Blog post

Balancing my studies alongside being a professional athlete

Abby Harris details how she balances studying Psychology, as well as being a professional badminton player on the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme.

By Abby Harris - 4 December 2020

Starting out

I know when most students talk about their first year at university, they talk about being independent and finding their own feet. This could be perhaps paying their own bills for the first time, learning how to cook, making new friends or even just exploring a new environment.

Although much of that is true, what I believe people fail to mention is that even though we develop a sense of independence, we are never really on our own. The wide range of support at Derby University made it so easy to settle in and (for me) helped to manage both my sporting and academic commitments. Sport has always been such a big part of my life, Derby Uni made it possible to gain a university degree alongside great training with top coaches and athletes.

Choosing a course

Psychology has always been an interest of mine. I love how I can incorporate my knowledge into everyday life (as well as badminton). I took BSc Psychology because I want to eventually have a career within that field; whether its within a Clinical and Educational background or even being a Sports psychologist.

In BSc Psychology you have to carry out work experience in your second year of study. I know this will give me more understanding of the real-world context, preparing me for that future career and helping me decide specifically which branch of psychology I want to get involved with.

Finding support

Imagine missing your whole first week at university!

My first week at university I was in Russia, at the World Junior Championships. Everyone was settling into university and making new friends while I was competing, thousands of miles away. This made me feel even more apprehensive about starting my university experience.

What I didn't know (and was soon to find out) was that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

My lecturers were so understanding and reassuring, helping me to catch up on anything I'd missed. They had such a positive impact on my first few months at Derby.

Once I'd figured out my timetable I realised there was an overlap with some of the badminton training times. Being an athlete at a high level, training is important for my development so I really wanted to be able to train as much as I could. But that wasn't an issue; the Psychology team allowed me to move my seminars around my training so I was able to access everything.

The support didn't stop there

Playing Badminton for England, I am lucky enough to get invited to represent England at numerous tournaments throughout the year. This means not being able to attend lectures face to face or sometimes needing more time on assessments etc. The University made it possible to be able to study while being abroad.

All lectures and seminar activities are uploaded online, so I could study while being around the World! This meant I didn't have to sacrifice my badminton career for academics, but could do both at the same time. Furthermore, when I struggled with specific deadlines for assessments I was granted extensions so I could have more time to complete the essays while being away.

Not only has Psychology helped me play my sport, but badminton has helped my degree. In one of my studies for my modules, I decided to look into sport anxiety and performance. I conducted an overt observation of badminton players in a high and low anxiety condition. Hence, playing sport has helped me to carry out a psychological study, positively contributing to my degree.

Being on the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) Dual Career Accreditation

As well as being a scholar at the University of Derby, I am a TASS nominated athlete. TASS is a Sport England funded program for talented sportspeople "that helps athletes in education to get the very best from their sporting and academic careers without having to choose between the two."

I know what you're thinking... even more support? TASS offers me additional support with lifestyle workshops, nutrition support, psychology meetings, individual strength and conditioning sessions and the TASS Medical Scheme.

These help me organise my assessment deadlines and goals and look into how my psychological health and well-being can affect my play and help me become mentally strong in important matches. Individual strength and conditioning sessions are specific to me, so can strengthen my weaknesses so I am fit and strong on the court. Finally; the informative nutrition meetings educate me on the things I should be eating to maximize my badminton performance and speed up recovery.

No regrets!

I looked at universities that offered Bsc Psychology at a high standard and the University of Derby was one of the first universities that caught my eye. I liked how the campus was set out; with the sports centre on campus so it is easy to get to and from lectures.

Additionally, I already knew most of the badminton players and coaches at Derby so I knew the training would be conducted at a high standard and that I would get along with everyone.

I am so happy I chose Derby University, it was one of the best decisions I've made. As stereotypical as it sounds, the badminton team here at Derby really is like a family. We all look out for one another and support each other. Especially the girls' first-team squad. We've already gone through so much together like being BUCS first league Champions!

Derby University has given me so much to help me pursue my dream - to be a full-time professional badminton player.

I advise anyone thinking of studying Psychology, along with any athletes or sportsman that want to be able to both train and get a degree, to come to the University of Derby. You won't regret it.

About the author

Abby Harris
Psychology student

Abby is a Psychology student at the University of Derby, she also plays badminton for the England team.