Changing the tyres without stopping the vehicle

How a sports survey helped Manchester Metropolitan University enhance mental health and inclusivity – by Professor David Lavallee, Abertay University, in partnership with Callum Jones, Manchester Metropolitan University Sport

An internet search for “changing wheel tyres while driving” reveals some intriguing videos.

Setting aside the danger component, the daring manoeuvres featured in these videos provide a useful analogy for universities. Modifying and improving policies and procedures without having to stop and reset operations is a challenging and complex process for any organisation.

In this article we share our experiences of collaborating on an initiative that helped Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Sport identify which “tyres” to change in their athlete welfare and wellbeing support programme, how they went about making changes and the resulting impact across the university.

A UK government review of the duty of care sports have towards participants, conducted by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2017, provided the foundation for our collaboration. The review established a framework that, for the first time, defined seven factors that comprise the area (safeguarding; equality, diversity, and inclusion; safety, injury, and medical; transition; mental health; representation of the participant voice; and education), and made a priority recommendation that an independent survey was needed to give equal voice to all stakeholders in the system.

The goal was to promote inclusivity, improve accessibility and quantify the impact of support provided to everyone who participates in sport

Embracing this recommendation, we collaborated on a survey of participants who were involved in sport at the university at all levels – including club participants, coaches, elite athletes, referees, staff, practitioners, volunteers and others involved in sport in some other capacity.

The survey incorporated all seven duty of care factors, and the goal was to promote inclusivity, improve accessibility and quantify the impact of support provided to everyone who participates in sport.

Baseline data was collected across the entire university over a period of four weeks, with the survey attracting a much higher response rate than previous surveys. This was attributed to four key factors: data was collected independent of MMU; the survey was conducted anonymously; it was highly accessible being able to be carried out on any device; and it was rapid, only taking two minutes to complete.

MMU Sport were provided with a data visualisation of results the day the survey closed, including total scores (out of 100) for each of the seven factors. This provided a quick and easy way to understand the results, identity key opportunities and inform interventions thereby enabling a strategic approach for which “tyres to change”. Specifically, the survey helped them to identify ‘mental health’ and ‘representation of the participant voice’ as two areas to focus on.

A sport club handbook was also created to empower students

MMU Sport looked to improve its delivery in these two areas in various ways across the different groups, including sport scholars, sport committee members, sport club members and sport coaches.

For example, for sport committee members, additions were made to their training and development programmes based on the previous year’s feedback. Specifically, mental health first aid training and inclusion and diversity workshops were made a part of their schedules. A sport club handbook was also created to empower students into understanding various processes and become more confident in the delivery of their own roles to promote inclusivity and accessibility. Furthermore, committee development meetings were conducted more readily, encompassing conversations around not only club development but also personal development for those involved.

12 months later, MMU Sport repeated the survey across the entire university. The scores for the two areas of focus (‘mental health’ and ‘representation of the participant voice’) both increased substantially, while the other five areas either remained stable or also positively increased in score compared to the previous year. Applying a targeted intervention strategy that was informed by the stakeholder-wide survey enabled MMU to deliver enhanced outcomes across all areas of their wellbeing and welfare programme without halting or diminishing activity in any areas.

In other words, MMU Sport were able to change two of their “tyres” without having to pull over and stop their operations. Our partnership helped MMU Sport demonstrate the impact and return on investment of the programmes and services they deliver in response to their positive action.

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