University lecturer helps to spin the wheels to victory
In Disability History Month, UCLan sports academic was part of the team behind the England wheelchair rugby league team World Cup win
A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) academic has shown it’s very much of a case of ‘do as I do’, after he used the performance analysis he usually teaches to his students to help coach the England wheelchair rugby league team to World Cup victory earlier this month.
Dave Banks works with students studying for the sports coaching degree, delivering the performance analysis modules. It’s a role he’s well-suited to, having been involved in performance analysis for many years; he started working with the Wigan Warriors rugby league team in 2000, and has since gone on to work on the international stage, with teams from Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Dave joined UCLan in 2020, leaving behind the club rugby world to instead share his skills and insight with sports students. But after a conversation with the England Performance Unit, Dave was offered a chance to work with the England wheelchair rugby league team alongside his lecturing.
However, the offer coincided with the Covid pandemic, making it difficult at first for Dave to find out more – he says: “I knew nothing about disability sport, the equipment, the rules – this was all new to me. But once the Covid restrictions lifted, I could begin my fact-finding mission. And once I attended my first training session with the team – just wow. I was blown away and totally hooked. The bravery and skill of the players is phenomenal; I knew it was something I wanted to be part of.”
As the team’s performance analyst, it is Dave’s job to capture information about training and matches – looking at what works and what doesn’t from the team’s perspective, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition - and then collating and passing that information to coaches and players, so that they can adapt and improve. Dave adds: “From the moment I joined the team, we all had one very clear and common goal in mind – winning the World Cup.”
"Once I attended my first training session with the team – just wow. I was blown away and totally hooked... I knew it was something I wanted to be part of."— Dave Banks, UCLan sports lecturer and performance analyst for the England wheelchair rugby league team
The England team is made up of 11 members, and Dave says: “It’s an incredibly inclusive sport, and watching these players, you’re struck by their ability, not any disability. I suppose the only time it’s ever really hit me is when we were trying to organise a group trip – I was suddenly struck by just how many places and venues are not wheelchair-friendly! It really brought it home to me the things that those with disabilities – seen and unseen – deal with day in, day out. And it gives me even more respect for the incredible attributes they display on the pitch.”
The World Cup was hosted by England, and the team’s campaign for the trophy kicked off in London at the beginning of November. They had a tense win against Australia, and after a series of comfortable victories (against Spain, Ireland, and Wales), made it through to the finals, held in Manchester. Dave could not believe the size of the crowd when he first walked into the arena – almost 5,000 people turned out to show their support, compared to the usual 100 or so people who watch club games. Dave adds: “The atmosphere was absolutely electric, it was almost overwhelming to see so many people watching. It was everything that the team deserved, and it made their journey to get there worth every second.”
The players hold down full-time jobs, whilst also playing at club level and training 3-4 times a week with England. It’s a big commitment, and the final match against France saw the team draw on every ounce of the training they’d put in. But finally, England captain Tom Halliwell scored a late try to lead his side to victory. It was the culmination of years of hard work and Dave says he’s still on cloud nine after the win – but there’s no rest for the wicked: “It was such a sweet moment, that win, and I keep pinching myself: but after our celebration planned in the new year, we’ll get straight to planning for the 2025 World Cup! I am really proud to call many of the people on the team my friends now, and I’m excited to see what we can achieve next together.”
"It was such a sweet moment, that win - I keep pinching myself."— Dave Banks
Dave’s role with the wheelchair rugby league team gives him some incredible real-world experience to draw on when teaching students about performance analysis, and he held a special Q&A session for students this week to share more about the very practical lessons he’s learnt over his career. He hopes to show his students that - given wheelchair rugby is still a relatively new and developing sport - performance analysis is a transferable skill that can be applied to a wide range of sports, not just those considered more mainstream.
So will the England team be paying UCLan a visit anytime soon? Dave says: “Perhaps! They did run a training session here earlier in the summer, and I’d love to get more of the team down again to showcase their skills and the sport itself. It feels like we’re really building some momentum now, especially given it’s Disability History Month, so we want to keep that going.”
Dave, who is married with two daughters, says his family are now used to him being busy - and it looks like the next few years will be no exception.