When I was 17, I got a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London. That was a great opportunity, but it meant I couldn’t complete my academic studies in Spain and wouldn’t have the qualifications to go to university. When I was 19, I joined Scottish Ballet but I knew I wanted to keep my academic studies going. The career of a ballet dancer is short, so I thought it was important to have something else in my life to give me a ‘Plan B’. I decided that studying a degree at university would be a good way to keep my doors open for the future.
I did some research online about distance learning in the UK and The Open University was always the first one that came up. I wouldn’t have been able to do a distance learning degree with a Spanish university because I didn’t have the necessary qualifications, but the OU were happy to accept me. I think the open entry policy is great because as long as you have the desire to study at university, and are willing to work as much as you need to, then why don’t you deserve to try?
When COVID hit I wasn’t able to dance as much. We currently train the same number of days but fewer hours; we’re divided into two groups and take turns to use the rehearsal space. The two groups alternate between mornings and afternoons, so I dance in the day and then study in the evening and at weekends – I would say I study four or five nights a week for a couple of hours.
I obviously have a lot more free time at the moment, so I wanted to find new ways of developing my skills outside the ballet studio. Even before COVID I thought that, instead of registering for a full degree straight away, I would start my OU studies with one module and see how I could manage to work and study at the same time.
I chose a Sport and Exercise Psychology module because I thought it sounded really interesting and that it could benefit my career as a dancer. I’m learning a lot of things that I am able to apply to my own work as a dancer. For example, I’m currently studying psychological techniques such as goal-setting and breathing techniques. Some of them I’d heard about before, but I’m now understanding them a lot better, and able to use them on a daily basis.
I really like the way the modular system of study works, and that I have the option to only study one module at a time. And, if I do enough credits, I can still get a qualification for the modules I’ve studied, even if I decide not to complete a full degree, which I think is really, really good. In Spain, if you study a degree for two years or three years and then stop before you’ve completed it, you don’t get anything. I’ve since decided to study the degree but back then it was good to know that I could get an interim qualification.
I’m not sure whether to aim for a psychology degree or a sports science degree, and this module is part of both, giving me a way to see which degree I’m more attracted to. Once I’ve finished this module, I’ll decide which path to take. That’s another one of the reasons I chose The Open University, because it’s not very common to have that flexibility.
My advice to anyone who is thinking of doing an OU course is to try to be organised, try to plan your week, and find times when you know you’re going to be able to study. Use the time as efficiently as you can – you’ll be given an online weekly study planner, so you know what you should be doing each week to make sure you can get your assignments in on time.
Don’t hesitate to contact your tutor and use the support that the OU provides, because it is always very helpful. The feedback from my tutor is always great and I’m always welcome to contact them. We also have a tutor group forum on the university website, so you have support and help if you need it.
The best part of studying with the OU for me is being able to manage my own time and choose when to study, in order to combine it with my work. It’s very rewarding and fulfilling, knowing that I’m doing something that will benefit my future.
To find out more about study Sport, Fitness and Coaching at The Open University click here.
Like many Open University students, Royal Air Force Police Corporal Abi Harding, 32, is no stranger to studying with a newborn baby on her lap. After becoming pregnant during the first year of her Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree, determined Abi has continued to juggle her studies, work life and has just welcomed her second child.
To say life is busy for the mum of two is an understatement, yet Abi’s motivation comes from her family and wanting to secure a career as a PE teacher after she eventually leaves the Royal Air Force (RAF):
“I applied for university to become a PE teacher, but I decided to follow a career with the RAF, so my academic education stopped at college. I’ve been in the RAF for 11 years now and want to stay in the force for as long as I can, but I also want to make sure I’ve got a career for when the time comes for me to leave. Throughout my whole life I’ve always played sport – I still play football and rugby for the RAF.
“Because I enjoy sport so much, I decided to plan a future career as a PE teacher in primary or secondary. I looked into teaching and discovered that you need a degree and then a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) to become a teacher, so I thought I’d start by studying a degree in something I enjoy and know a little bit about and that’s why I chose to study sports coaching.”
Managing family life and study
Abi’s course is part-funded by her employer and finding a university that would allow her to study around work and other commitments was essential. After a colleague recommended the OU, Abi realised part-time flexible learning would be a perfect fit for her needs. However, life was about to get even busier, as she explains:
“When I started the first module in October 2018, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I had an assignment due three weeks after the birth – I was a bag of emotions! During most of that first module I was working full-time Monday to Friday. I did my OU study two evenings a week for two or three hours. When it came to writing assignments, I would put in extra work to make sure everything got done.
“I’m now on my third module and I have a one-year-old and a newborn, which is a challenge! Trying to juggle work, being a mum and doing a degree at the same time isn’t easy. You have to make yourself do it. Studying is not always something you want to do when you’ve had a day of it, but you’ve got to get it done. Some nights I just want to sleep!”
The juggling act of being a student-parent
Abi admits that there have been times when she has been close to giving up her studies, especially when her second child was just born. “I felt so tired of trying to juggle everything,” she says, though she is determined to finish what she started:
“My family has inspired me because it’s going to benefit all of us in the long run – and, if I’m honest, myself, because I’m a very determined person. And because I’m interested in the subject, I find all of the work enjoyable. Learning doesn’t seem like a chore if it’s something that you enjoy.”
If Abi needs advice or support, she knows she can also rely on her tutors and the rest of the OU student community:
“The tutor support you get with the OU is massive. I don’t even start my assignments without going to the tutorials because I find them really helpful. Really engaging. And because the students are all logged on together you can all ask questions in the chat bar about anything you don’t understand. It’s great because sometimes people will ask questions that maybe you didn’t think of. Or get answers to things you wanted to know but you didn’t know how to phrase the question. Personally, I massively benefit from the tutorials.
“I’m in a WhatsApp group for the module and it’s supportive because there’s a lot of people in there that are in a similar situation to me. For example, there are students who are studying while home-schooling kids. When they’re saying, ‘I can’t do this’, you know that you’re not the only one thinking that.”
‘It will be worth it in the end’
Abi playing rugby for the RAF
Abi is now in her third year of her degree and though she doesn’t plan to leave her RAF role anytime soon, she knows studying with the OU now means she will be ready to step into a teaching career in the future:
“Doing the OU course means I know that I’m set up for life, so that when the time comes it’s just a case of doing the PGCE and getting qualified teacher status, and then I can be a PE teacher.
“If you’re thinking of doing an OU course I would say look into what you want to do first, to make sure it’s definitely the right route for you, and then just enjoy it, embrace it. Accept that there will be times when it’s not that easy, but it’ll be worth it in the end.”
From the age of 16 Amanda Halifax dreamt of becoming a PE teacher, however, instead of being able to pursue her dreams after school, she had to go out to work. Taking on any jobs just so that she could pay her bills, at one point Amanda found herself having to work 3 jobs as she needed the money. The day that Amanda dropped off her youngest child at university she decided that she was going to follow in her children’s footsteps and get a degree too. Although at first she was convinced she wouldn’t be able to do the study or cope with the technology, Amanda found a love for the study and completed in 2014. Amanda has now achieved the dream that she had from the age of 16 and is working in a school and teaching sport.
“I didn’t do very much at school. I got a few GCEs and I was going to be a teacher, but my mother wouldn’t let me go away to study further because then you had to work didn’t you. I used to dream about teaching and I got a place actually but then I couldn’t go. It was just really sad because it was my dream.
I then went on to do all sorts of jobs really, sometimes working 3 jobs and I struggled to get all my children through university. I dedicated my life to my children and I didn’t really look at doing any study myself until my youngest son went off to university. I’d always wanted to do the same and I think it was really that day that I came back home into my empty house that I thought ‘I want to go to university’. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go away though because I had a house to look after and my jobs, but I also didn’t know if I could afford it.
Over the years I’d always had a little look at The Open University, but I never thought that I could do it. I thought it would cost me far too much and that you’d have to have lots of A Levels or qualifications. When I dropped off my youngest son and came home that day I had a look at all kinds of universities. I punched in ‘Open University’ and I looked at all the courses that the OU offers and as I went through them I thought it would definitely be something I could do, so I did!
When I was 16 I wanted to be a food technology teacher but I also wanted to be a PE teacher because I absolutely loved sport. I came from a little town where there wasn’t anything there apart from tennis courts, so virtually all I did was sport. Working in sport as a PE teacher was something that I did actually dream about but I thought it would never happen.
The tutors were amazing and they were there for me the whole way through. You can contact them by email if you have any problems at all and they get back to you so quickly. I had quite a lot of stresses and setbacks throughout my studies including very ill health and a car accident. At one point I didn’t know if I was going to be there to see the end of my studies and it was horrendous really, but the whole way through The Open University tutors and staff were there for me and they would phone me up. They weresuch supportive and caring people.
I didn’t think I could do it from the first day, but within a couple of weeks of actually looking at the books and just working through the weekly planner I found it easier. The weekly planner tells you what you have to read on each week, so I just tried to keep up with that and by the time I got to week 6 I was in the flow of it and I thought ‘I’m going to do this’.
I really quite enjoyed the sports psychology module because now that I work in a school and help with the PE students it helps me to guide them through their study and aids me with giving them confidence. I’m able to show them that they can do it as well.
One of the other good benefits about the course that I did was that I had to become a level 2 fitness instructor and again I’ve always really wanted to do that, but I didn’t think I could do that either. It was great and the fact that I passed that as well was fantastic! It also gave me other job possibilities too as it meant I could now work in a gym and so that also helped to increase my confidence.
I could never use computers and I have to say that was my big fear at the start. When I first started and everything had to be done online, that was the thing that actually frightened me because I was absolutely rubbish at it. But you get a step-by-step guide so I was able to take my time and to go through that. The whole way through there was somebody there helping me and then eventually all those big problems, that I thought were big problems, were no problems because I was flying through.
I found the online tutorials fantastic because if you had to work and missed it then you could pick it up later. I found it so, so helpful because all the time that I was actually doing my TMA I was actually having a look at the tutorial as well. I didn’t only play that back once either! I used to love to tune in too because you got to talk to other students who were in the same boat as you and sometimes you’d be talking to them afterwards too, so you made friends and felt part of a kind of team. Even though you didn’t actually get to meet those people in person they were there every month and so you just became quite close to them.
I didn’t really plan my study time every day because various things would change and happen in life. When I was doing my first course I had about two or three jobs, so I just used to sit down at weekends. I did used to take the books to bed with me at nighttime to read them too. I didn’t find it too much of a problem though because I really enjoyed it. I was also able to start applying what I was learning directly into my work in the school.
The biggest benefit of OU study to me was that it built in around my job and it built in around my home life. I think distance learning suits a lot of people because you don’t have to actually move away, you don’t have to leave your family and friends and you can actually just carry on with normal life and achieve.
I was determined I wanted a BSc (Hons) Sports degree – I wanted that so much and it’s just changed my life. I’m not stopping now; I’m certainly not packing up teaching because I’ve finally got there and I love it. I feel fit, I feel healthy and I get to play sport. I also have a team of kids from the school in the English Squash championships and they’re doing really well. I would say to anyone not to think about it too much, just sign up for it and just do it, because you can! You’re never too old! If you have a dream then go for it.
It’s changed my confidence, it’s changed my life and I feel like a different person. I’ve grown and I never thought I could do that. I honestly did not think I could achieve my dream in life. I’ve not only got a degree now I’ve got the fitness qualification as well and I have to say my computer skills are so much better, which is amazing.
I’ve had lots of jobs which I haven’t really wanted to do, but I’ve done them because I’ve had to get the money and I’m now in a job that I’m doing because I love the job, not because of the money. I’m being paid for a job that I love – it’s amazing. The biggest thing for me is that I’m now actually teaching and following the dream that I’ve carried with me since I was 16.”
If you have been inspired by Amanda’s story and would like to study sport and fitness at the Open University, please visit our ‘Study with us’ page.
Patrick (Ricky) Skene took up ice hockey whilst he was at school and after his GCSEs went to a college that would allow him to continue to play ice hockey on the side. Patrick decided to go to university to study Sports Psychology, but after realising that he wasn’t going to be accredited as a Sports Psychologist through the course he decided to leave and focus on a professional career as an ice hockey player. Whilst enjoying a successful ice hockey career, Patrick started up a strength and conditioning business on the side. Once he had retired from professional ice hockey, Patrick decided to make his business his full focus, but after being told that he should consider teaching by some clients he began to investigate that as a career option. Fast forward to 2017 and Patrick is in his second year of his full time OU degree, working full time as a games teacher in an independent school and working hard to achieve his goal.
“I was born in Chicago where my older brother took up one of the national sports of ice hockey. We stayed there for about 5 years and then moved over to the UK. That’s when I picked up ice hockey and just followed my brother’s footsteps – he was always an inspiration to me. Whilst I was doing my GCSEs I was also being taken out of school to pursue ice hockey as it was a minority sport here and still is. After my GCSEs I immediately went to college at Nescott as that allowed me to continue to play ice hockey. After college I began a degree in sports psychology, however, during one of the first year lectures we discovered that we wouldn’t be accredited as sports psychologists at the end. I didn’t really want to carry on with another two and a half years of student debt, so I stopped that. I had to make a choice at that point whether to pursue my career as an ice hockey player or to keep focus on my educational interests, and I decided to go down the professional ice hockey route.
At the same time that I was playing ice hockey I also completed some vocational courses. I took premier training for a PTI diploma in advanced personal training and surrounding that I also did CrossFit because it was just coming over to the UK. I completed my CrossFit level 1 and 2 instructor’s award and then my CrossFit gymnastics award on the side. I started to realise that I quite liked doing little vocational courses, gaining CPD points and dipping into different things that I liked, but these little courses didn’t carry any qualifications and were just more out of interest.
As I was playing ice hockey at a professional level I had to start to tailor them down a little bit and concentrate on that. My career took me from the Slough Jets to the Guildford Flames and I played 9 years for them. That was really where I made a mark as an ice hockey player; I enjoyed a lot of success, won some trophies and towards the end of my career I started to think about what I was going to do afterwards. I was always quite a fit player, I liked to take my strength and conditioning very seriously and I had been training a lot of my team mates, so I figured why not put the two together. My Premier Training diploma gave me my first CPD points and with my REP level 3 I created my own personal training and strength and conditioning business. When it first started I was taking junior athletes from amateur right the way through and showing them what was required to become professional. I ended up having my professional ice hockey career and a strength and conditioning business on the side until finally I decided to retire from ice hockey to focus on the coaching of not only athletes, but also the general public. I liked it, but realised that if I had a sick day then I didn’t get paid and if I went on holiday then it was costing me money. Some of the people that I was training encouraged me to think about teaching as a career because they said I’d be very good at it.
I looked into the possibility of teaching but found that my diplomas weren’t quite enough to go straight into teaching. I’d heard about The Open University and had seen some advertisement for it so decided to enquire about courses and through that found the BSc Sports, Fitness and Coaching degree. I enrolled with The Open University and started the first year with the strength and conditioning business on the side. I was then pulled out of ice hockey retirement by a coach friend of mine who needed some injury cover, so I came out and played for Telford Tigers for the final time. I enjoyed some more success and retired winning the cup and the league for a final time. It seemed like the perfect time to completely retire and devote everything into this degree and teaching.
I funded the first year myself by paying upfront and then intended to pay for the second year in the same way, but through speaking to the bursar at the current school that I’m at and speaking with the headmaster, they were able to provide me with financial assistance. My study was like inset training because it was enhancing my performance as a games teacher on the job, so they are supporting my funds for the second year. Even though I’m receiving financial support I knew there were options available if I didn’t – I knew I could pay for it in instalments or defer for a while.
I picked the sports, fitness and coaching degree because I do have a background in that industry, so I felt being away from study for so long I wouldn’t be coming in cold and completely out of my element. I chose The Open University over a standard university because it allows me to continue to work and, rather than approaching a school in three years’ time, or even longer if I’d done it part time, I can be on the job now gaining experience whilst studying and applying theory to practice. Also, when I do finish I’m then three years ahead of the curve.
Obviously gaining the theoretical knowledge for the course is fantastic, but being able to manage your time more effectively is huge as a teacher because we do work long hours, we do have high demands on our time and there’s always 101 things going on, so that’s one of the life skills that I think the OU teaches you. It works well for me because we’re given a timetable which I can follow and it’s very manageable. The work is split into small bitesize chunks for each week so you’re not just looking at the book and having to read the entire thing. For me it was just small goals and small manageable steps that I could just apply directly into my job as a teacher.
The tutors at The Open University have been fantastic. I’ve had many different jobs leading up to where I am now as a teacher and with that things change, there’s lots of variables and deadlines sometimes can creep up on you even if you are following a timetable, so being able to email the tutors directly was great. I didn’t have any instances where they questioned it, they said ‘what do you need to be able to produce the work and how can we help’ and that’s exactly what they did in those cases. They would give me a week’s extension, which would be a perfect amount of time to do it, or they would direct me to a resource or an online source of material that would help me get back on track if I was finding something difficult.
Probably the biggest highlight is seeing your hard work pay off! At the beginning of the year my grades weren’t quite as I expected, so to see those grades steadily improve as the year went on wasn’t an instant highlight, but it was the long game. Progressing to a point where I felt more comfortable writing my assignments and having my scores reflecting that made me quite happy because it showed the hard work was being rewarded.
My favourite topic so far is definitely E233 Sport and Fitness Psychology – a case study approach, which I’m studying now. I’ve done so much of the physical side of sport and fitness development but hadn’t really dealt with the psyche and psychological side of it and so I found that really interesting. It’s also helped not just with myself, if I’ve been getting stressed or anxious, but being inside a school and as a teacher it’s been immense because it’s allowed me to apply all of that theory into practice and actually see it work or see if I need to understand it more. I think each of my lessons are getting better and my growth is being shown now from that one module.
One of the perks about choosing the Sports, Fitness and Coaching degree through The Open University is discovering that you got CPD points for it because as a teacher I knew that you had to continually get these CPD points. It helps with your CV, it helps you move up the chain and it helps you to offer different areas of expertise to the students. At Danes Hill we try to offer the kids everything they could possibly think of, so keeping my CPD points going along with the various modules that the course is offering me was great. It was a huge bonus to realise that although I’m away from doing the little vocational or extracurricular courses that I was doing and focusing on three years in one direction, I’m still keeping my CPD points going.
My main reason for choosing The Open University was because of the distance learning type of study. It allowed me to continue to work so that I could fund other interests and hobbies and I’ve been able to go on and buy a house. Being able to study remotely has been fantastic! For me I think actually the online tutorials have helped because I learn better as I’m almost plugged in, so I’m not distracted by other people in the classroom, It’s just me and a computer screen in an area. When I’m at home I’ve got a desk area, so everything there is what I need to study, if I’m at school then we’ve got work rooms and if I’m on the go completely remotely I’ve got my iPad, so there’s no way that I’m stopped from learning. I think you get all the benefits without the distraction.
I use the study planner pretty rigorously; I make sure that I stick to it and I don’t try to read too far ahead just in case I’m reading stuff that I might not need or isn’t 100% necessary for that next assignment, because time management is the biggest thing with The Open University. I commute an hour to an hour and a half each day using the train so I do a lot of my study planner reading for each study. I try and do one module’s reading in the first half of the week and then the second module that I’m studying in the second half of the week. I stick to the study planner and use that commute on the train, so it’s manageable and it lets me get quite a lot done each day.
The advice I’d give potential students is that even if you’re maybe daunted a bit at the beginning about the required study time, don’t be put off by the fact that you should be studying 32 hours a week because if you want it bad enough you can find time here and there. Using a commute or having books around your house, so even while you’re cooking or maybe waiting for something in the microwave you can be flicking through a page. It’s just a case of finding that time, identifying it and then sticking to it.
I needed to have a degree and The Open University provided the best possible situation for me to do that whilst working in the school. Once I’ve done my PGCE I think I’ll be pretty much addicted to learning and I’ll be constantly looking for other areas to progress in.
In this job I’m working with kids that always bring a smile to my face, I’m doing sport and games which I love and it’s a good life. Without the OU and without the degree, that wouldn’t be a possibility for me at this time.”
If you have been inspired by Ricky’s story and would like to study sport and fitness at the Open University, please visit our ‘Study with us’ page.
Etienne Stott is a slalom canoeist who competed at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, winning a gold medal in the men’s canoe double (C2) with his crewmate Tim Baillie. First-hand experience of the power of psychology in sport led Etienne to embark on a degree with the OU. Although as yet unsure of the branch of psychology he wishes to specialise in, Etienne really hopes that in the future he’ll be able to use its power to help others succeed and thrive in their life choices.
“I left school with science-based A levels and took up a place at the University of Nottingham, graduating in 2000 with a degree in mechanical engineering (BEng). Nottingham is also a training centre for canoeists and I went on to a career as a slalom canoeist, competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and winning gold in the men’s canoe double (C2).
My interest in psychology came about initially from experiencing its power in sport first-hand and I decided I’d like to become a psychologist. I opted to study for a degree with the OU as it offered me the flexibility I needed; I could manage my studies according to the demands of my lifestyle. Although I paid most of my module fees myself, I also secured some UK Sport funding through the English Institute of Sport’s Performance Lifestyle Service, which helps athletes to fund their education beyond their sports careers.
The route to an OU psychology degree is largely prescribed, although there is some choice of modules, so registering was unproblematic.
My tutors were very good: supportive, easy to contact, kind, knowledgeable, generous and understanding. OU tutors are very aware of your other commitments and do their best to be accommodating; for example, should a TMA extension be necessary. I found the learning materials really good: well written and presented, with interesting content. The OU is well organised for distance learning provision and all study components, including the online materials, are carefully integrated, providing a positive learning experience for students. I particularly liked the online study planner as it meant you always knew which stage of the module you were meant to be at.
The face-to-face tutorials that accompanied some modules were quite interesting and helped reinforce and consolidate what I’d learned. There was also a residential school and it was good to meet up with students from such a wide range of backgrounds.
Being an OU student isn’t easy, but I’d definitely recommend it to anyone considering registering; you learn a lot and the sense of achievement you experience is really rewarding. For me, the main challenge is finding the time to fit everything in. I try to anticipate how busy I’m going to be with training and competitions and then plan ahead as far as I can, setting up my life efficiently so that I’m using my energy productively. Prioritising is key. If you’re prepared to make sacrifices for a while and are clear about your motivation, you’ll find it more interesting so will be more likely to succeed. Be enthusiastic about your subject, too. When I think back to my first degree, I realise just how much of a mechanical process it was. I went from school to university almost without thinking, unlike now. I’m really enjoying studying and when I get good marks for my TMAs I know my hard work is paying off.
I’m just about to start my next module, E219 Psychology of childhood and youth, and have three years to go before completing my degree. I then plan to gain experience of work in the field of psychology and perhaps do a masters and/or a doctorate. I’m not yet sure of the branch of psychology I’d like to specialise in, but no doubt this will become clearer the further I progress. In my future work, I do want to be able to use the power of psychology to help people succeed and thrive in their life choices, though.”
If you have been inspired by Etienne’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website
After an up and down start with her education, Allana Francis-Ashmeil had given up the hope of gaining higher education qualifications. She had a strong passion for sport, especially football and wanted to be able to continue her coaching job in the sports field whilst also pursuing her career further. Allana was told about the OU by her mum and although she had her reservations she signed up for the Foundation degree in Sport and Fitness. Whilst studying for her degree it was necessary for Allana to gain some other qualifications along the way including her level 2 coaching badge. Allana claims her OU studies gave her a massive confidence boost, so much so that alongside her studies she also started her own business, STL (Sky’s the Limit) London which encourages young people in her community to achieve their dreams.
“After a very up and down road with education, including learning I was dyslexic and failing my first year of university at Canterbury Christ Church University, I had given up hope of gaining a higher education qualification. I was convinced university wasn’t for me. I have always had a strong passion for sports, especially football. I am currently playing and am vice-captain of AFC Wimbledon Ladies Reserve Team.
I wanted to be able to continue to work in my sporting field but also pursue my career as a sports coach as well as follow other ideas I had pending for my future.
When studying the sport and fitness with coaching degree it was compulsory to have a level 2 coaching certificate. Prior to the OU I never had any interest in coaching badges, but I am now a level 2 coach and I am looking to do my level 3 next year. The value it added to my CV is evident as I am now a full time P.E and Sports teacher at a prep school in South London. Having coaching badges and a degree has enhanced the experience I have in sports by a great amount.
I ensured my job accommodated the fact that I was studying. Working as a sports coach meant I had regular mornings and weekends to get my studying and wok done. I would dedicate at least 3 days a week to university work. I also made sure my employers were aware of my studies this was important as it made sure I wasn’t overloaded with work hours.
The OU has taught me time management, organisation, patience and persistence. These are lifelong skills that are going to stay with me in all aspects of life and my career. The OU experience taught me that anything is possible and no matter who you are or where you’re from your dreams are achievable.
I have always had a love for the arts. When I was younger I was a student at Italia Conti studying Musical Production. As well as sports and the arts I also love working with children and young people. In November 2012 I landed the opportunity to work in a year in Ernest Bevin College, an all boys secondary school, alongside studying my apprenticeship for a CASHE Teaching Diploma. I worked in the Performing Arts Department at Ernest Bevin College, as I already had a personal love for the subject it fuelled the passion even more.
I was offered the opportunity to work on a solo project with students of my choice. I decided to write, produce, direct and choreograph a play that incorporated dance. The production was entitled ‘The block’ which focused on a group of friends at a crossroads in their lives as they were leaving college and becoming young adults. I casted nineteen boys aged between 13 and 15 and the play was performed to a public audience of fifty. It was a huge success and raised over £100 for Trail Blaizers, a charity I chose, who work with young offenders bettering their lives. We were fortunate enough to have the chief executive of the company present in the audience; she gave a public speech and also had a 1 to 1 session with the cast, discussing what the charity does and how their raised funds would help.
The amount of positive feedback I received pushed me to start my own company that provided a platform for children and young people in the community who held a passion and talent in the performing arts industry. The company would provide workshops, events and showcases for young people to be a part of, building on their confidence, self-worth and involving the community in the generation of the future.
In October 2013 I went to a Bright Ideas Trust Event, this company is founded by Tim Campbell OBE, the first winner of Lord Alan Sugar’s ‘The Apprentice’. This event was aimed at young entrepreneurs to meet like-minded people. I met Tim Campbell and had the chance to network with a lot of business people. I was shortlisted to pitch my business idea to Margaret Mountford, the chairman of the company, who is also a close friend and employee of Alan Sugar. A week after the event I was contacted by Bright Ideas Trust informing me that Margaret Mountford had loved my business idea and put it forward to the company for them to invest in my idea. Bright ideas Trust then put me through a 3 stage process where I had to complete a business plan, cash forecast and pitch on two different occasions to executives and the start-up business loan team. After 3 weeks I was successful and approved of the loan amount I requested. I am now part of the Bright Idea’s Trust’s successful candidate team.
My company is called STL London. STL stands for Sky’s The Limit, which is the slogan enforced in all the children and young people the company comes in contact with. Our first event was in November 2013, after the disaster of the Typhoon, the company played its part by raising funds for a children’s charity. STL London and 7 young people aged 8 – 14 went to Southbank London and performed dance routines and freestyle performances. In under 3 hours we raised £360 for the children in the Philippines and the money was donated to UNICEF, who donated balloons, t-shirts and a collection bucket to the company for the event. It was a great success and the positivity it had on the children who took part was amazing, they realised that their talents can be used to help others as well as themselves. The community response was amazing and we received many compliments and comments throughout the event.
The next event was Centre Stage, this is STL London’s regular showcase which occurs at least once a year. These showcases are open to young people aged 5 – 21 years who have a talent for singing, rapping, dancing, poetry, comedy or performing. It is a public event which is open to the community to engage them in youth talent. It also is a platform for young people to express themselves positively enhancing the talents and gifts they process, enabling them to have a feeling of self-worth and importance. The first Centre Stage Showcase took place on January 11th 2014. We had over 13 acts who performed on the night. It was also the official launch of the company. The show was a huge success and has attracted the attention of many. It also featured in the Wandsworth Bright Side Magazine. Since then we have had 2 more shows and I am currently planning another one for next year.
I am very passionate about STL London reaching out to more children and young people. Next year I am planning a few new projects that will focus on encouraging more children and young people to pursue their dreams.
I want to finish by thanking The OU for what they have done for me. I will always speak highly and proudly of this institution and I would love to be a voice that encourages people, who like me never thought they could, that taking this journey will be the best thing they could ever do.”
If you have been inspired by Allana’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.
James Collins intended to go to university to study Leisure and Tourism, however, when he the opportunity to be a model he thought he’s take a year out and give that a go. That year turned into many years and eventually James decided that he needed to plan for when his modelling career would come to an end. He had originally wanted to study something in Sports the first time around, so, after completing a personal training certificate, decided to enrol with the OU to study Sport, Fitness and Coaching. James studied full time around his modelling work, which meant he had to be able to complete his OU studies whilst travelling around the world! Three years later and James completed his degree achieving a First Class. He is now studying for his Masters with Middlesex University with a focus on strength and conditioning. In the future, James is aiming to work in an academy or with athletes training them on strength and conditioning. He’s also considering a PhD!
“I completed my GCSE’s and GNVQ back in the day and finished that in 2001. The intention was that I was going to go to Birmingham University to study Leisure and Tourism. Back when I was applying to university there weren’t that many degrees in sport related subjects apart from Physical Education. I wasn’t the best student in my teenage years, so I didn’t get the grades to be able to do that at the time, which was why I was going to do Leisure and Tourism – I’m not really sure what I would have done with that though.
But before I started with Birmingham University I got an opportunity somehow to be a model. So I thought I’d give that a go and take a year out. That year, however, turned into many, many years and I did that all through my 20’s. I was very lucky to be able to travel the world doing it – New York, Paris and Milan, but I got to the point where I was tired of not using my brain, and I knew that eventually it would come to an end and I needed to start thinking of the future. I took a personal training certification to see if I could learn again as it had been so long and I passed that so then decided to give the OU a go. I needed to be able to study alongside modelling and travelling as I couldn’t just be based in London or anything like that.
When I started my OU studies it was a nice shock to the system! I decided to complete my studies full time, so I did it in 3 years. I was able to still travel around for work and just take my books and my laptop with me. I did my tutorials here, there and everywhere and it actually went very well. Somehow I managed to get a first class grade!
I think everybody knows the OU. You grow up seeing the videos on BBC 1 and 2 at night and I just one day decided to have a look to see if there was anything sport related available and was quite surprised to see that there was. As part of the sports degree with the OU there was personal training experience so that seemed to fit perfectly and that’s why I chose that degree with the OU.
There were a couple of challenging elements for me. I was doing it full time and there was a lot of reading that you had to do, especially around Christmas. In the curriculum you have the Christmas period off, but I found that’s where I caught up so that was really busy for me. Also, at a regular university you have your teacher with you every week and you can ask them questions face to face, whereas with the OU you sometimes have just one tutorial and you have you ask your questions by email which can mean you have to wait a while to get a reply. Doing exams in handwriting was brutal. I was used to doing it all on a laptop and my hand was in agony. Whilst studying I was always travelling for work, so I was having to deal with everything that comes with that, including working out of different times zones and jet lag. I was always having these big events to deal with too. However, because of the type of study I was able to take my books and materials with me to be able to study whilst travelling.
I found having the online tutorials really helpful because you could go back and listen as many times as you liked. Whereas now in my lectures for my masters I record them on my phone and hope that will work every time so that I can go back and listen to them like I did at the OU. Being able to do that is super, super helpful!
Because I was doing it full time, every month I’d have 2 assignments due in so I’d give myself two weeks to get the assignment done. The first week, I would make sure I got all of the reading done and in the second week I would write my assignment even if it didn’t have to be in for a couple of weeks and I would just stick to that routine. If I had a ton of reading to do then I would just do it on the weekends.
When I first started my OU studies, the original plan was that I was going to be a PE teacher. I was intended to follow up my OU studies with teacher training. But the first year went really well and I just started to have a look around at what other jobs there was in sports that I could do. I decided to go down the strength and conditioning route and then I found a Masters course at Middlesex University that I thought would be good and so I started to just aim for that instead. My current plan is to complete my masters in Strength and Conditioning and then start applying for roles working at an academy or with athletes coaching on strength and conditioning. I’m also just debating whether to do a PhD alongside that too!
My advice to anyone considering an OU course would be to just stay on top of the reading and try to have a strict timetable that you stick to, because it’s very easy to get behind, especially with holidays or big events in your life. Also I would say to ask your tutors anything you’re not sure about – I was really bad with emailing them, but they are there to help you and they may even give you the answer without realising it!
I would definitely recommend the OU because you don’t need to have a certain level of grade to enter, so if you did poor at school when you were younger and want to get back into it, you can give it a try. You’re able to earn money and get a degree at the same time. Also, if you can’t get to a regular university, or are restricted by your location, then it’s perfect. I think it’s brilliant!
I graduated in 2016 and the whole day was great – it was everything I thought it would be. It was good to be able to see other students graduating too. The whole experience is obviously quite different to a regular university because you don’t know anyone else, so it’s just you and your little family. But I loved it.”
If you want to follow in James’ footsteps and study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.
When I began studying with the Open University, I was at a low ebb. I had recently retired due to ill health and had suffered several devastating bereavements in a short space of time. Previously I had enjoyed a long and varied career, which included decades of psychiatric nursing in the NHS and a stint in the Royal Army Medical Corp (RAMC). However, I was in a bit of a rut and felt as though I needed to undertake a new challenge.
Having run 115 full marathons and 103 half marathons for charity over a period of several decades, I have something of a passion for sport and athletics. Therefore, I decided to pursue an OU course that involved these two fields. In 2008, I commenced the module E112, titled ‘Introduction to sport, fitness and management’. Since then, I have successfully completed a total of five modules with a view to attaining a BSc (Hons) degree in Sport, Fitness and Coaching. I have just begun my sixth and final module. Studying with the OU has given me a greater sense of purpose, as well as having broadened my mind.
From the day I started studying with the OU until now, I have always enjoyed the very best of support from the OU. During my studies, I have suffered more bereavements and more bouts of ill health and there have been times when this adversity has caused me to consider effecting a cessation of my studies. However, thanks to the help and advice that I have received from Student Support, the North-West branch of the OU, my various course tutors and the Milton Keynes faculty staff I have always been able to overcome such adversity and progress with my studies. The university staff have been incredibly supportive to me.
Thanks to my studies with the OU, I am now a qualified kettlebell instructor, a Level 2 Registered Exercise Practitioner and the proud holder of a Foundation Degree. My OU journey has not always been easy, but it has been worthwhile in every regard. I look forward to the rest of the academic year and the challenges and accomplishments that it will bring.
Helen Richardson-Walsh is a professional sportswoman and has played hockey for the Great Britain women’s team since the late 1990s. She won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. Her involvement with the team led to an interest in psychology and this prompted Helen to study towards an OU degree in the subject. Helen admits that degree study has taken her out of her comfort zone at times, but she has no doubt that having a degree has made her more employable. Helen has found her studies so inspiring that she is considering further research at some point in the future.
“Before embarking on my OU degree I was a full-time athlete, training for the London Olympics. Due to the level of funding we received from UK Sport via the National Lottery, I also did some part-time work – mainly coaching and going into schools to give presentations – but my focus was always on hockey.
I’d started a degree in human biology at Aston University back in 2000, but I lasted just a term. This was partly because it wasn’t the right course for me and partly because it was straight after the Sydney Olympics, so my attention was elsewhere.
When the time was right, I opted to study with the OU mainly for the flexibility. I knew it would allow me to study whilst carrying on playing hockey and I wouldn’t have the pressure of attending lectures in person. I’d also be able to start modules when I wanted, so would only sign up when I knew I could get the studying done; for example, I chose not to start a module in the summer of 2012 so that I didn’t have any assignments to complete during the Olympics.
I became interested in psychology when, from personal experience within the GB hockey team, I could see what an effect the mind can have on so many different areas of life – for us it was success – and I wanted to learn more about it, hence my choice of degree subject. When I started, I said I’d do one module at a time and see where that took me. I’m now less than a year away from getting my degree – something I was never sure I would do – and excited at the possibilities it has opened up.
Inevitably, there have been challenges in balancing my athletics career with a degree and a personal life. The biggest challenge is doing all the reading that’s involved, because very often at the end of the day I’m so exhausted from training that it’s very hard to concentrate. The period leading up to my assignments being due is always challenging and I’ve found relief from having been granted a number of extensions. I’ve had to say no to so many invitations in the past due to playing hockey, and when I’ve got an assignment to complete it makes going out doubly impossible!
My biggest achievement so far in my degree study was finishing my first assignment! Up to that point I’d never had to write an essay like that, given that my A levels were science-based (and a long time ago!) and I can still remember how hard I found it to construct the essay; it was a relief to send it off and then to find I’d passed it. I’ve really enjoyed doing more of the practical-based project work; that has been very satisfying.
There are a few modules I’ve found particularly inspiring. I’ve definitely enjoyed my current module, DD307 Social psychology: critical perspectives on self and others the most. I guess it fits with the reasons why I started in the first place, so that’s no surprise really, but I also found the project we had to do really interesting. I chose to focus on retirement from international hockey, so looked at what that experience is like and how players have navigated their way through it. It certainly inspired me to consider further research as a possibility in the future. I would never have said that about myself ten years ago!
My tutors – I’ve had four so far – have all been very helpful and supportive. The main thing for me has been the need for extensions, which have been no trouble in the main.
I have no doubt that my degree has made me more employable. My hockey career has taught me many skills, which I hope to transfer to a different career one day; however, this degree will show a different side of me and of my abilities and may also need to be a stepping stone to further studies if I do indeed choose to go down that route.
When I retire from athletics I’d love to work within the field of psychology in one way or another. Sports psychology would be an option I’d consider, but maybe further down the line. I’m also particularly interested in mental health and the well-being of people in general, but mainly that of young girls having to deal with the enormous pressures placed on them today and also that of sportspeople as they make their way through difficult transitions such as retirement – so research or work in those areas might be a possibility.”
If you have been inspired by Helen’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website
Kevin left school with few qualifications and joined the army. He had his eye on what he wanted to do when he left and part of his preparation for ‘civvy-street’ was gaining an OU degree, part-funded by the army. The OU’s flexibility meant he could work and study and he is now matching further qualifications with his career goals.
“I wasn’t very good at school and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy it. I just wasn’t really interested. I got some GCSEs, though at D and below and I felt I had the ability but I just didn’t work hard. The Open University gave me another chance – to do what I really wanted to do, study sport and fitness and have a career after the army.
I joined the army in 2003 aged 19, first as a truck driver in the Royal Logistic Corps, then as an instructor and later in teaching roles. I left in 2012 as a Corporal after nine years but had begun to plan my career when I got out, while I was still in the army. People leave the army without any qualifications, without planning ahead and expecting to just walk into a job, but a lot of what you do in the army is not transferable into civilian life.
I had a diploma in diet and nutrition, a personal training diploma and had done an army fitness instructor course and in 2009 I started an OU course the majority of which was paid for by the army. You can get funding for up to 10 years after you leave which is something I would encourage other service people to take advantage of.
I began studying when I was based in Cyprus and a Lance Corporal. My aim was to pursue a career as a personal trainer and I continued to study wherever I was stationed. I didn’t get any special treatment and finding time to study around your work and life, in and outside the army is a challenge. You have to find the motivation to carry on. It takes some discipline to do it and some of that might have come from my army background.
The flexibility of the OU suited the way I wanted to learn, away from a classroom and in my own time. The course also gave me a grounding in all the relevant subjects and the quality of the learning materials was good and well produced. The tutors were all contactable and highly knowledgeable in their subject and did their best to answer any questions.
I did not use social media or attend day or summer school and would rather study than do placements or go on forums. I used a mixture of technology to study where I could, laptop, tablet or phone.
Since gaining my degree in 2013 I have begun an OU BSc in sports fitness and coaching and hope to go on to an MSc and become a physiotherapist.
Studying while you work means you can apply what you learn straight away. Linking study to your everyday business helps you learn more effectively. Study has also helped my confidence. When I began I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start my own business or learn about sport fitness and management.
The Open University is perfect for people like me, someone who didn’t get good GCSEs let alone A levels. It shows that it is never too late to learn.”
If you want to follow in Kevin’s footsteps and study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.