Sam Cooley


Research interests

Research Interests

  • Life skills, experiential learning and outdoor adventure education
  • Positive youth development
  • Student development in higher education
  • Mental imagery in sport and exercise
  • Research methodology and systematic literature reviewing

Sam’s research to date has spanned several areas. His research in positive youth development has seen him co-develop and lead on the delivery of a 10-week mental skills training programme for disadvantaged youth. This programme is informed by sport psychology and psychological models such as positive psychology and strengths-based cognitive behavioural therapy. It promotes the self-discovery and development of mental skills in areas such as self-regulation, interpersonal skills, organisation, utilising social support, problem solving, and coping under pressure. Research into the programme has revealed improvements to self-worth, resilience, well-being, and re-engagement with education, employment and training.

Other areas of Sam’s research include outdoor learning; in particular, investigating how transferable life skills are developed within the natural environment and the personal and environmental factors that influence development and transfer to other life settings such as education and employment.  Sam is also interested in mental imagery and its use in sport and exercise settings to manage thoughts and improve performance.

Sam also collaborates with colleagues outside of the University of Birmingham on a range of projects. He works with colleagues at Newman University in his work in positive youth development, at the University of Northampton to investigate psychological growth following experiences in extreme environments, and at the University of Warwick looking at youth development through Tall Ship sailing voyages. He is interested in connecting with other professionals to conduct high impact research.


Sam’s interest in sport psychology began during his time as an athlete, coach and swimming teacher. This interest led him to complete an Access Course to Higher Education, before graduating in 2011 with a first class BSc in Sport and Exercise Sciences. As an undergraduate student, Sam spent time as research intern, produced a number of academic publications and was awarded for academic achievement, extra-curricular activity, and contribution to his school.

Sam’s passion for outdoor adventure activities, and time spent in high schools mentoring disadvantaged youth, broadened his academic interests to include how sport and recreational experiences can benefit other areas of life. Later in 2011, Sam pursued this interest through a scholarship funded PhD that focused on the use of outdoor pursuit courses in developing transferable groupwork skills in students.

Sam’s doctoral work increased his knowledge of how life skills are developed through holistic, group-based and challenging activities, and the processes behind learning transfer. In 2014, Sam applied this knowledge to his new position as Research Fellow. In collaboration with the youth homeless charity, St Basils, Sam helped to develop an innovative, 10-week mental skills training programme. He is currently responsible for delivering the programme to over 100 youths each year, along with conducting on-going research to evaluate the programme’s impact and guide programme development.

Professional Qualifications

  • PhD,

    Sep 2011 - May 2015