Students are being given a taste of research level sports science to inspire them to follow in the footsteps of top fitness coaches.
Portsmouth University has started a programme for 24 students studying sport at Hampshire FE colleges to introduce them to higher study in the subject. It aims to encourage the students to progress to higher education, where they can learn the expertise to help athletes reach their peak performance.
Among the graduates of the university's sports science department is Jonathan Dalyell, who now works as the conditioning coach for Portsmouth FC.
Alun Rees, the university's head of sport, said: "Everybody who is lottery funded, everybody whose involved in sport at an elite level is backed by significant sports science support. All the lottery-funded Olympic athletes get sports science support.
"We are offering these students a little bit extra. They are already studying sport and exercise science at their colleges but we are giving them a taste of what it's like to study the subject at university.
"They are also able to use high quality resources in the university labs to connect theory and practice."
The university believes targeting FE students can help to increase the number of people entering higher education and that using sport can be a powerful motivating factor for some students who otherwise dislike academic study.
Work on the "bridging programme", as it is known, takes place in several sessions spread over the course of the Btec or A-level students' second year. It involves studying physiology, psychology and carrying out laboratory experiments. Mr Rees said writing up detailed reports was a vital skill most students only began to learn in higher education.
Tony Hooker, 18, a Highbury College student, said he had underestimated how interesting university study could be. "You think university is going to mean lots of paperwork and boring lectures but this has given me the chance to see what it's really like," he said.
"It isn't just about sitting and listening, there's a lot more to it. And the facilities are really good."
Fellow Highbury student Katie Richardson, 19, said: "Being expected to take responsibility for my own learning is a bit daunting but it's good to be allowed to use the university's facilities, which are a lot more high tech and expensive than we have at college."
Those who complete the course - which is assessed through the research report, a reflection on the students learning and an oral assessment of what they have picked up - can earn an offer to study sports science with a reduced UCAS points score of 160, rather than the usual minimum of 240.
If they decide to study sports science elsewhere, however, the university will tell their chosen institution they have earned 20 points of credit towards the level 4 qualification - about a sixth of what is normally required in the first year of university.