No Good Experiences, No Bad Experiences, Just Learning Experiences: The True Value of University Placement Programmes

In our previous blog we explore the importance of a dynamic and personalised approach to nutrition to supporting the development of pupils in a youth sport setting. We gave examples of interventions to ‘kindle the fire’ for learning related to appropriate fuelling and behaviours with food. We gave an example of the importance of considering the energy costs of growth and maturation as a primary focus. We highlighted how evidence informs us of the concurrent peak in energy requirements as physical activity increases alongside increasing rates of growth and maturation around the ages of 14- 17 years. As such, this period becomes critical for well informed nutritional behaviours.

In this blog we divert to explore the benefits of placement opportunities for university students. As a department, athletic development at Millfield has been proactive in creating opportunities for early years practitioners to gain valuable industry experience and practical learning experiences to supplement their academic studies. Below, we have an insight into the lessons learnt during the first 6 months on placement from two of our current placement students. How do you support the development of placement students in your programmes?

“The experience to date has been a real eye opener. I quickly became aware that adding practical experiences and skills to the exercise physiology theory I had learnt at university would be key. What has hit me most is the difference between textbook theory and applied practice. I have learnt that there is more to coaching, more than designing the perfect plan and programme. Since being at Millfield I have been exposed to a lot of applied research, reflective practice sessions and daily discussions about the art of coaching while also delving deeper into strength and conditioning principles. My key take home is to stay focused on the development of young people over time and to continually focus on adding value to their journey.”

“I have become more aware that it is as important that pupils come away from sessions having been challenged to learn; whether it is around strength training or more generally, for example life skills; making the pupil a better and more rounded person. Within sessions I have focused more time and energy on pupils developing the ability to make the most of every coaching opportunity; what went well last time? what is the focus of this session? what could I do better next time? This ranges from remembering technical points of a squat pattern, bringing more energy to the next session and working collaboratively with peers to support their learning. Everything I have learnt to far and shared above I believe can be transferred to future roles within coaching, making me the best coach I can possibly be and highlights to me how coaching is coaching. Fundamentally it is about connecting with people and supporting their development over time inside and outside of sport.” (Callum, Athletic Development Placement Student from Bournemouth University)

“Whilst on placement with the athletic development team at Millfield, the one think that has struck me most is the importance in building meaningful relationships with pupils, coaches and teachers to provide the best support to our young sports people. Developing trust, respect and understanding individual needs are what I believe are the key attributes that have led me to become more effective in my coaching delivery. My university degree has given me the foundational and theoretical knowledge that I know is essential to become a successful S&C coach. My placement so far has added another layer of understanding around the practical implications of theory and most importantly, working with and supporting the development of people.”

“ In addition, during my placement at Millfield I have really become to understand the importance of integrating into the culture of an organisation and how important it is to continually uphold the highest standard of practice both within my coaching, through the use of evidence based practice and outside of coaching, by contributing positively to the community that I am working in.”

“By researching relevant topic areas and applying my understanding within a youth context, I have been able to take ownership of my programmes and review their success with fellow coaches and my placement supervisors. This has helped me to take a more holistic approach in ensuring that I meet my long-term targets and the longer terms aim with each pupil. Finally, I have learnt that good conversations are important to support good practice. Working in a multidisciplinary environment, we are never shy from an opportunity to learn from fellow practitioners. I have exposed myself to be challenged in my critical thinking, through presentations and being open to be challenged, which has ultimately led to developments in my coaching and thinking. Similarly, I have learnt to not be afraid to challenge both my peers and the young athletes that I coach to support their own development.” (Idris, Athletic Development Placement Student from Bath University)

This narrative provides a fascinating insight into the true value of industry-based placement programmes. The message is clear that the experience provides a genuine opportunity to narrow the gap between textbook and real-world practice. It provides early years practitioners the opportunity to embed themselves in an organisation and appreciate the importance of working and connecting with people to contribute to the aims of an organisation. Finally, it highlights the importance of a challenging and supportive placement programme with a network of mentors and supervisors who are invested in contributing positively to the experiences of the student whilst on placement. In short, there are no good experiences, no bad experiences, just learning experiences. How do you create great learning experiences for your placement students?

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