Four education institutions are leading the way with supporting talented athletes in education in England, having been accredited by an innovative new Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) initiative.
The Sport England-funded scheme, managed by SportsAid, believes that every young person on a talent pathway should have the opportunity to gain qualifications alongside their sporting pursuits and have the chance to follow other interests and personal development.
And by formally recognising an institution’s commitment to supporting student-athletes, the TASS Dual Career Accreditation Scheme aims to allow athletes to reach their potential in education alongside achieving success in their sport.
Referenced within the education section of Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s Duty of Care in Sport Review published in April, accreditation shows that a college or university has the ability to support students following a dual career route.
“Having looked in detail at the talent pathway and the support available for talented young athletes in the Duty of Care Review I carried out earlier this year, I’m really pleased to learn that TASS are now accrediting education institutions," said Baroness Grey-Thompson.
“I believe we have to a duty to help young people to achieve their potential, whilst prioritising their welfare, wellbeing and education. For the vast majority of athletes, skills and formal qualifications are needed to help them find alternative careers, either alongside their sporting activities or once their sporting days are over.
“For me the TASS Dual Career Accreditation Scheme is a vitally important measure to ensuring all athletes have the chance to pursue an education and enjoy a more well-rounded approach to life.”
Of the quartet of TASS Dual Career Accredited Centres, two are further education institutions – Leaf Academy Bournemouth and Barnet & Southgate College – whilst two are universities – Southampton Solent and Sheffield Hallam.
The Dual Career Accredited Centres will be an important extension of the network of universities that already partner with TASS, delivering core support services to more than 400 student-athletes each year.
These support services include physiotherapy, nutrition, lifestyle support, psychology strength and conditioning and a private medical scheme.
While some of the existing services delivered focus solely on developing the young person’s sporting performance, a dual career support structure and academic flexibility policies will be central to the help available to athletes based at an Accredited Centre.
From each further education institution, a designated Dual Career Coordinator will complete the Talented Athlete Support in Transitions and Education (TASTE) course, equipping them with the skills to practice a dual career approach.
For the universities involved, the Talented Athlete Lifestyle Support (TALS) qualification - which was developed in partnership with 1st4Sport - will be achieved by at least one practitioner, proving their expertise in managing the balance between sport and education.
Additionally, all Dual Career Accredited Centres are set to receive a toolkit of resources to help provide practical dual career support and bring together all parties who work with the athlete.
For student-athletes, the academic flexibility policies may mean they have the opportunity to access online notes or resources, have a choice of assignments, are able to arrange catch up sessions with lecturers, or even reschedule deadlines or exam dates in exceptional circumstances.
Meanwhile for the institutions, the recognition of becoming a TASS Dual Career Accredited Centre is expected to be beneficial by attracting a greater number of talented athletes and building connections with other local sporting institutions.
Sheffield Hallam is one of 30 established TASS Delivery Sites that currently deliver specialist services a select group of talented athletes each year and is one of the first higher education institutions to have their commitment approved by the university’s Vice Chancellor.
Their new status as a Dual Career Accredited Centre is an enhancement of the university’s existing partnership with TASS and signifies the additional commitments made to dual career support.
The university was selected to participate in a pilot for the Dual Career Accreditation Scheme and TASS expects a number of existing Delivery Sites to follow suit in the new academic year.
Sheffield Hallam’s Sam Thompson is a national level volleyball athlete who is currently on the university’s Performance Athlete Support Programme, as well as having benefitted from TASS support in the past year.
The LLB Law with Criminology student explained how studying at a university that is equipped to deliver dual career support has helped him. He said:
“Balancing the high workload of my course and the busy volleyball training and S&C schedule has proven to be a challenge.
“When I have felt under pressure due to coursework deadlines, a demanding workload and high training volume, I requested an extension for some pieces of coursework.
“The athlete support team made this process easy as possible for me, which in turn helped to reduce pressure and stress of balancing the various commitments I have as a student athlete.
“I also believe that the reduced academic stress has enabled me to focus more on volleyball, allowing me to maintain competing and training at a high level.”
Guy Taylor, TASS National Director, said: “We’re delighted to be awarding TASS Dual Career Accreditation to the first colleges and universities to complete the commitment process.
“Dual career support is at the forefront of what TASS does and that’s why the Accreditation Scheme is so important for us in recognising those institutions who place precedence on their athletes’ education too.
“We hope that the academic flexibility policies put into place for the accreditation will begin to develop an effective and lasting dual career structure within each institution.
“Congratulations to the first four Dual Career Accredited Centres and we look forward to working alongside many more outstanding colleges and universities in the near future.”
Phil Smith, Sport England’s Director of Sport, added: “Our future sporting champions shouldn’t have to choose between getting an education and excelling at their sport, but they are at risk of dropping out of one of them if they don’t get the right support.
“Since 2004, over 6,000 athletes have been supported via the Sport England-funded TASS scheme, 98 of whom went on to compete at the Rio Olympics.
“We’re excited we can now offer education institutions the opportunity to become a TASS Dual Career Accredited Centre, so they can access training and resources to help provide practical dual career support for athletes.”