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York St John University

UOA 46 - Sports-Related Studies

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

Research context

Sports-related research at York St John University has progressed significantly since the last RAE in response to four key factors:

  1. A strategic review of research across the whole institution in 2002
  2. The implementation of the outcomes of that review, most notably the establishment of the Research and Enterprise Office
  3. The award to York St John by the Privy Council of Taught Degree Awarding Powers in 2006
  4. Achievement of University Title in 2007.

Research within the K46 submission is both inter- and multi-disciplinary with substantial external research collaboration. Members of the submission group are all employed within the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and our research includes the professional subject areas of Sport and Exercise Science and Sports Psychology.

The K46 submission includes research in the areas of:

  • Sport and HIV (Banda)
  • Motivational influences on human endurance performance (Crust)
  • Existential psychology (Nesti)
  • Mental toughness and hardiness (Sheard)
  • Enhancing health related physical activity (Smith)
  • Sociology of Sport (Velija: maiden name Cook)
  • Sport and spirituality (Watson).

Sports-related research was not submitted at the 2001 RAE but was recognised as an area of development following the 2002 review. New academic appointments have made a significant difference to sports-related research over the last six years.

The recent reorganisation of the University into Faculties (2006) led to Sports Science and Sports Studies being incorporated into a Faculty of Health and Life Sciences in the new University structure. The new Faculty has enabled greater collaboration with colleagues in health and made a significant contribution to recent research opportunities.

The Sports and Exercise Science programme in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences is accredited by  the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science (BASES). Academic staff members have a strong awareness of the benefit of research to BASES accreditation and to graduates. The Faculty has had strong research and consultation success with a number of high level sports organisations that are providing further opportunities for applied research.

Research students and research studentships

Seven part-time PhDs have been registered between 2001 and 2007 and Smith has successfully supervised four to completion. Three part time self-funded PhD students are registered at York St John (University of Leeds award) and supervised by the K46 submission group (Smith: 2, Nesti: 1). Smith is supervising a student, jointly with a physiotherapy colleague, using a phenomenological perspective investigating pain experienced by elite cyclists. Smith’s other PhD is on his final year of a study examining talent identification in elite sport. Nesti’s PhD student, who is self funded, is investigating humanistic counselling in applied sport psychology.

Sheard co-supervises two part-time PhDs with a colleague at University of Teesside, one investigating the construct validity of flow in competitive sport and the other investigating the relationship between sportsmanship and selected positive psychological variables. We have one member of staff (Smith) who has examined a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University.

Research income

External grant income from 2001 to 2007 has amounted to £32,400 and this has been augmented with further funding from applied research and consultancy in professional football (£36,000).

Research structure

Research from a University perspective is represented at the highest level with the Deputy Vice Chancellor acting as Chair of the Research and Enterprise committee. The Research and Enterprise Office, which is led at a professorial level and reports to the University Research and Enterprise Committee, offers central administration for PhDs and research through the Research Development Officer and research administrator. The quality of research support offered to PhD students at York St John University was warmly endorsed by the University of Leeds postgraduate review of affiliated institutions (2006) where the evidenced satisfaction of students on the PhD programmes was a significant contributing factor to the reviewers’ endorsement.

Our Professor of Sports Science (Smith) and our Reader in Sports Psychology (Nesti) have acted as research co-coordinators and represented the subject area on the Faculty Research and Enterprise Committee and on the University Research and Enterprise Committee. Their role has been to coordinate and lead research development in the sports-related research across the Faculty and to foster academic development in research.

The University and Faculty Research Ethics Committees now offer research students and staff timely judgements on research governance and ethics. Masters and PhD students have benefited, with staff, from these arrangements and have been successful in gaining NHS ethics and governance approval for the most challenging of research designs, one example of which would be Smith’s randomised controlled trial of GP attitudes to physical activity counselling.

The Faculty of Health and Life Sciences has a strong working relationship with the North Yorkshire NHS R&D Alliance, which oversees research governance in the region. Together we have agreed intellectual property rights via MedIPeX Ltd, which is responsible for brokering intellectual property between the NHS and Universities. The lead of the Yorkshire NHS R&D Alliance sits on the Faculty Research Committee. This committee meets four times per year and makes operational decisions about the nature of postgraduate and project-based research and organises an annual research conference.

The University has made a substantial contribution to research infrastructure in 2003 with the new purpose-built physiology and biomechanics laboratories which have enabled researchers to use state of the art human performance measurement equipment, such as force plates and video kinematics. This resource was boosted by a further investment of £110k in 2006 to purchase telemetry based metabolic and electromyography equipment plus a 3D kinematics digital recorder. The University’s long-term commitment to research is manifest in the new £12m building, to be opened in 2008, which will house the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and incorporate a new postgraduate centre with hot-desking facilities for up to 30 students. This development will significantly enhance the research infrastructure and will strengthen the research environment.

Staffing Policy

The Faculty of Health and Life Sciences has been proactive in appointing academics who enhance the research profile in Sport and Exercise Science in the University. In 2003 Sports and Exercise Science appointed its first Professor (Smith) and a Reader in Sports Psychology (Nesti) and we have since recruited a further three staff with PhDs. The staff complement includes a number of early career researchers, whose capacity is developing through collaboration and mentoring. The new academic staff members have been recruited from well-established departments of sport and have links with their former supervisors and colleagues, as evidenced by the co-authorship of a number of their articles and their ongoing membership of research groups.

The appointment of a Faculty senior research administrator has been a further investment in research that has freed research active staff to pursue more research bids. Each new staff member meets with the subject area research coordinator and develops a personal research plan, which is aligned with his/her annual appraisal. New researchers and existing staff are offered mentorship towards academic promotion by the Professor and Reader. The Faculty offers a comprehensive package of support to encourage academics who do not yet have them to pursue PhDs. This includes payment of PhD fees, the opportunity to attend research training courses and flexibility in workload negotiated through the programme team. Staff registration for PhDs is managed by the Faculty Management Team and based on annual appraisal. Two new members of staff are enrolled on external PhDs funded by the University.

The Faculty of Health and Life Sciences delivers regular in-service research training for staff in the areas of research governance and ethics, research design, statistics and bid writing skills. Academic staff are mentored in supervision at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and encouraged to be actively involved in Faculty and University ethics committees. Annual appraisal is used to ensure that new and existing staff continue to develop their research skills and a staff development fund exists to facilitate training opportunities.

Research strategy

The University has developed a new Research Strategy for the period 2007 to 2012. This builds on earlier strategies and acknowledges the progress made since RAE 2001, and the changes in staffing and areas of research expertise in that time.

In the light of the University’s five-year plan to position itself to submit for Research Degree Awarding Powers the Research Strategy is directed towards increasing research capacity and infrastructure leading to an enhanced profile of research that will attract PhD students and external research funding.

The University aims to develop a national and ultimately international reputation for research in distinctive fields, focussing in particular on developing research at the leading edge of professional practice. To this end the strategy emphasises the importance of developing and maintaining a sustainable postgraduate research community that contributes to a vibrant research culture.

The University strategy is enabled through the Research and Enterprise Office, which is led at a professorial level and offers central administration for PhDs with support from a Research Development Officer and research administrator. Together they coordinate PhD applications and registration and also offer bid-writing support for new research staff. One of the major initiatives of the Research and Enterprise office, in collaboration with the Deputy Vice Chancellor, has been to foster healthy competition between academics through the cluster awards scheme. The scheme, which has a pump priming focus, offers research teams the opportunity to bid, each year, for interdisciplinary research funds. The K46 submission group (Smith, Nesti, Watson and Banda) has been successful in securing funding through this process with research involvement within four of the twelve University research clusters and a total of 5 cluster research projects approved and funded between 2003 and 2007.

The Faculty research strategy (June 2007) and University strategy share the following aims:

  • Increased doctoral provision
  • Focused research groups with external collaboration
  • Nationally recognised research and development of a greater international reputation
  • Increased number of successful research bids
  • Increased academic research promotions within the University
  • Enhanced reputation for sound research governance and ethics.

Applied research

Banda’s main research focus is the use of sport to engage communities in positive and socially acceptable behaviours. In terms of the RAE criteria Davies Banda is a new researcher yet he has been involved, as a research assistant, in two major studies with Loughborough University. The first study, Women, Leadership and the Olympic Movement, was for the Institute of Sport and Leisure Policy for the International Olympic Committee. The other study is the Positive Futures National Project, which is a sport-based social inclusion initiative. The Positive Futures Project team has highlighted the lack (contrary to popular belief) of a causal relationship between sport and a reduction in offending behaviour. This has led to the development of a new framework that now acknowledges the process and experience gained through the initiative and not just the amount of participation in sport. One of his most recent international successes, and the focus of his PhD, is HIV/AIDS education through sport using an approach that seeks to foster community education, development and empowerment. The University has funded his PhD at Loughborough University. In his research in Zambia he is particularly interested in capturing youth voices and their involvement in monitoring and evaluating youth sport projects. Banda is preparing a funding bid to carry out research with Norwich Union in relation to coaching and management.

The research of Sheard and Crust adds to the K46 submission with their work on mental toughness and hardiness. They have grounded these concepts in the UK sports literature by publishing a range of research data from a large number of studies. Sheard, who has a PhD in the area of mental toughness, has recently joined York St John University and is recognised for his research with national level swimmers (2006). This work, which has been published and presented internationally, takes the positive psychological approach to a new level with his research on hardiness and genotypes. The work sheds light on the nature-nurture debate in relation to sporting excellence and raises challenging questions, for athletes, coaches and policy makers, about how best to foster future sporting champions. Crust’s most recent publication (2007) is an extensive review of mental toughness that examines, and draws conclusions from, a range of approaches that can be used by coaches to develop this in their athletes. The work captures the challenges faced by sports coaches and athletes and sets out the future research priorities. The University is fortunate to have two of the leading UK researchers working together on bids and supporting the next generation of sports researchers in this area.

The K46 group also has a principal investigator (Smith), working in collaboration with our Professor of Rehabilitation, on a North Yorkshire and York PCT sponsored study investigating the effectiveness of pedometers on GPs’ attitudes to promoting health. The study is a randomised controlled trial that has completed the data collection phase and will be published in 2008. This is an interdisciplinary research project involving a physiotherapy clinician from York Hospitals NHS Trust and a health promotion officer from North Yorkshire and York PCT.

Smith has contributed significantly to Sports Science practice-based research with his three successful PhD supervisions, among whose outcomes have been co-authored papers that try to explain the mechanisms of change associated with ‘health enhancing physical activity’. He continues to strive, with his publications and research, for a higher theoretical underpinning to health policy and is involved in decision making, at a national level, with respect to how Sports Science can help develop future solutions to tackle physical inactivity. 

Velija joined the University from Brunel University in 2006 and completed her PhD in the Sociology of Sport in July 2007. She has had an instant impact with her research into Female Incursion into Cricket’s ‘Male Preserve’. Her work has informed policy makers in the UK and has been presented at two prestigious international conferences. Velija works collaboratively with researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University investigating race and women’s cricket, and is working with researchers in the Faculty to submit a bid to the Leverhulme Trust investigating bullying and its relation to PE provision in secondary schools across Yorkshire. Velija plays an active role externally with her membership of the Women Sports Foundation and the International Sociology of Sport Association.

One of the developing areas of research is sport and spirituality, which emerged from the work of Watson, Nesti and Smith in 2004 and led, with support from the University, to the development of the Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality. The Centre is the first in the UK and held its inaugural international conference in August 2007 attended by over 100 delegates from around the world. Watson and Nesti were authors in the first major UK book in this area Sport and Spirituality which was published by Routledge (August 2007) and launched at the conference. Watson and Nesti contributed three independent sections each, which emphasise how the sporting ethos has changed and how athletes and coaches can, even in the modern era, refocus the emphasis back to the spirit of the game and the role individual choices play in determining the outcome in sport. These research staff have been involved in a number of other activities related to the Centre such as book reviews, providing information for media enquiries and communication with sports-based organisations. 

Although not submitted in the RAE, Ian Sadler is nevertheless a research active exercise physiologist employed by the Faculty. The ‘Fatigue in Patients following Stroke’ study is a collaborative research project between York Hospitals NHS Trust and York St John University. The research is investigating the mechanisms underpinning fatigue and, in partnership with the Yorkshire Stroke network, we are seeking external funding from the National Institute for Health Research. This collaborative work includes a stroke consultant, lead physiotherapist from York Hospitals NHS Trust (January 2007 PhD registration with the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences) and exercise physiology expertise from Sadler.

Specific esteem indicators


  • Invited presentation 'Valuing Youth Voices in Monitoring and Evaluation: Positive Futures Case Study', Kampala, Uganda (2007)
  • Invited presentation 'Youth Sport Development and Positive Futures', Next Step Conference, Livingstone, Zambia (2005)
  • Invited presentation 'Youth Voices and HIV Education through Sport', Youth Sport Trust Conference, Loughborough University (2006).


  • Consulting Reader for Perceptual and Motor Skills and Psychological Reports (2006).


  • Editorial Board: The International Journal of Sport & Religion
  • Symposium presentation on 'Existential Psychology and Sport', Swedish Centre for Sport, Stockholm, Sweden (2001)
  • Invited Chair and presenter on 'Approaches and Reflections on Applied Sport Psychology', at 2nd International Qualitative Conference in Sport & Exercise, Liverpool John Moores University, UK (2006)
  • Keynote on 'Applied Sport Psychology work at Bolton Wanderers', at National Conference of Chaplains in Sport, Lilleshall National Sports Centre, UK (2005).


  • Keynote presentation on 'The efficacy of outdoor education on psychological development', International Conference on Sport and Tourism, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2004)
  • Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist and Expert Witness (British Psychological Society).


  • Personal Chair awarded in 2003 by York St John University on the strength of very strong recommendations from external referees
  • Honorary Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences awarded in 2002
  • Guest editor of special edition of the Journal of Sports Sciences on 'Exercise Science and Health Enhancing Physical Activity', Vol 22 No 8, August 2004
  • Invited to give Keynote Lecture at BASES conference, University of Wolverhampton, on ‘Why Nietzsche was wrong about philanthropy: A new funding source for education and the application of Sport and Exercise Science?’.


  • Invited presentation on 'Women and Cricket', at the Commonwealth Cricket Conference, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London (2007)
  • Invited presentation 'Women’s Sport and Cricket', British Sociology of Sport Association Conference, Brunel University (2005).


  • Invited presentation on the Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality, at Lord of Sport: A Quest to Discover God’s Wisdom for Sport Conference, Dayton, Ohio, USA (2005).

Members of the group referee articles in the following journals:

  • Perceptual and Motor Skills (Crust)
  • Psychological Reports (Crust)
  • International Journal of Sport and Religion (Nesti and Watson)
  • Journal of Sports Science & Medicine (Smith)
  • Leisure Studies and Implicit Religion (Watson)