Alumni profiles - Gary Byrne

PG Diploma Sport Coaching  2012-14

Gary Byrne - Sport Coaching AlumnusUCC Director of Rugby

I have to say the stand-out quality is the staff.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Birmingham?

The University of Birmingham was recommended to me by a colleague at University College Cork (UCC) - the University I work at here in Ireland. It was in UCC that I met Professor Kathleen Armour who was instrumental in my decision.

The course gave me the opportunity to not only build on my current practice as a full-time Director of Rugby in UCC, but pulled together many strands of my prior learning as a teacher (education, sociology, sport). The mixture of face-to-face, online/distance learning and staff support allowed me build my study around my job and family life. Direct flights from Birmingham meant I could be on the 6.40am flight out of Cork and sitting down for a coffee in Birmingham’s Sport Exercise, and Rehabilitation Sciences building by 9am.

Birmingham is one of the top Universities for Sport and Coaching Science in the UK and part of the Russell Group [which represents 24 leading UK universities].  

What are you doing now, and how did your time at Birmingham help you in your current role?

I am heading into my twelfth year as UCC’s Director of Rugby, responsible for the structures and operations of the club in a dynamic and exciting environment. I have some limited input into our B Ed Sport Degree programme and hope to become more involved and useful to the students and staff of this excellent course. I’m also doing some IRFU tutor work (coaching the coaches).

The University of Birmingham has given me the confidence and academic rigour to critique underlying presumptions/dogma of the sporting culture I work in. Secondly I have become much more aware of my own learning, warts-and-all, and in so doing have come to value reflection as key to my own learning – transforming experience, through reflection, into valuable learning. The PG Diploma has also helped me identify coaching values (and the genesis of these) and to refine a coaching philosophy.

Finally the course has opened up a world of research which has application to my daily practice and also a healthy level of abstraction away from the bio-scientific and administrative aspects of what I do. 


What made your course at Birmingham stand out for you?

I have to say the stand-out quality is the staff; not only world leaders in their fields but the connection they have with students and their constant willingness to assist. The flexibility to email or Skype a staff member and to always get a helpful and immediate response gave me great confidence; so important to me especially going back to formal education after so many years.

The energy and friendliness of the staff team was clear from day one. The comprehensive level of feedback was also an important feature for me. The staff are fun and clearly enjoy working together. That gives students the confidence to engage, challenge and be challenged in a supportive learning environment. Some things don’t change…it’s still about people and relationships. 

How did you find the level of support you have from your lecturers?

I think you gravitate towards the lecturer/s who you have common academic interests with and whom you connect with. That was my experience. I was fortunate to have a number of lecturers who were very supportive and one in particular who was outstanding and became my tutor – he knows who he is! The sense of structure alongside guided discovery suited my learning, as that’s how I learn best I believe. 


What do you hope to go on to do in the future?

Having already conducted some case study research with my current coaches, I plan on availing myself of my workplace setting to look at research opportunities in areas such as coach learning, instructional techniques, coaching effectiveness, rugby coaches CPD, participant development and retention/dropout.

I have been lucky enough to have been asked back to start a PhD at the University of Birmingham and have accepted. It will be research-based and initially part-time over a number of years. I hope to contribute not only to my own organisation (UCC RFC) but to be a resource to our B Ed Sports Degree programme. Who knows maybe even late career entry into higher education lecturing and research? Old dog learns new tricks...