Partnership between UTS and Australian Rugby Union
has bi-directional benefits
Mitch Henderson has been given a flying head start to his honours thesis. “It’s incredible,” says the Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science student. Unlike most university students who undertake research on campus, Henderson, who is looking at player performance in the Australian Rugby Sevens, is working alongside elite athletes five days a week.
Supervisor Professor Aaron Coutts, says this style of working is not new for the UTS Sports and Exercise Science Program. He first started embedding students with sporting organisations some 15 years ago. The program, then relatively new, had limited resources and partnering with industry was an effective way to share resources and equipment. But it soon became clear there were even greater benefits to be had.
Fast forward to today and the program is gearing up for its biggest partnership yet. Coutts is currently working out of a demountable building out at Moore Park while the state-of-the-art facilities of the Australian Rugby Development Centre are being built. The centre, the first of its kind in Australia, integrates university facilities with two major venues – the SCG and Allianz Stadium. It’s a joint initiative of The Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, The Australian Rugby Union, UTS and the state and federal governments.
While there will be obvious efficiencies for all in sharing facilities – a gym, an indoor running track, an environmental chamber and high tech research equipment such as motion analysis and perception-action measurements systems – the benefits run deeper than bricks and mortar.
Since first embedding students in partner organisations 15 years ago, Coutts has developed a client-centred way of working. “We identify their problems and work on coming up with solutions.” Key to the approach is partnering with organisations they have “clear synergies with,” like the ARU.
The identified client problems are sometimes explored by interns. A research problem can then develop into an honours thesis (as in the case of Mitch Henderson) and then, if needed, a co-funded PhD. In large projects, several doctoral students might be investing. “We do that with all our partners,” says Coutts.
Coutts is hopeful Henderson’s work will follow the same pipeline and develop into a doctoral study. Little research has been done to date on rugby sevens players, he says, “Their needs are quite unique.”
Henderson will move over to Moore Park with the rugby sevens when the centre is completed. For now he is located with them in Narrabeen. His research is in its early stages but already he’s ahead. Much of the data he needs has been collected by the ARU. “I know of many students who’ve done similar studies in the past and they had to start from scratch because nothing had been collected.”
Henderson has gathered data from the games that are played with the assistance of ARU analysts, which means he is now up to the all-important analysis and writing of his thesis. When published, he hopes his insights will be helpful to Australian Rugby Sevens program prepare for the next Olympic games.
Partnerships like these, says Coutts, have bi-directional benefits. Past partnerships have led to UTS graduates being employed in leadership positions in sport. “We get to train our students for the real world. They get to train their future staff in the way they want to develop culturally. It’s a really good outcome for the student, a good outcome for the partner and a good outcome for the university.”