IUSCA directors Aden Flannagan and Andrew Langford with Leeds Beckett’s Senior Lecturer in Strength and Conditioning Sarah Whitehead in the Strength and Conditioning gym.

From Left to Right Leeds Beckett’s Senior Lecturer in Strength and Conditioning Sarah Whitehead with IUSCA directors Andrew Langford and Aden Flannagan

Case study International internship

The IUSCA partnership will open up more career-defining placements to students like Leeds Beckett alumni Tomas Watkins.

Tomas was selected for an eight-week placement at UCLA last summer. The challenge of being placed straight into coaching in the university's Olympic department bred a career-defining level of confidence. Tomas was working across a lot of sports including tennis, volleyball and gymnastics, but mainly with the women's soccer team. Playing in front of a packed stadium every week, the team was ranked number one in the US and had just won the national championships.

"The placement was an incredible experience which has provided me with new perspectives, ideas and inspiration to take into my future coaching and S&C practice.

"As I found my feet there the coaches demanded that I showed my ideas, that I showed the confidence in my own knowledge. I had the fundamental knowledge, the research and best practice from my course, and now I had the opportunity to back myself.

"Once you scream confidence, the athletes buy into you. I got a lot of respect and was allowed to just be a coach, to put my ideas into practice in a professional environment.

"I wasn't just looking and learning but doing the assessments, creating the programme, and always getting feedback on how well it worked."

Tomas also earned a second internship at a professional club in his preferred sport with Leeds Rhinos.

"It was those links with professional clubs Rhinos and Leeds United that had attracted me to Leeds Beckett. I really wanted one of the internships, and luckily I was selected after an application process.

"Internships teach you a lot. There is a lot of learning from the professionals and players on your placement, and then you have to prove to yourself that you have the knowledge. It is just 'here's a scenario, go and solve it.' Once you have the responsibility you appreciate the knowledge you've gained and how to apply it."

Tomas' confidence gained through internships, both at UCAL and with the Rhinos' women's and academy squads, and the ability to showcase his talent has led to a full-time role with the Rhinos. This was the first step on realising an ambition he'd held since thinking his old strength and conditioning coach at a Cardiff college had a 'sick job'.

While Tomas works with all grades at the club, his main role is with the academy. He typically runs four sessions a week with the under 18s, preparing them for life in the senior game through work in the gym and on the field. As strength and conditioning coach, Tom is looking at each player's speed, acceleration, how they move, and building programmes to improve sporting performance and reduce the likelihood of injury.

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into until you're there doing the job, but through the studies and the internships, my time at Leeds Beckett made sure I was as prepared as I could be for a job like this."

Tomas studied a sports and exercise undergraduate degree, then a specialised Strength and conditioning master. Aside from the internships, Tomas identifies the facilities and academics as being key to the preparation of students for careers.

"It makes a huge difference to know your lecturers have been there and done the jobs you want. It is applied knowledge from their careers and experience, not just regurgitating from a textbook.

"When you have someone like Josh (Darrall-Jones), who had worked with Yorkshire cricket, Bath Rugby's senior team, the Leeds Tykes and Academy, you can have confidence taking that knowledge into a workplace.

"The facilities are amazing - better than a lot of professional set-ups. Elite athletes use the facilities here, and we get to use the same ones to learn."

And Tomas urges all students to get the most out of the time with the academics.

"At masters level, I really connected with my lecturers. They have a huge amount of knowledge and networks within the industry which they're happy to use to help students like me.

"They're really willing to support you in your studies and to start your career. I still speak to them now. Josh (Darrall-Jones) in particular really helped me with decisions I had to make, with drafting CVs, finding the right placements and building relationships."