Deirdre Brennan admitted she had to pinch herself in amazement after picking up a top prize on behalf of Ulster University at the star-studded 2015 UK Coaching Awards.
The university’s Ulster Sports Outreach (USO) initiative won the Coaching Intervention of the Year Award on Tuesday evening, with representatives from the educational establishment rubbing shoulders with the great and the good of British coaching at the iconic Midland Hotel in Manchester.
Professor Brennan was one of those in attendance and took to the stage after Ulster Sports Outreach was singled out for praise by the judging panel.
Using staff and students at the university, USO aims to promote sport, education and healthy active lifestyles to children and young people, through the deployment of well-trained student volunteers.
During 2014/2015, this resulted in the delivery of over 8000 sport and physical activity sessions and creation of almost 210,000 participation opportunities for children and young people in disadvantaged areas across the whole of Ireland.
And after seeing the initiative beat two other nominees to the award, Brennan was struggling to take it all in.
“To be here at the UK Coaching Awards in just phenomenal and to win is something else,” she said.
“Sports Outreach based at Ulster University is very much a widening access intervention programme where we use what we consider to be the richest resources of the university which are students and we train and deploy them in the most disadvantaged communities across northern Ireland.
“We deliver a whole range of physical activities and sport programmes and we work in collaboration with national governing bodies to do this.
“I suppose it’s been going on as long as I’ve been working there but over the past six years it has really mushroomed because the university decided to invest in a member of staff.
“We’ve been running it a long time and it’s taken us a long time to get this project right. But we’re really beginning to have a fabulous impact.
“Really what we’re trying to do is create a whole battery of new potential student volunteers who will again enthuse and stimulate others to get involved in coaching.”
The UK Coaching Awards honour sports coaches and coaching organisations who have demonstrated outstanding success over the previous 12 months.
Previous winners at the UK Coaching Awards include Jessica Ennis-Hill’s mentor Toni Minichiello and Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson.
And USO were not the only representatives from the area to be honoured with Belfast Deaf United football coach Brian Dabb nominated in the Disability Coach of the Year Award category while Ulster Badminton’s Andrew Stewart won the Performance Development Coach of the Year Award.
The 33-year-old former player, who lives in Belfast, has been able to nurture talented players to success at national and European level through his Talent ID and Development Officer and Emerging Performance Coach roles.
“I'm absolutely delighted to win the award, it's a real honour and it hasn't really sunk in to be honest, I wasn't expecting to win and I was just happy to be nominated in the top three,” said Stewart.
“It's absolutely brilliant to be at the UK Coaching Awards. There's so much knowledge in the room with so many different types of coaches.
“From a coaching perspective it's a dream to be here and share knowledge with these great coaches.
“I played professionally in Sweden for three or four years and that's when I first moved into coaching before I came back to Northern Ireland.
Coming from a playing background and then moving into coaching I didn't realise half the work that goes into coaching so it's brilliant to be recognised in this environment for all the coaches involved.”
The UK Coaching Awards 2015, hosted by sports coach UK is a chance to recognise excellent coaching and coaching organisations that have achieved outstanding success over the past 12 months.
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