Staff profile

Dr Sally Akehurst


she/her

Head of School of Human Sciences

Sally Akehurst stood in front of a tree.

College

College of Science and Engineering

Department

School of Human Sciences

Research centre

Human Sciences Research Centre

ORCiD ID

0000-0003-4994-3379

Campus

Kedleston Road, Derby Campus

Email

s.akehurst@derby.ac.uk

About

My core focus as Head of School is to provide leadership to colleagues across the disciplines of Sport and Exercise Science and Biomedical and Forensic Science. We have a successful portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes spanning these specialist areas and are proud to work with industry partners and our professional bodies to assure our programmes are current, high quality and applied in nature to best prepare our graduates for their future careers.

Our Human Sciences Research Centre provides a forum within which our researchers can collaborate, innovate and come together to work across disciplines to address the big questions in society. Our research, therefore, has impact and value through its thought leadership in areas across the lifespan with healthy ageing a core theme driving our ambition. We focus on Personalised Translational Science for Health and Performance Outcomes and strive to deliver impact and help unlock human potential through our endeavour.

We also work with industry to provide partnerships and services, for example, our Human Performance Unit offers applied sport science services to a range of interested clients from new exercise and sport enthusiasts to National Governing Bodies. We have recently launched a new Facility for OMICS Research in Metabolism that will provide biomedical science services and support world-class research. Finally, our Forensic Training Facility offers a fantastic environment for the training and practice of those in the industry requiring mock crime scenes to develop skills and experience. 

Having held both Lecturer and Senior Lecturer posts in Sport and Exercise Psychology for a number of years, I progressed into leadership and management in 2012. As Head of Sport and Exercise at the University of Derby, I led the growth and success of Sport and Exercise Science at Derby and in 2016, progressed to Head of Department for Life Sciences and College Lead for Academic Provision. Since 2018 as Head of School for Human Sciences, I am very proud to lead a vibrant academic community that is driven to deliver excellence in all that we do and strive to have a positive impact and unlock human potential. 

I am an active researcher specialising in personality and performance under pressure in sport, I trained as a practitioner to provide sport psychology support to athletes and coaches spanning a range of sports and levels, and have over 15 years of lecturing experience in higher education. With over 12 years of leadership experience, I have dedicated my career to growing academic departments that provide quality education and experience for students in higher education, drive new knowledge through research and innovation, offer external partnership and commercial services to foster knowledge transfer and skill development, and finally, provide a team-based culture within which we achieve together and constantly strive for high performance. 

Teaching responsibilities

I specialise in Sport and Exercise Psychology, in particular, focusing on personality and performing under pressure. I have over 15 years of experience lecturing, spanning both UG and PG levels lecturing across subjects including sport and exercise psychology, research methods and independent research, and applied sport science. 

Professional interests

I am interested in leadership in Higher Education, in particular how to lead and develop successful academic teams that deliver an excellent, current, and future-focussed student experience, whilst conducting applied and impactful research, and providing commercial services to the community and industry partners. Creating a culture that is high-performing, collaborative and inspiring for all those engaged. 

I am also interested in how working collaboratively we can make a difference. Connection and collective endeavour, I believe can achieve change for the better and I am currently working on a project that aims to enhance diversity within STEM. I am also a dedicated member of the Active Derbyshire Panel, working collaboratively to support their strategy for the Region in relation to enhancing physical activity and health. 

Research interests

My research investigates performing under pressure in relation to individual differences. My early work focused on the mechanisms by which performance breaks down under pressure and then moved towards exploring the influence of individual difference factors. In particular, my research focuses on the relationship between confidence, effort and anxiety and the interaction of narcissism and trait self-consciousness on choking. This has progressed in recent years to the Yips phenomenon and paradoxical performances. 

Further areas of interest include passion in sport; exercise dependence; perfectionism in sport; excelling under pressure; transformational leadership and narcissism; impression management in sport and exercise contexts, and physical activity. I supervise postgraduate programmes of research in my areas of expertise and those where I can provide expert guidance and mentor to students and supervisors. 

Membership of professional bodies

  • British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES)
  • Higher Education Academy (HEA)

Qualifications

Undergraduate qualifications

  • BA (Hons) Leisure and Sport Studies (First Class), University of Brighton

Postgraduate qualifications

  • MSc Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology (Distinction), University of Wales, Bangor
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (Distinction), University of Wales, Bangor
  • PhD - Choking under pressure: Mechanisms and individual differences, University of Wales, Bangor

Professional qualifications

  • BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist - Psychology Support (2008-2018)
  • BASES Chartered Sport and Exercise Scientist - (2013-2018)
  • HCPC Registered Practitioner Sport and Exercise Psychologist (2012-2018)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2006 - Present)

Recent conferences

  • Akehurst, S., Clarke, P., & Sheffield, D. (2017). Categorising symptoms and types of yips in athletes. British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences - European Federation of Sport Psychology Annual Conference, Nottingham, UK
  • Akehurst, S., Clarke, P., & Sheffield, D. (2015). Personality predictors of choking. Poster presented at the British Psychological Society Division of Sport and exercise Annual Conference, Leeds UK
  • Akehurst, S., Leszczynska, O., & Oliver, E. (2011). Passion for dance: A negative dependency that enhances risky behaviour? Poster presented at European Congress of Sport Sciences International Annual Conference: Liverpool John Moores University, UK. Funded by the University of Derby Sport and Exercise Department
  • Akehurst, S., Woodman, T., Hardy, L., & Beattie, S. (2010, September). Self-confidence and performance: A little self-doubt helps. Oral presented at British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences National Annual Conference: Glasgow, UK

Experience in industry

As an applied practitioner in Sport and Exercise Psychology, I have worked with various clients within the sports sector including athletes ranging from recreational to International level of all ages and multiple sports, for example, tennis, archery, golf, sailing, athletics, badminton, kayaking, and football. Similarly, I have provided coach education workshops and also worked with officials including futsal referees at an individual and group level.

As professional practitioners within the Human Performance Unit, we provide a range of services and work with multiple partners in the Region providing one-to-one support, group and team-based workshops, testing and monitoring services, educational workshops, performance profiling, and rehabilitation support.

International experience

I have taught Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of West Indies in Trinidad.

Additional interests and activities

Research Awards

Winner of the Sportesse Sport Science Award for best oral presentation of Established Researchers at the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science National Annual Conference at the University of Glasgow, UK (2010).

A little self-doubt helps (S. Akehurst, T. Woodman, L. Hardy, & S. Beattie). 3rd Prize in the Young Investigators Award at the Nordic International Conference in Halmsted, Sweden (2008). Two studies investigating the interactive effects of narcissism and trait self-consciousness upon dispositional choking, and the role of confidence (S. Akehurst, T. Woodman, & L. Hardy).

In the media

I was recently proud to be profiled by the University Alliance in their celebration of Women in Science in 2022

I have recently supported our excellent sport science research that is informing and aiding recovery from Covid 19

Recent publications

  • Clarke, P., Sheffield, D., & Akehurst, S. (2020). Personality predictors of Yips and Choking susceptibility. Frontiers Psychology. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02784

  • Clarke, P, Sheffield, D., & Akehurst, S. (2015). The yips in sport: A systematic review. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2015.1052088
  • Ong, C, W., Roberts, R., Arthur, C. A., Woodman, T., & Akehurst, S. (2015). The Leader Ship Is Sinking: A Temporal Investigation of Narcissistic Leadership. Journal of Personality
  • Payne, S. M., Hudson, J., Akehurst, S., & Ntoumanis, N. (2013). Development and Initial Validation of the Impression Motivation in Sport Questionnaire - Team. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 35, 281-298
  • Akehurst, S., & Oliver, E. J. (2013). Obsessive passion: a dependency associated with injury-related risky behaviour in dancers. Journal of Sport Sciences, 32, 259-267
  • Akehurst, S., & Thatcher, J. (2010). Narcissism, social anxiety and self-presentation in exercise. Personality and Individual Differences. 49, 130-135
  • Woodman, T., Akehurst, S., Hardy, L., & Beattie, S. (2010). Self-confidence and performance: A little self-doubt helps. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 467-470
  • Akehurst, S. (2009). Self-love: Understanding the narcissistic sport performer. The Sport and Exercise Scientist, 21, 27