An Educational Programme for the parents of elite athletes – Gary Ryan

I along with Dr. Giles Warrington and Dr. Ciaran MacDonncha, recently attended the latest meeting of the EMPATIA project (Education Model for Parents of Athletes in Academia). The project is an ERASMUS + Sport funded project running for 36 months with partners from Ireland, Italy, France, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta. Ireland, Italy, France and Portugal each have and Academic and sporting partner involved in the project. In the cases of Ireland, Italy and France the Sporting partner is the national institute of Sport.

The European Commission and the ERASMUS funding mechanisms have recognised the importance of Dual Careers for athletes. That is that athletes not only have a sporting career but also have at the same time an academic or vocational career. This presents significant, social, psychological, financial and physical challenges for athletes, to successfully manage two demanding career paths. Within both of those careers, there are additional challenges, such as the multitude of transitions that often happen simultaneously, such as the transition from school to university, from living at home to away, and the changing of coach and training environments. Many of our highly talented UL sports scholarship athletes will be facing those challenges in their first year in college. We know from both research and anecdotally that this presents a significant challenge to their sporting and academic performance. The project aims to create an online educational programme for parents across Europe to support dual career athletes.

Often, the one constant is the parent or guardian, who will be the main support mechanism throughout the athlete’s dual career. The EMPATIA project first established from the literature the range and types of challenges that parents & guardians face. We then completed an extensive consultation process with parents and guardians of elite athletes throughout the partner countries. First, through a number of focus groups with parents, (led in Ireland by myself and Eoin Rheinisch of the sport Ireland Institute) and laterally through an online consultation, using a method called concept mapping, where the project lead was Dr Ciaran MacDonncha.

This fascinating, and extensive consultation gave the team a clear understanding of the needs of parents in developing an educational programme for them. This data provided the basis for understanding what the Educational programme might look like and our latest meeting in Rome was to agree format and outline content for the final programme. Dr Giles Warrington and myself are deputy work package leaders in partnership with the University of Coimbra in Portugal in developing the content. We hope to have a test version of the programme completed in the first quarter of 2020 and a final international version available by the end of 2020.

Our hosts for the meeting were the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) & the University of Rome Foro Italico. Interestingly CONI and the University share the same campus which was the site of the 1960 Olympics and is home to the famous Stadio Olympico, now probably better known as the home of the Roma and Lazio soccer teams and the Italian Rugby team.

I have been fortunate enough to travel to many of the leading institutes of sport and “sports” Universities in the world and while we may not have a 60,000 seat stadium here on campus, the University of Limerick truly does have world class facilities for sport, and creates great opportunity for its students and the community at large. It would be greatly remiss of me in this blog not to recognise the driving force behind that, Dave Mahedy, who recently retired and to wish him well and to thank him for his wonderful legacy that we can all be proud of.

To find out more about EMPATIA keep an eye on the website, or follow @EmpatiaSport on twitter

Gary Ryan is the project manager for UL Beo and for the Sport and Human Performance Research Centre at the University of Limerick. Contact Gary at

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