Looking for a job in sport? Volunteering may be the first step on the ladder for young people who need experience to kick start their careers.
That’s one of the topics being discussed at the UR Game Sports Development Conference being held in Belfast on March 10.
At 24, Louise Irvine knows the value of volunteering after landing her dream job – as Sports Development Officer at Castlereagh Borough Council.
The Falls Road woman is one of a number of dedicated young people who are now in full-time employment after working as volunteer coaches in deprived areas of the city.
She got her chance after being accepted in the ‘Sheer Skill’ programme run by Belfast Community Sports Development Network (BCSDN).
“BCSDN was vital to my career. They invested their time and effort in me and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them giving me the opportunity. They gave me a lot of programmes to get my teeth into, which was extremely valuable,” she said.
‘Sporting Pathways from Volunteer to Employment’ is one of seven workshops taking place at the UR Game Sports Development Conference organised by BCSDN in conjunction with Belfast City Council and financed by the EU’s PEACE 3 Fund. The conference is being held at the Holiday Inn, Belfast on March 10.
Running the workshop is Billy Boyd, BCSDN’s Sports Development Officer for the Greater Shankill area. He devised and organised the Sheer Skill course, which has seen lots of young people obtain coaching badges working with younger children in their communities.
Billy said: “The Sheer Skill Programme is a personal development programme which gives young people a pathway to employment. It gives them an understanding of how to promote and foster good relations through sport and provides them with the chance to pick up coaching awards and get hands-on experience with schools and youth clubs.”
He added: “My focus is in using sport as a tool to engage young people and that is why I feel so passionate about the Sheer Skill Programme. I want them to have an interest in sport that will enrich and illuminate the rest of their lives and open doors for them.”
Two other participants – William Higginson (18) from the Shankill area and Stephen Hesketh (19) from Lenadoon – are now working for community coaching organisation Sportopps.com.
Billy said: “Louise, Stephen and William are good examples of what can be achieved through sport in the community. They have all came on to the programme via different routes – Stephen was identified by a local youth club; William came from school and Louise from work placement. They all come from working class areas. No-one has a silver spoon in their mouths and they are all making a real difference in their local community.”
Louise, a Northern Ireland football international, began by volunteering with the IFA in her own community. When she was accepted for the Sheer Skill programme, she worked in the Shankill Road area and then in East Belfast.
“Playing sport for Northern Ireland from a young age meant I was used to meeting people from different backgrounds so it didn’t matter to me where I worked. A lot of people want to coach in their own area but I didn’t have those kinds of barriers and it has made me progress more.”
William Higginson got involved when he was a pupil at the Boys Model School. Sport was the only thing he was interested in and he signed up for the Sports Leadership programme.
“It began with doing courses and then voluntary work and finally led to paid work with Sportopps.com. I specialise in multi-sports, working with kids, doing a range of activities. It’s a brilliant job. I have worked in call centres and in shops and I never want to go back to doing that again.
“When I go into the schools I see young children who have never talked to each other become friends because they become interested in a particular activity. They realise they have something in common and it helps develop their communication skills.”
Stephen Hesketh got involved in the Community Leadership programme through his old football coach at Oliver Plunkett FC.
“I had been helping him out doing coaching for some of the younger teams and he put me forward. I had to go for an interview and was successful. We got our coaching awards for seven different sports from football, rugby to Boccia and volleyball. Part of the course was about Good Relations, talking about prejudice and sectarianism and how to work through this with kids.
“At the moment I am working in Glenveagh School which caters for kids with special needs. It is my favourite place to go because the kids are fantastic. They are so friendly and really enjoy the games. It makes the job worthwhile.”