Sports club and sports university – coexistence and cooperation

Written by Grzegorz Zurek (AWF Wroclaw), Jacek Stodółka (AZS AWF Wrocław) and Kamila Czajka (AWF Wroclaw) / Poland

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What are the benefits for the sports club of cooperation with university? How can the academic studies help the coach to understand the young athletes, meet their individual needs and prevent the sport related injuries? This blog tells how sports club AZS-AWF Wroclaw has built the cooperation with university AWF Wroclaw.

Mission of the sports club related to participation in the sport of young athletes

A sport club is a place where healthy lifestyle, which is particularly important for a modern society, should begin and develop. If we remember that the foundation of maintaining health is physical activity (Harvard Medical School), which develops the body and supports intellectual development, it is impossible not to take into account that the sports club is the ideal environment in helping to achieve health and to prepare well for future life.

A sports club is also of great importance in building good attitudes that help an athlete to become involved in society and learn to function in it. In the club, the young athlete meets her/his peers who, like her/him, want to win and who want to feel good among others. Here she/he also meets coaches.

Mission of the sports university related to education and health

The Polish system of higher education includes sports universities. The university’s sporting character is aimed at providing its graduates with knowledge and skills concerning sport and all that it entails. Therefore, it can be said that one of the key tasks of a sports university is to broaden and spread knowledge about health, but also to use the knowledge of specialists in the field of medicine, physiotherapy, dietetics, sport or physical recreation to increase the level of health in the society.

This mission can be realized on different levels: education, research and relations with the environment. Among the various educational tasks of the university, it seems that one of the most important tasks is to develop in the student the ability to think critically, gain knowledge on their own and supplement it throughout their professional life, including the ability to adapt to changes taking place in the surrounding reality and respond to them quickly enough.

An obvious task of the university is to conduct scientific research. However, it is not only about the academic value, but the more important result is also the possibility to use it in practice. It is a particularly important task in a dynamically changing world where there is a lot information available online that is often not scientifically verified.

Sport club – University: education of coaches in the methodology of training

The most obvious field where the missions of the university and sports club overlap is the education of coaches. What is the difference between the knowledge passed on to coaches during their education at a sports university and the knowledge passed on after graduation, i.e. while working at the club?

In the first case, there is a significant amount of theoretical knowledge, which is enriched with practice (in a sports club, sports organizations or other forms of work in sport). It should be noted, however, that the scope of this practice is limited, because, as a rule, the knowledge transferred at the university is the basis for further self-education and self-development. Thus, the sports university gives the coach the necessary knowledge, which he/she must improve. The verification of his knowledge and competence is the good contact with the athletes and in the sports dimension – the results obtained by his charges.

What area of education does the coach get from working in a sports club? In this case, the emphasis is on practical solutions. In the case of a coach working with a team participating in competition between clubs, the essence of further education is to answer the question of how to conduct training to achieve success in sport. Therefore, the knowledge passed on during training in a club or sports association is focused not on keeping the small athlete in the club and giving him/her a pleasant training form, but rather on the result that he/she will achieve individually or as a team member.

A poorly methodically prepared coach can cause a lot of damage, from physiological to psychological aspects. Methodically well conducted activities make participants happy and allow them to achieve their health or sports goals

Olgierd, 50, experienced manager in the sport club

Sport club – University: pedagogy / psychology

For the average population, psychology and pedagogy are areas of knowledge, which at first glance are not directly related to sports training and participation in sport. Only when we stop for a moment to think about their role and meaning, we can see that they are important at every stage of work with the athlete. They refer to e.g. motivation, the way of conflict management, ability to cope with stress, building the right image of oneself, support in difficult moments or the way of building a team and relations. These two areas of knowledge are constantly evolving and they both need to be applied in the training of a young athlete according to their age and development phase.

Building trust between coach and athlete is one of the foundations of success. Showing the young athlete the value of participation in a sport seems to be the most important task of a coach at this stage of work with an athlete. It is a much more important task than the result, which in the case of young athletes must play a secondary role.  

Cooperation between the club and university in terms of knowledge of human behaviour seems particularly important. While at the universitythe knowledgeis highly theoretical, giving the basis for gaining further knowledge, in the work with a young athlete, this knowledge is constantly emphasized by the existing interpersonal relations and situations. However, in club work with athletes there is a risk that the result will become so important that it will dominate or even obscure what is a condition for obtaining it, such as a mutual trust or team strength.

“I was very lucky to have a great coach at the club, who additionally worked with people from the university and spent a lot of time to find the best way to make a team of us working together on the way to the goal”

Marek, 23, student of sport

Sports club – University: health and injuries

Another area of the university-club cooperation concerns both theoretical knowledge and specific practical activities. In terms of passing on the theoretical knowledge to the future coach, the role of the university is obvious, because it is its basic task. In the contrast, the practical activities regarding the prevention of injuries take place mainly in the club, similarly to the treatment process, for which the club or the child’s parents/caretakers in consultation with the club are also usually responsible.

So where is it possible to cooperate between the university and the club? If the club is located on the premises of the university or uses its facilities, the student of sport learns to know the facilities, familiarizes himself/herself with them, which gives a better chance to predict potential risks and thus reduce the risk of injury.

In modern sport, no one questions the role of a physiotherapist in work with an athlete anymore. Student of physiotherapy also plays an important role in the cooperation between the university and the club; they can practice in the club not only in the field of therapy when their patients during their studies are the club’s players, but also in the field of preventing an injury by conducting educational activities among coaches, athletes or their parents.

The role of coach is also important in injury prevention and treatment. A coach who contemplates his work, considers the individual abilities of the athlete’s body and tries to use this knowledge in such a way that it not only translates into sports benefit but also minimizes the risk of injury.

” For me, the most important thing was to acquire knowledge about injuries characteristic for a given discipline, boxing, it was equally important to learn about circumstances, limitations and possibilities of our work during sports competitions”

Maciek, 24, student of physiotherapy

Sports club – University: internship supervised by practitioners

A very good example of close cooperation between the club and the university is the possibility for students learning to work as coaches. Such an internship, supervised by an experienced coach, is a valuable experience allowing to prepare well for future professional work. It is even more valuable if the coach has managed to work out his work model, resulting from his professional experience. The interface of such knowledge combined with theoretical preparation for the profession of a coach can be very fruitful if there is a systematic exchange of thoughts between the trainee and his mentor in the club.

The club practice also provides an opportunity for the future coach to conduct independent reflection. Of course, there is a risk that the trainee will try to do the internship without reflection, reproducing the working methods he learned e.g. from the books. That is why the coach has a special role to play, as the wisdom of guiding the work of a junior colleague will allow the coach themselves to develop a model of work that is extremely valuable in every profession, i.e. self-reflection on their own work. Such self-reflection, in which one analyses the effects of one’s own work taking into account its strengths and weaknesses, is open to constructive criticism and the search for new, unconventional ways of doing things is the best way to develop players entrusted to the coach.

“A coach for an apprentice in a sports club is like a lighthouse for a ship. Without his guidance, the trainee acts in the dark, does not know what to put more emphasis on and what is less important when working with the athlete”

Wieslaw, 58, coach, judo coach, European champion

The fields of close cooperation between the university and the sports club presented above do not limit other possibilities. Good preparation for the work of coaches depends to a large extent on how much both institutions will be convinced that they are dependent on each other, that their close cooperation serves the mission they carry.

Grzegorz is a professor at the University School of Physical Education in Wroclaw (Poland). He conducts classes in mental training, neuroscience and human anatomy. He is interested in contemporary history and socio-economic changes in the world; he is physically active, likes swimming and cycling.

Jacek works as professor at the University School of Physical Education in Wroclaw, he is also President of the Academic Sport Club AZS-AWF Wroclaw (Poland), master class coach in athletics, author and co-author of several dozen publications, monographs and two academic textbooks on physical culture.

Kamila works as an assistant professor at the University School of Physical Education in Wroclaw (Poland); she enjoys giving lectures and workshops, especially on the human anatomy of the motor system and human motor skills. She is interested in physical activity and healthy lifestyle. He loves spending her free time being active; she runs and swims a lot, in the winter season she skis and skates.

AZS-AWF Wroclaw was established in 1976 and from the beginning of its existence was focused on professional sport and training of students and seniors. Currently, there are sporting activities for children and about 1200 children and adolescents in age 4-18, have a possibility to do many kinds of sports. The club has extensive experience in organizing different kind of sport events at the national and international level, as well as many big recreational events.