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ECSS experience

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

PhD Student and Young Investigator Award (YIA) winner, Grace Tidmarsh, shares her experience of attending the European College of Sports Science (ECSS) Congress that was held in Prague, Czech Republic, July 2019. With the next YIA submission deadline just a few months away, Grace also offers her tips to applicants and first time attendees so they can get the most out of the conference.

Conference location & first impressions

The European College of Sport Science was founded in Nice, France in 1995. The ECSS organises an annual congress at different locations across Europe to promote science and research, with special attention to the interdisciplinary fields of sport science and sports medicine. Spanning 4 days, ECSS 2019 had something for everyone with over 900 presentations and 1,000 posters covering fields such as physiology, nutrition, bio-mechanics, sports psychology and physical education, as well as interdisciplinary work. Not only did the vast number of presentations provide the opportunity to see some excellent sports psychology, it also gave the opportunity to leave the sports psychology bubble and explore other areas of sports science. With around 2,900 delegates attending over the duration of the Congress, networking opportunities were abundant in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.


After arriving at the Prague Conference Centre, I met up with members of Dr Leigh Breen’s ( Laboratory from University of Birmingham where I took my first steps (since 2016) back into the world of physiology, supporting friends in their oral presentations also engaging in the Young Investigators Award (YIA) competition. Not only was this a lovely opportunity to learn about cellular level research in relation to sport and exercise, it was also a great opportunity to become familiar with the format of the YIA talks and questions from judges. The questions were very specific to each individual’s research and the various types of cells being examined; however, much of the focus was related to how their findings are important to sport and exercise sciences.

After watching the YIA oral presentations, I took some additional time to prepare for my own presentation by locating the room and familiarising myself with the layout inside the room.

DAY TWO – YIA Presentation

It was an early start to get ready for my presentation (see below for abstract) at 8am. My nerves had been building towards this for weeks. Even though I love presenting, I had no idea what to expect at my first “big” conference. My mind was put at ease from the calm atmosphere in the room. I took some deep breaths, reminded myself how much I had prepared for the presentation and was excited to deliver it. I harnessed my nervous energy, ready for my presentation, which I thoroughly enjoyed delivering.



A mixed methods fidelity assessment of a mental skills training programme for disadvantaged youth

Tidmarsh, G.L., Whiting, R., Thompson, J.L, Cumming, J.

University of Birmingham

Introduction: Mental skills training (MST) programmes have been successfully utilised by athletes to develop techniques, skills and characteristics that promote successful performance and functioning (2, 3). MST programmes have been successfully adapted and applied to community-based programmes. Homeless youth tend to lack the mental skills required to transition from a period of instability to one of stability. This study assesses the fidelity of delivery style of MST4Life™, an MST programme for homeless youth. MST4Life™ consists of 10 sessions and four days in an outdoor activity educational centre. Assessing the fidelity of the programme delivery style is vital to ensuring measured improvements in youth health, wellbeing and employment/education status can be attributed to the intervention.

Methods: A mixed methods study design was employed. A pilot study was conducted to aid development of the observation tool, which was a rating scale of 29 measures assessing facilitator behaviours around autonomy, competence and relatedness support (1), as well as organisation and communication. Following the pilot study, observations (N=16) were carried out across two project sites by three observers. Facilitators (N=7) also completed the rating scale and reflective questions in a self-report process following each session. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive and non-parametric statistics; qualitative data were thematically analysed.

Results: Quantitative results showed that the programme was delivered with high levels of fidelity (average observation score 87%, average self-report score 89%). Comparison between observation and facilitator self-report score (Friedman test) found no significant difference between scores (p > .005). Two higher-order themes were identified highlighting the enabling factors (teamwork and communication, positive participant behaviour and outdoor instructor support) and barriers to delivering sessions with high fidelity (poor communication, high support needs of young people, practical challenges and deviation from strengths-based approach by service provider staff).

Discussion: The high fidelity scores and consistency between observed and self-report scores show high adherence to intended delivery style. As such, improvements in participants’ health and wellbeing and employment/education status can be correctly attributed to the intervention. Despite there being a greater number of barriers to adhering to the intended delivery style, this study shows that highly experienced facilitators can overcome these barriers. It is recommended that interventions include fidelity evaluations as part of their design, and that observers and facilitators should undergo extensive training to increase the likelihood of adherence to intended delivery style.

1. Deci, E. and Ryan, R. 1985. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour (3rd ed.). New York: Plenum Publishing Co., N.Y.

2. Holland, Mark. et al. 2017. Understanding and Assessing Young Athletes' Psychological Needs. In Sport Psychology for Young Athletes, edited by Knight, Camilla. J., Harwood, Chris. G. and Gould, Daniel., 43-54. London: Routledge.

3. Vealey, R. S. 2012. Mental Skills Training in Sport. In Handbook of Sport Psychology, edited by Tenenbaum, Gershon and Eklund, Robert C., 285-309: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.


Following my presentation, there were a couple of interesting talks on sedentary time in classrooms based in Asia, looking at the use of standing vs sitting desks for school children. The research showed that children enjoyed having standing desks that they could use.

A presentation which particularly caught my attention was the Edu-balls presentation from academics in Poland ( I really liked the fact they brought in some of the balls so you could see them in real life and a short video clip of how they were used. They are used to combine physical education (PE) and language and maths skills. Findings indicate that students loved engaging with these and that it created a new learning experience in PE. Interestingly, the founders are looking to do something similar with tennis balls which could be used in normal classrooms to create active learning in maths and language lessons.

The final presentation in our session was from PhD student Megan Bentley ( on understanding barriers and enablers for nutritional adherence in high-performance sport. Results showed that athlete adherence to nutritional guidance was seasonal and included inadequate energy intakes. The study illustrates that athletes’ motivational barriers are mutually reinforced through their social interactions in the high-performance environment. In order to achieve nutritional adherence, intervention is needed across capability, opportunity and motivation behaviour components.

Late afternoon on day two, the finalists of the YIA were announced. Despite having felt my presentation went well, I was aware there were 85 other exceptional young researchers too, so I didn’t expect to make the list of finalists. To my complete surprise, my name was announced as one the finalists and I was invited to the Young Investigator Award Cocktail event that evening. After wonderful speeches from Professor Joan Duda and colleagues, the finalists were announced and awarded their certificates. I was (and still am!) over the moon to place equal 5th. It was a really wonderful evening talking with other YIA finalists and sharing a couple of celebratory drinks, as well as getting to meet top academics in their respective fields.


On day three I spent a lot of time in the poster area. ECSS uses a really interesting format for the posters. Instead of having hundreds of posters up all day, posters would be up for a certain amount of time and those presenting had time slots where they would have a microphone and delegates would wear headsets and tune into the channels for the posters they were interested in. This was an excellent way for lots of people to hear about the poster in one go, and it made the posters a much more interesting event where sometimes I think they can be seen as secondary to the oral presentations.

On the final day there weren’t really any talks in my academic area of interest. However, I have a personal interest in sleep and sleeping patterns, so I attended the keynote presentations on circadian rhythm (insert academic names). Exceptionally interesting to learn about how the circadian rhythm interacts with our muscles and cells on a micro level. The top four YIA finalists presented to all delegates to compete for the final top four prizes before the closing ceremony presentations.

Finally, the congress ended with a closing party in the Prague Castle – what a fantastic event in a beautiful setting.

Closing thoughts

ECSS Prague 2019 was a fantastic mix of high quality sports science as well as plenty of opportunities to network with those in your own institution and those outside. As a distance learner still completing my PhD, ECSS has enabled me to make some amazing friends in the postgraduate community as well as expand my knowledge base within sport psychology and physiology.

I highly recommend attending the next ECSS Congress; Seville, July 2020 ( My top tips for anybody wanting to attend the conference and enter the YIA competition are:

- Give yourself plenty of time and opportunity to practice your presentation (oral or poster).

- Don’t just practice to people who are in your area of work. Practice with other academics outside your field and friends and family – they often ask questions others don’t think of.

- Believe in yourself; ultimately, nobody knows your research project better than you.

- Where possible arrive a day or two before the conference starts – there seemed to be lots of flight delays during our travel which would have been much more stressful had I not been arriving a day early.

- Have a look at the conference proceedings before going to get an idea of the sessions you would really like to attend so you can plan around those and the time of your presentation.

- Remember you do not have to attend every single thing on offer at the conference, but pick a balance between presentations, poster sessions and social events that will be interesting and you will enjoy.

- Ask at least one question at the end of a presentation you attend – it feels empowering to do so!

- If possible before you present in the YIA competition, watch a couple of other sessions with YIA competitors in them. This will give an idea of the kinds of questions that will be asked and the logistics of how the sessions run.

- Also be sure to check out your room you are presenting in. If possible, try and do so when it is empty, stand at the front and by the lectern so you can see how it feels to be in that position.

- Finally, don’t forget to leave yourself a little time to enjoy the city you are in!

If you would like to know anything else or discuss my ECSS YIA experience, please get in contact using Twitter.

Twitter: @grace_tidmarsh

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