I graduated from the University of Limerick with a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science in August 2019. Less than 12 months later I am writing this blog post with a job in my area of study, with two-thirds of a master’s completed and I am launching a non-profit organisation; things move fast! I never considered my story a success story but, seeing what I’m currently doing down on paper, I’m happy with the way things are going. The turning point in my story was being offered my current role. Without it, I have no doubt that I would have been working a full-time job that had nothing to do with sport, nothing to do with my passion.
I completed my undergraduate degree last May but by the time I did, I was losing my faith in finding a job in sports science, particularly one with reasonable pay. I saw professionals in good jobs leave the industry when they wanted to start a family due to the insecurity that the industry brings and the thoughts of working for peanuts for the foreseeable future certainly did not appeal. I caved in, I played it safe and I lost the faith. I applied for a MSc in Sport Management in UCD. Something with some business in it will help me, right? Thankfully, I received a place on the programme, and I spent the summer working in Under Armour in Kildare Village, where I had worked part-time throughout college. I was content with this situation; nobody could say that I was failing because I had the master’s to fall back. I was content but not satisfied.
The master’s started in September and I continued applying for every sports-related job under the sun, including a receptionist at a local physio (which I didn’t get!). However, in October I was hired by Leinster GAA as a Games Promotion Officer with Meath GAA Coaching and Games. The role is primarily focused on coaching and coach education and I’m really enjoying it. There’s a lot of autonomy with it and you organise how your week looks. This was crucial as I needed every Friday off to drive to UCD. Landing this job was definitely the turning point for me. It took 6 months to get but now that I have it, I’m happy. I can relax and not worry constantly about my career prospects. Interestingly though, I think it was some of the work I did down in UL that helped me get it.
For the majority of my time in UL, I was determined to be a S&C coach in elite sport. Luckily for me, UL is a great place to chase that dream. Two of my friends and I did a foundation-level rugby coaching course on campus, in the shadow of Munster Rugby’s state-of-the-art High-Performance Centre. The three wannabe S&C coaches used the course to get in touch with members of Munster’s underage S&C setup and that was all we wanted. Each of us spent over a year helping out as volunteer coaches, including a summer where I spent three nights a week living in a dilapidated, abandoned student estate on my own. It wasn’t glamourous but it filled the CV and I gained invaluable experience working with elite coaches and athletes.
Now with the taste for it, and with work placement approaching, I needed to find something that matched my ambition. In UL, you spend 8 months of 3rd year on work placement which I think is a great element for an undergrad to have. I decided that nothing in Ireland was exciting enough but didn’t want to go too far that I wouldn’t be able to make the occasional trip home to visit my family and my girlfriend. That left one logical location; England. I sent a barrage of emails to every professional football and rugby club in the country, as well as a handful of cricket and rugby league sides. No joy. When all hope was nearly lost, I heard of another student coach who spent time around Munster going over to Oxford United F.C. for a weeklong visit. I latched onto this, got all the contact details I needed and crossed my fingers for a response to my email. Fortunately, Scott Daly, the club’s Head of Sports Science at the time, is an Irishman abroad and wanted to help out every Irish person he could. After a quick video call to “make sure I wasn’t a weirdo”, I was packing my bags to go to the UK.
I had a great time over in Oxford but that isn’t the main takeaway from my story. I believe that when you put yourself out there and make connections and you are continuously trying to improve, good things happen. If I hadn’t signed up for that foundation-level rugby course, I probably wouldn’t have started coaching with Munster. If I hadn’t started coaching with Munster, I definitely wouldn’t have gone to Oxford. Put yourself in the right position and things will work out.
I’m happy now and I definitely have a better work-life balance than I did during college. The current lockdown has given me a chance to spend a lot of time around home which I’m really appreciating. Leinster GAA are keeping us busy with different projects and initiatives and I have a thesis to write this summer but busy is good. In an effort to help sports clubs navigate the current climate, I’m involved in the launching of an organisation called Backroom Sports Management Solutions. The idea was partly inspired by a conversation with The Irish Graduate’s Leanne and it is a non-profit organisation providing consultation and guidance to sports clubs on different aspects of sports management such as operations, strategy and governance. We want to help sports clubs and organisations perform better off the field, as well as on it, and leave them in a better position than the one we found them in. I’ve joined up with 5 other soon-to-be graduates of UCD’s MSc to make up our Backroom Team so it should help us cut our teeth in the industry and put our learning to the test! I’m continuing to put myself out there so hopefully good things will continue to happen…
You can connect with Ian and the rest of the Backroom team via their website and social media channels: Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.