Strengthening your application for the MSc Applied Sports Coaching – Phil Kearney

The goal of the MSc Applied Sports Coaching is to accelerate the development of innovative, critical coaches who will have an impact on their immediate environments and eventually on the broader coaching landscape within Ireland.

To achieve this aim, we provide coaches with the concepts, the tools and the structure to analyse and develop their coaching. We start with current practice: the problems you face, the opportunities open to you. We provide you with the space and time to gain perspective on how you coach and why you coach the way you do. We upskill you in the tools to analyse and reflect. We facilitate your engagement with the latest research, and with peers from other sports.

As we enter the final couple of months for applications, this blog will outline how to prepare a compelling case for acceptance onto the programme.

How are Applications Evaluated?

Applications are evaluated under three sections: Coaching Experience; Coaching Qualifications and Continuous Professional Development (CPD); and Prior Learning (degree route or reflective statement).

Coaching Experience: Length of experience offers an individual the potential to develop as a coach, and so is an important consideration. The average experience of coaches on the programme is 15 years for this first cohort, but it ranges from 3 years to over 30 years. Candidates with relatively less experience will have other experiences (e.g., transitioning from a career in high performance sport) which they can use to build a case for their inclusion. If you were involved in mentoring other players, or if there were particular coaches that you learned a lot from, those experiences can be brought in to support your application. However, in the words of W. F. McMullen: “Experience alone is not necessarily the best teacher; it is the slowest and very likely the most expensive. Ten years of experience is not too valuable if it is one year of experience repeated 10 times.” Therefore, within the application we are looking for evidence of growth from that coaching experience.

Coaching in a diversity of contexts can promote such growth. While that diversity is most obviously seen when coaching in various sports, it may also be seen within one sport: coaching different forms of a game (e.g., 7s versus 15s rugby), different contexts (e.g., schools versus club), and different populations (e.g., U11 girls versus senior men). Such diversity presents unique challenges for coaches, and opportunities for growth. Consequently, within your application try to present the full range of contexts that you have experienced and a key lesson learned from each.

Coaching Qualifications and CPD: Growth may also be prompted by pursuing coach education and continuous professional development. Again, in addition to documenting the courses that you completed, provide a note to illustrate the key lesson gained from each experience. Several applicants initially struggled to identify their engagement in CPD, thinking only of formal courses.

However, less formal means of coach development may also have had a profound impact on your coaching and can be included here. For example, coaches might cite some of the many excellent webinars currently available, such as those offered by Sport Northern Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association and Movement & Skill Acquisition Ireland, among others. Key podcasts and books may also be listed, again, emphasising the key lesson learned from each.

Prior Learning: There are two means by which coaches can demonstrate prior learning. Approximately half of the current cohort hold a degree in sports coaching, physical education, sport science, or a related discipline. Points are awarded on the basis of the degree classification obtained.

The other half of the current cohort wrote a reflective statement: a detailed account of one experience from their coaching practice that had an important influence on why they coach the way they do. When writing such a reflective statement, start by explaining what happened, and then unpack:

  • why you think the incident happened,
  • what the consequences were for you and for others,
  • whether you could have done anything differently,
  • what lessons you took for the future , and
  • how you ensured that your practice did evolve from this experience.

Is Additional Support Available With The Application?

Yes; interested candidates are encouraged to arrange a conversation with me as the course director, or my colleague Ian Sherwin. We will review draft applications with you to ensure that you are presenting the strongest case for inclusion.

Where Can I Read More About The Programme?

You can find out more about the MSc in Applied Sports Coaching at the University of Limerick here. You can also take a look at #MScAppliedSportsCoachingUL where you will find insights such as exemplar pre-course activities and examples of the type of research we will be engaging with.

Final Thoughts

Although the line “one year of experience repeated 10 times” is the most commonly reported statement from W. F. McMullen’s article cited earlier, two other phrases from that article are also relevant to applying for a masters degree. Firstly: “It is the obligation of industry to provide the climate for growth, and where necessary, the tools.” The application process is the first step in developing the climate for growth within the MSc Applied Sports Coaching programme. It serves not only to evaluate potential candidates, but also to identify their strengths – where they have particular areas of expertise that will be of value to their peers. Furthermore, it begins the process of questioning that is essential for growth as a coach.

The second pertinent line from McMullen is that: “The other obligation is that of the individual…The best development is self-development.” The MSc Applied Sports Coaching is tutor-facilitated, peer-supported, and research-informed, but most of all it is self-directed. We will provide the structure and the tools, but on the application form we are especially looking for applicants to demonstrate that they are excited and ready to lead their development.

If you are interested in the programme or require further information please contact:

Dr Philip Kearney PhD
Course Director – MSc Applied Sports Coaching
Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences
University of Limerick
Tel: 00-353-61202844

Dr Phil Kearney is Lecturer in Motor Skill Acquisition  Coaching and Performance and Course Director of MSc. Applied Sports Coaching in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  Dr Kearney’s current research interests include maturation and youth sport, coaches’ knowledge and practices and enhancing practice quality.  You can contact Dr Kearney via email at or view his research profile on ORCID Researchgate  Google Scholar

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