University of Limerick graduate Luke Barrett, who recently completed an MSc in Applied Sports Coaching
University of Limerick graduate Luke Barrett, who recently completed an MSc in Applied Sports Coaching
Thursday, 29 February 2024

In the next instalment of our Alumni Spotlight series, we speak to University of Limerick alumnus Luke Barrett, who recently graduated with an MSc in Applied Sports Coaching from the Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences at the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences.

Luke shares how his studies in UL have informed his work both as a secondary school teacher and as part of the coaching team with the Donegal Senior Footballers

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m from Donegal and grew up in a very sporting household representing Donegal at underage level, and representing my local club Milford at senior level. My father was heavily involved in club and underage county coaching and my mother has run the Dublin City Marathon six times. My brother was involved with the Donegal senior footballers in recent years and my sister is an international footballer, so we were always interested in sports growing up. I teach History and PE in Errigal College, Letterkenny.

What drew you to the MSc in Applied Sports Coaching in UL? 

Covid provided a reset for me and my coaching. I began doing a lot of research to find ways to improve my own practice. During that period I started looking into games-based coaching. I read the work of the renowned coach, Paul Kinnerk, and became very interested in applying a games-based approach into my own practice. I also undertook several courses online as a way of passing time and slowly got back into study mode.

There were a number of courses that I was interested in, but when I reached out to the course director of the MSc in Applied Sports Coaching in UL, Phil Kearney, and emphasised the areas of research that were of interest to me, I knew this course was a good fit.  

What were the highlights/favourite aspects of the course?
This course had many highlights. Meeting and working with phenomenal staff and other coaches, guest lectures from leading practitioners internationally, and the chance to deep dive and be challenged about my own coaching beliefs led to significant reflection and the hunger to improve my practice.

What stands out as your most memorable experience?

Being afforded the opportunity to work with UL’s Phil Kearney and guest lecturer Paul Kinnerk, on my research study. Gaining insight from two of the country's leading practitioners in this field was incredible and something I will be forever grateful for.

The residential workshop in semester three in which we stayed in UL and worked intensively over a number of days. Meeting world champion mountain biker Oisin O'Callaghan and the Stellenbosch University team and gaining insights into their respective environments was something that I particularly enjoyed.

Are there any professors, mentors, or broadly people in UL or your life that have played a pivotal role in your academic and personal development? 

Firstly to Phil Kearney. His passion, enthusiasm and knowledge was unbelievable throughout this process. I was fortunate to work with Phil on my research study, and the conversations we shared both challenged and developed my knowledge around skill acquisition more than I ever could have envisaged.

Ian Sherwin from UL’s Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences was also a brilliant lecturer to us and I particularly enjoyed the Leadership and Management module.

On a personal level, working with Paul Kinnerk on my research was a real highlight. Paul is one of the leading coaches in any sport in Ireland. His expertise is phenomenal and I was privileged to learn from him over the course of my research.

How did you balance your course commitments with your work, GAA commitments and personal life? 

Balancing a full-time job as a secondary school teacher and studying was never going to be easy. Particularly when we had two modules overlapping at a busy time in the school year.

At the same time, it was extremely beneficial from a sporting perspective. I was manager and lead coach with the Donegal Minor Footballers throughout the course and I found the applied nature of the research and discussions helped me along the journey. I was able to implement new information and knowledge to constantly enhance my coaching practice throughout my studies. This was a huge benefit. I also have to thank my school for facilitating my studies and allowing a flexible timetable to focus on both.

At UL, Phil and Ian were more than accommodating to our individual needs and were a constant support throughout.

What advice would you offer to students considering the MSc in Applied Sports Coaching? 

Go for it. I had every excuse in the world lined up in my head about why I shouldn't do this course. But it was the best decision I've made and the most enjoyable two years in my coaching journey. The research, the conversations and the access to high-level practitioners challenged my thinking and gave me the opportunity to improve. The course flies by and, at times, looks like the workload is huge but it gets done and what you will get from it completely outweighs any potential doubt you have.

Could you tell me about your current work role?   

Currently I’m a member of the coaching team and performance analyst with the Donegal Senior Footballers. This involves working with the other coaches on the pitch throughout the week and analysing our and opposition performances from previous years and currently to provide the manager with the most up-to-date information in order to inform his tactical decisions for upcoming competitions.

How will you bring what you learnt on the MSc in Applied Sports Coaching to this role?

The performance analysis module and in particular the session with Sean O’Donnell, lead analyst with the Limerick Senior Hurling team, was of great help to this role. However, the first module on the coaching process, the environment and effectively building relationships in high-performance settings will be invaluable. The reflective practice module also ensures that I reflect continually on my work in order to facilitate the athletes that I am working with to help them maximise their potential, both individually and collectively.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?   

My dream is to manage the Donegal Senior Football team in the future. I am currently serving an unbelievable apprenticeship and have been fortunate to work so far with brilliant coaches on my journey. I hope that with this MSc and gaining valuable practical experience, I will manage my county team.

I would also like to move into a sporting setting on a professional level, work with athletes or students and help share experiences and practical knowledge to help others on their journey also. That could look like lecturing, coaching consultancy, or performance coaching. For now, I am fortunate to know brilliant people, to be developing relationships and enjoying my coaching journey.