University of Gloucestershire has unveiled a new co-funded PhD programme with Premier League club Southampton FC aimed at enhancing knowledge of football coaching science.

The doctorate, which studies ecological approaches to sports coaching, will help to inform a Learning Lab based at Southampton FC’s Academy in Hampshire. The Lab aims to understand more about academy cultures, psychology, coaching, and virtual reality in sports.

Important to understanding skills adaptation and talent development, an ecological approach to coaching enables sport scientists to characterise the functional relationship that emerges from the continuous interactions of the individual athlete, task and environment.

Kiara Lewis, Head of the School of Sport and Exercise at the University, said: “There is much attention on elite level sport and how we nurture and grow academy players to reach their full potential.

“This is an ideal opportunity to work with a professional football club to develop research evidence that is translated into practise.

“Through the new PhD, we’re delighted to have a chance to work with an elite academy at such a forward-thinking club as Southampton, who are at the cutting edge of coach and player development, and to enhance understanding of coaching science.”

As well as Southampton FC, the University will collaborate with academics from Bournemouth University and Leeds Beckett University – also running their own PhDs – in channelling knowledge and understanding into the Learning Lab.

Will Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise within the University’s School of Sport and Exercise, said: “We’re extremely proud to be part of the Learning Lab at Southampton FC and look forward to leading the coaching science element of the project with our recently recruited student, James Grant.

“Everyone at the football club is so hungry to learn more about their own practice and this is a superb opportunity for us to do the same, and share that knowledge with our own students and those in the coaching world more broadly.”

The University has a longstanding relationship with Southampton FC – one of the founder members of the Premier League – that helps to ensure its postgraduate and undergraduate degree programmes within the School of Sport and Exercise are relevant and up to date.

Will Roberts worked alongside the club’s Assistant Academy Director, Dr Edd Vahid, to design the University’s current Sport Coaching Science provision and shape an industry-facing and appropriate degree programme.

Will Roberts said: “Edd’s suggestions and challenges to us as we designed our new degree allowed us to significantly enhance our undergraduate offer and be confident that we are preparing students for a future in coaching science.”

PhD student James Grant – who has previously worked at the national academy in Vietnam as well as Southampton FC – believes the project will provide an opportunity to explore skill development and produce impactful research that will influence best practice.

“I am delighted to be working at Southampton FC,” he said. “The opportunity to be part of a culture and environment which is driven towards excellence through an innovative and collaborative approach to player development is extremely exciting.

“I am keen to build relationships with coaches which support them in their professional journey and consequently the development journey of young players.

“Real-world insight will hopefully help guide coaching processes within Southampton FC but also coach education and player development on a global stage.”

Iain Brunnschweiler, Coach and Player Development Manager at Southampton FC, said: “We are extremely excited to be partnering with University of Gloucestershire on this project, and engaging with Will Roberts as a genuine expert in the field of coaching science.

“We are truly dedicated to providing the best possible learning environment for all of the players within our care at the Academy, and this project will no doubt highlight areas of strength and areas for improvement.

“That’s exactly what we want if we are to progress our understanding of youth development within the realms of a Premier League Academy setting. We are really looking forward to James starting with us.”