Rangers football in a stadium

Four doctoral students at the University of Birmingham are working alongside the research team at Rangers Football Club, designing projects to enhance training and technical skills development at the club.

It’s the first time the Glasgow-based club has supported PhD research in this way. The aim is to not only gain some valuable insights into how to enhance the future performance of the team, but also to invest in skills and expertise that will make an enduring, valuable contribution to the game.

The research projects, currently in their early stages, will all focus on informing strategies to support the development of players. They include:

  • Optimising training strategies between games to better prepare players for competition and reduce the potential for injury.
  • Understanding and improving the use of data within player development programmes. In particular, selecting which data, collected as a routine part of a player’s daily activity, is important and could be used to optimise training strategies
  • Finding ways to develop young players to improve their physical performance and gain the high level technical skills and tactical knowledge required in top flight football.

Professor Barry Drust, a fellow in the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences and an expert in football performance, is the doctoral programme leader. He said: “This partnership with Rangers FC is about our students making a valuable contribution to R&D at the club, but it’s also about how training future generations of highly skilled professional to make a long-term contribution to developing the sport.”

Rangers had a highly successful 2020/21 season, remaining unbeaten throughout and securing the Scottish Premiership title for the first time in a decade. To maintain such levels of performance, high quality research and continual innovation will be required. 

Calum MacMaster, one of the PhD researchers, said: “As is the case with any major sports team, massive amounts of work go on behind the scenes to bring success to the club. Obviously last season the men’s team had a fantastic season, going unbeaten in the league and making great progress in Europe. The under-18 squad also won their league and qualified for European football for next season. But we know the club can’t stand still and must build on this. What the club did this season doesn’t guarantee success for next season and that’s where research and execution in training is imperative to keep us ahead of the competition. As researchers and practitioners we have to find the right way to work with the players and all staff at the club to deliver this appropriately.”

Jamie Ramsden, Rangers’ Head of Academy Sports Science, commented: “We are both connected with the same purpose, but coming from different perspectives. The University is looking to develop students who are well-equipped with the tools to become effective practitioners, whereas the club is looking for practitioners who can deliver an effective performance strategy.

"So there is a strong academic and research focus from the University's side, and there is a predominantly practical and hands-on focus from the club's perspective.

"So the students benefit from the exposure and the experience in a real training environment, whereas from the club's perspective, we can use this partnership to have the best evidence-based practice.

"Ultimately, the club has two main purposes - we want to move closer to our goal which is increasing the players' physical performance, but also train and test our practices, which means the staff and the strategy itself, and having the club partner with the University is one of the best ways we can do that."

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