the physical, tactical and technical bit. To find out how we can maximise sport for the personal development of children and young people.

What led you to choose this subject?

It was a really personal choice. I think it started with me being an athlete for 20 years. I got so much out of the sport but I also had some difficult moments and therefore wanted to understand a lot more how we can maximise the good moments and remove the bad times. To understand how we can create ideas that would help more coaches get it right more often.

What brought you to work and study at Leeds Beckett University?

I used to work with the late Professor Pat Duffy at UK Coaching and when Pat moved to Leeds Beckett, I wanted to follow him. I also thought the environment at Leeds Beckett was fantastic for what I wanted to do. We’ve got some of the most renowned people in that world here - Dr Andy Abraham, Dr Julian North, Dr Bob Muir, Dr Dave Piggott. It’s like a candy shop here if you are into coaching!

What has been the biggest challenge?

Time! I was studying part-time and working full-time whilst trying to raise a young family and still wanting to coach. I wanted to keep my hand in and didn’t just want to do the academic side and forget about the practical side. I was trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together, which was a challenge.

How has your PhD research tied in with the work you do here at Leeds Beckett?

My research ties in really well with the work I do here. It’s a co-operation between the university and the International Council for Coaching Excellence - which is similar to the United Nations of coaching. It a not-for-profit organisation that is trying to improve coaching worldwide. It involves trying to support people develop coaching systems or actually support the development of tools that help coaches on the ground.

What has been the impact of your research so far?

It has been substantial really. It’s not just me though, it’s the group of people who work around the sport coaching school. We are influencing policy around the world. We’ve produced international frameworks that support the development of a new type of coaching. We’ve developed tools for coach developers and those are now being applied. We are also developing a full website and some free learning for coaches that work with children.

What is your proudest achievement to date?

I think for me it would be the development of the iCoachKids website and free e-learning. As a children’s coach myself, I wish that someone had put together everything that I needed to know when I was starting out. Coach education at governing body level prepares you to coach the sport but it doesn’t prepare you to coach children.

Sergio Lara-Bercial

What is your top tip for a new research student?

My top tip would be just go for it. Everybody has to start somewhere. Be brave and just work at it every day. Stick with it, be resilient and don’t let your PhD slip.

What is your favourite twitter account?

I’m going to say ICoachkids! We are building a community of practice of children’s coaches from all over the world. Apart from the information we post, I love the things we get back from the community.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of someone who is applying for a PhD at Leeds Becket University?

There is no better place for them to do it. The resources we have in terms of the facilities and investment are huge. You’re not going to find better experts in all the disciplines to support you through this process. I would say get on the website and apply now!

What is next for your research?

We are pulling together a number of threads we have been working on over the last seven years to decide where we can drill a little deeper. We’ve done research in very different areas and now need to find a way to bring those together.

What is a viva voce examination and what was your experience?

A viva is the moment of truth! You’ve completed your dissertation, you’ve submitted it and you’ve got to face a panel of two external examiners, a general examiner and an independent chair. You have a conversation with them where you clarify any questions that they may have about your thesis. It is a nerve-wracking moment but it was also a very enjoyable one. I was lucky that two people I respect a lot came to be my external examiners along with Professor Andrew Sparkes who was my internal examiner. I have been reading Andrew’s work for 20 years so it was incredible to have those people there.

How did it feel to find out that you had got your PhD?

It was a great feeling! I had to make some sacrifices with work and family, with little time for myself. To finally be recognised for that work and cross the finish line, feels as though a big weight is off your shoulders but combined with a massive sense of pride. It’s not easy and you have to really commit to it, so it was a really proud moment.

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