When Conor Cantwell presented his BT Young Scientist project to the Physical Education and Sport Science Department at UL in May 2015, it was confirmation that the wanted to return to UL to pursue an undergraduate degree, such was the impression left.
Conor’s project entitled “Functional Movement Training in Young GAA Players” was presented as part of an initiative run annually by PESS to allow projects based around PE and sport to highlight their work to experts in the field.
The invitation also provided Conor with the opportunity to observe some of the research being conducted in the sports department through lectures and practical demonstrations in a lab-based setting.
“When leaving the campus, I was in no doubt that I wanted to return to UL to pursue an undergraduate degree in sport and exercise sciences.
This was going to be challenging as the competition for places was considerable,” Conor said but added that he worked extremely hard to maximise his chances.
Success came Conor’s way and he explained that he was also able to avail of Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) due to a visual impairment from an optic glioma brain tumour he had as a child.
“Thankfully I never let this put any limits on what I could or couldn’t do. Supports like DARE are fantastic for enabling people with a disability to achieve their full potential.
“In September 2017, I arrived in UL to begin studying Sport and Exercise Science. It was all that I expected and more. From day one, I was immersed in subjects like physiology, anatomy, coaching science, biomechanics, and psychology creating a great base of theoretical knowledge early in the course.”
Conor added that the course is aimed towards addressing real life situations.
“In my first year, I recall a module where we had to research a given topic and debate it with another group. This challenge was very practical as it presented the situations faced when engaging with sports and exercise industry multidisciplinary teams. The importance of a good scientific rationale and justification was a great lesson to learn, from very early on.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my time as a SES student has been from my practical learning alongside my coursework.
"From early on, I got involved in some voluntary coaching positions and I cannot emphasise enough how beneficial this was to both my learning and development as a student.
“Gaining experience was complementary to my learning as it prompted the asking of better questions of the reading literature.
This literature also prompted a critical assessment and reflection on coaching, through observing others and my own deliveries.
“I realised quite early on that strength and conditioning coachingheld the most passion for me and this is where I focused on gaining my experience. I was fortunate to learn and coach with Munster Rugby, assisting with their underage athletic development programs across various age groups.
“I also gained experience with Garryowen FC rugby club and the National Centre Limerick High Performance swimming team based out of the UL Arena. Having established that my passion was for strength and conditioning coaching, an opportunity to study abroad in second year, immediately gained my interest.
A five-month stint in the US saw Conor study at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) which is home to world renowned researcher, Dr Mike Stone and highly successful coach, Dr Brad DeWeese (now Director of Performance at the New York Jets).
“While at ETSU I also completed an internship when I was assigned to coach and observe athletes from both the on campus Olympic training site and the university men’s baseball team. The opportunity to travel and learn in another country and environment was of huge benefit.
Conor returned to embark on an eight-month work placement with Munster Rugby observing and assisting with the training of the senior squad.
“This was a great learning opportunity, and I felt the coursework and my practical experience had really prepared me by allowing me to make the most of the opportunity. Unfortunately, COVID interrupted this opportunity and meant a large proportion of the placement was completed remotely. Learning from some great strength and conditioning coaches like Damien O’Donoghue and Adam Sheehan really helped me to progress my own coaching.
“Due to COVID restrictions it was not the fourth year I expected but every effort was made to ensure the transition to online learning was as smooth as possible. On reflection, it was still an enjoyable but challenging experience. I completed my final year research project on accentuated eccentric loading. This novel training method allows for phase specific loading on a given exercise.
“I was very fortunate to have excellent guidance and support from my supervisor Dr Mark Lyons on this project.”
Six years on from Conor’s very first visit to UL, he said that he loved every minute of it and is looking forward to the future ahead and the challenges it may bring.
- Andrew Carey