Ask the Expert: Helen Collins (University of Dundee)

Helen Collins is a Sport & Exercise Scientist at the Institute of Sport and Exercise, University of Dundee.  Helen is currently undertaking a PhD through the University of Edinburgh, investigating the use of resistance training as a strategy to encourage less active and/or overweight children to become more active and healthier.  Helen’s experience has been varied during the 15 years she has been at the University of Dundee. During this time she has lectured extensively on the University’s Sports Biomedicine degree, and more recently has become module co-ordinator for a student selected module on Exercise Deficit Disorder within the Medical Curriculum. As a BASES Accredited Sport & Exercise Scientist (physiology) and a UKSCA Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach, she has delivered applied sports science in performance sport for a variety of sports and athletes. In more recent years, Helen’s interest and work programme has though re-focussed on the health, specifically on the benefits of resistance training and this has led her to her current research topic.

1)What has led you into youth sport?

I originally worked as an Exercise Physiologist with a range of sports and varying ages of athletes (including youth) and this evolved into combining this with S&C. Over time, this became predominantly youth athlete based with more emphasis on S&C. In conjunction with a change of strategy of our department to become more health and physical activity focused, I attended a talk by Dr Avery Faigenbaum where he spoke so passionately about how strength-based exercise could have a big impact on the health of youth – in active or overweight children in particular. This inspired me to change direction from sport and start a PhD researching the topic of strength training for health in youth.

2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?

The UKSCA and NSCA position statements on resistance training in youth have given me a strong rationale for why resistance training is so beneficial for youth and have also provided guidance for programme content. The youth I have worked with have also guided the content, as I have learnt a lot from them about what they enjoy and benefit the most from.

3) What is your particular area of interest?

Health benefits of strength training for youth.

4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 

It applies to all youth including athletes, as health is fundamental (although there are obviously performance benefits to be had as well). For our recent research on the effect of resistance training on ‘the self’ and fundamental movement skills in youth, this is particularly important to youth athletes as well from both a performance and health perspective.

Helen’s recent research on “The Self” in youth…

5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Make sure you are passionate and committed to the area you are working in. My career has been varied and enjoyable but it has taken me to being almost 40 years old to finally find a research area that I am really passionate about!

6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 

Don’t over coach. Particularly in S&C when technique is so important it is very easy to try and fix everything in one go and children don’t respond well to it. One thing at a time! It is an absolute must that sessions are fun, but you might be surprised at what children find fun.

7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?

The UKSCA and NSCA position statements are useful to find out about the benefits of strength training for youth and also to look at guidelines. If you are a sport coach this does not necessarily mean to try and coach S&C sessions yourself (that’s what S&C coaches are trained for) but to have an awareness of what S&C coaches should be doing.

8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)

Twitter: @helen_collins1



Thanks to Helen for her time and expertise!

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