How Loughborough built the most successful uni sports team in history

One university. 36 years of victory.

Last year Loughborough won BUCS (British University Sports Competition) for the 36th year in a row, confirming them as the top sporting university in the UK, if not the world.

If Loughborough had competed as their own country in the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics – they would have ranked 17th overall in the medal table, ahead of both Canada and New Zealand.

Speaking to the elite captains and coaches powering Loughborough's success, we partnered with Unilever to understand how leadership has been the bedrock of the university's sporting achievement.

Captains leading Loughborough

Loughborough attracts the world's top student athletes; it takes a passionate and driven leader to unite them all. We found out how these captains lead.

Isaac Miller, Men's Rugby Union 1st XV captain
Sports and Exercise Science, Masters. Isaac has played for Scotland u-20s.

"To be a good captain, it's all about honesty and hard work. I look to motivate through actions, I like to lead by example, which might be working hard around the pitch and inspiring in that way.

"I'm out of action at the moment with a broken finger, but I still try and inspire the team. I'm there at training, still working hard off of the pitch and making sure I am fit for when I come back.

"The best leaders are the ones who aren't missed."

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Sisley Hamer, Dance captain and club chair
Criminology and Social Policy, third year. Sisley has been the chair since April and the club holds seven out of the eleven national dance trophies.

"Dance leadership is all about motivation, in and outside of class. I need to motivate all of the dancers in the club to be on the top of their performance at all times.

"There are a lot of sacrifices you’ve got to make throughout the year. Sometimes you'll have to put your degree on the line, or put your other friends slightly behind the club, because there’s an important competition coming up. You might have to miss somebody’s birthday. But it's because your heart has to be in it 100 per cent."

Beth Bingham, Women's Hockey 1st XI captain
Sports and Exercise Science, third year. Beth is a Wales Senior International and competed in the Commonwealth Games 2014.

"I think I'm quite honest and open as a leader and I'm not afraid to speak my mind. I try my best to give everything for the team and respect each member equally."

"A good team is one which doesn't rely on key players but rather recognises every single members' 'super strengths' and uses them to their advantage.

"We've been successful in the past because we've had a squad of players who want to work hard for each other and once you have that you can be pretty unstoppable."

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Peter Meachin, Rugby League 1st XII captain
Materials Engineering, fifth year. Peter first played Rugby League as a fresher and now he captains the first team.

"I have always said I lead from the front. I believe I am someone who, when things get tough, puts their hand up and gets the hard work done."

"The role of a captain is to ‘steady the ship’. In times of hardship or confusion, people look to the leaders to give them a clear understanding of what needs to be done."

"Every member has to be willing to put in the hard work to ensure we are as best prepared as we can be."

Jonas Dieterich, Men's Basketball 1st team captain
Maths, fourth year. Jonas played for the Leicester Riders in pre-season, a professional basketball team.

"I think to be a successful leader you need to be able to say and do things that will have a positive impact on the team.

"The first thing I try to do is lead by example. This includes doing extra sessions outside of practice and challenging others to do the same.

"You also need to be positive in every situation, if people are doing well you should let them know, if something hasn't worked out so well you should also say, but you need to suggest what could be done better next time."

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Emily Capewell, Cycling captain
English, second year. Emily's family has a long involvement with cycling, her Dad has competed in two Paralympic games.

"My biggest leadership quality is that I understand where other people are coming from. I've been there, I've done it and I still compete myself. I offer good advice because I have a deep knowledge of the sport."

"The main way I motivate other people and gear them up for competitions is through making sure I know what they're going through. I give pep talks and ensure I do things that inspire other people to perform to the best of their ability.

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Isaac Miller, Men's Rugby Union 1st XV captain

What it takes to lead at Loughborough

Given the uni's reputation, there is a lot of pressure on these captains and teams to deliver winning results week-in week-out. We spoke to three experts in leadership at Loughborough about the skills and characteristics needed to be a good captain.

George Chuter, Loughborough Rugby coach
Rugby World Cup 2007 finalist and played alongside England's 2003 Rugby World Cup winning captain, Martin Johnson.

"Someone like Martin Johnson didn’t say a lot, it wasn't what he said but what he did. He dragged you along by your own will. Actions spoke louder than words."

"At university there are so many different people, so many different personalities, cultural backgrounds, class backgrounds, people from different schools, levels of education.

"We look for people who buy into the system, who buy into the environment. A place that’s good to be in, play in and live in. With 30 games in the league and 15-20 in BUCS, you need people who make the environment enjoyable."

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Louise Capicotto, Sports Psychologist
International-level Powerlifter whilst studying for a Masters in Sports Psychology

"The most important attributes I believe are being resilient to stress, having a high-degree of awareness, being emotionally intelligent, being confident, passionate and willing to learn from feedback."

"The first thing to strike me about Loughborough is a sense of community; the 'Loughborough Family', which contributes to a collective sense of identity.

"The African Violet sports kit helps: you know you are playing for everyone at Loughborough, not just yourself. This relates to a sense of trust among the athletes, something which is far greater than at other unis."

James Freeman, former captain of Loughborough Rugby 1st XV captain
Now a professional Rugby Player for Jersey

"I often think that the best leaders within sport are the ones who train and play the hardest, are honest, humble and know what needs to be done in order to be successful.

"These players sometimes aren't necessarily the ones given captaincy or leadership roles. Even so, they are leaders because they show what it takes to be successful in sport. This, in turn, encourages others to follow."

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Jonas Dieterich, Men's Basketball 1st team captain

How to lead like Loughborough

Loughborough is known for leading from the front. Jonas, Sisley, Isaac and Emily spoke to us about how they became captains and how you could too. Watch below.

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