Lesley Sommerfield

Lesley Sommerfield

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

A visit to Auckland confirmed that AUT was the right place for her to complete her PhD in sport and recreation, says Lesley Sommerfield who came to AUT as an international student from the USA.

“I chose to do my PhD because I wanted to gain more experience and contribute research to the field. The AUT Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand has a strong sport science research background, which enables me to research my interests in this field.

“Eventually, I would like to have a dual role in academics and coaching, and doctoral study will help me get there. My goal is to be coaching strength and conditioning at high school level and be affiliated with a university, so I can conduct research with the high school population and teach classes at the university.”

Tools for girls
For her PhD research, Lesley developed an injury prevention programme which she then implemented into the PE curriculum in a girls’ secondary school, aiming to reduce injury risk factors and improve athletic performance.

“Sport and increased levels of physical activity in youth are linked with a high incidence of injuries. Childhood and adolescence is an important time to develop correct movement patterns and optimal levels of physical conditioning to reduce injury risk. Girls are at an increased risk of injury, possibly due to neuromuscular factors and the menstrual cycle.

“The focus of the programme I developed was on strength, agility, plyometrics, core stability and balance. It started with body weight exercises and progressed to light, then moderate resistance exercises. Over the course of the 30-week study, I also tracked injuries and the menstrual cycle via a questionnaire that the girls took once per week. Based on the girls’ responses, I followed up with them to determine specifics of injuries reported and to gauge the day of the menstrual cycle.”

She hopes her work will provide girls with tools they can use in a gym setting later in life, says Lesley whose research is supervised by Dr Craig Harrison, Associate Professor Chris Whatman and Dr Peter Maulder.

“When I was in high school, lifting weights was just for the boys and I’d like to make sure the girls know it’s not that way today. By aiming to prevent injuries and improve performance, the girls can hopefully see the benefits of athletic development, specifically strength exercises. Additionally, the menstrual cycle is still a taboo subject and with this research I tried to make it not be so by having the conversation with the girls.”

Making connections
She would recommend the postgraduate sport programmes to others, Lesley says.

“There are great facilities, professors and students to learn from and have great discussions with. The students at AUT are very diverse, as most are international students.

“I’ve enjoyed making connections with students and staff members, and learning about other students’ research. I’m based in Hamilton, but I do go up to Auckland at least once per month for workshops and meetings with staff and supervisors. The most enjoyable part is when we all get together for meetings or writing retreats, and share knowledge with each other.”

Make as many connections as you can with both students and staff, she advises other students.

“Try to get involved in as many projects and help with as much as you can. If a student is based somewhere besides Auckland, then my advice would be to make the time to get to Auckland and connect with everyone there. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re stuck on anything, both supervisors and other students will be glad to help.”