History-making female football coach scores a degree
University of Stirling’s high performance men’s football coach Shelley Kerr has graduated from the University with a Master’s degree in Sport Management, after balancing life on the pitch with the demands of the lecture hall, for two years.
Shelley, who was the first female to coach a men’s senior football side in Britain, undertook her studies in August 2014 when she was appointed to lead Stirling’s development squad following a stint with Arsenal Ladies.
With Stirling scholarship players well-versed in balancing academic commitments and sporting goals, their coach quickly became best-placed to relate to the challenge.
Shelley said: “Balancing study and sport was much harder than I realised, but being under the same pressures as my players definitely allowed me to relate to them. Being a mature student also helped – I’m used to working under pressure and having to deliver to tight deadlines.”
Although it was 30 years since the coach from West Calder had studied, she felt it was the right time to go ‘back to school’.
“I’m from a practical background and have gained sporting experience in clubs, a national sport governing body and a local council, all of which gave me different perspectives and brought different challenges. I’ve also been through the coach education system and it felt like the right time to add to this skillset.
“Management in football now covers so many areas, from stakeholder engagement to strategic planning and measuring your performance against your competitors. This course allowed me to fill that gap in my skills and study finance, the principles of management, event planning and more”, Shelley continued.
“I don’t come from a traditionally academic background and that was a challenge in itself, but I surpassed my own expectations and feel proud to have gained my first University degree. It was a difficult but enjoyable two years that required lots of planning and support.”
As a coach for Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, Shelley has never shied away from self-discipline.
“I’m an ambitious person and always want to challenge myself – I pride myself on that. It’s also been a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by other sports – swimming, tennis, golf – to better understand how other governing bodies operate and share best practice.”
The youngest of four, Shelley was active in sport from a young age but quickly overtook her siblings in her passion for the beautiful game. Fast-forward more than 40 years and football’s leading female coach has played at grassroots level and through elite programmes before becoming a teacher, and student.
Shelley added: “Seeing my final piece of work come together was an amazing feeling of accomplishment. My dissertation examined the process of appointing a professional football manager – a very interesting, relevant and enjoyable topic to look at.
“I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to combine coaching Stirling University Football Club with postgraduate study. Sport Performance Manager Raleigh Gowrie was such a supportive figure throughout the journey and I’m thankful for that support.
“Achieving a degree whilst coaching has taught me that anything is possible when you put time, work and dedication into it. If you’re open to learning, it can be done.”
Raleigh Gowrie, Sports Performance Manager, said: “Shelley’s story is quite a remarkable account of dedication, commitment, sacrifice, resilience and reflection. Gaining a postgraduate degree is another successful chapter in her development as a leading high performance football coach and she should be very proud of her achievements. Shelley is undoubtedly a strong pioneer for women in sport and an excellent role model for any person that faces challenges in getting to where they want to be.”
Shelley continues to coach Stirling University Football Club who play in the Lowland League and are the only University team to feature in the Scottish Professional Football League Challenge Cup.