A former professional footballer who played at the top level in Scotland with Hibs has set his sights on a career in football management after graduating from the University of Stirling.
Kevin Nicol – who played for the Edinburgh club, alongside players such as Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown and Derek Riordan, between 2002 and 2005 – is currently an assistant manager in Norway’s top tier. However, the 39-year-old hopes to manage at the highest level in Norway – and one day Europe – after bolstering his CV with an MSc Sport Performance Coaching degree from Stirling, Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence.
Nicol – who holds the UEFA Pro Licence, the highest qualification in the professional game – embarked on the two-year, part-time distance-learning master’s while juggling his full-time role at Mjøndalen IF, who play in Eliteserien. Speaking this week, as he graduates with distinction from Stirling, he believes his latest qualification enhances his coaching knowledge and skills, and that it will open doors to new managerial opportunities in the future.
He said: “I have been coaching in Norway since 2015 but I still feel that I have a lot to learn – and I had heard good reports about the master’s at Stirling. It looked very attractive, but it was a huge challenge for me, as I left school at 16 and have never undertaken a bachelor’s degree. I talked it through with the course tutors and was very fortunate to get on the programme – it was a huge step, but I’ve never looked back since.
“I am delighted to graduate from the University of Stirling. I think taking on an academic course, such as the MSc, is incredibly beneficial and complements the coaching badges. There’s more in the way of teaching, understanding how people learn, the pedagogical side of coaching, and how to create the best environment around you – and I think that’s very important for coaches to understand. It was all backed up by research and provided me with insights into the sports science side of coaching too – it certainly gave me a new perspective on coaching.
“Thanks to the master’s, I am now much better at reflecting on my own practice and improving the environment around me. I was quite controlling as a coach beforehand – perhaps too demanding at times – which put the players under a little too much pressure. I’ve learned to calm down slightly and understand things from their perspective and give them more autonomy.
“I now want to kick on and become a manager at the highest level in Norway and, if possible, I would also love to coach at the highest level in Europe. I am very open minded, and I know the MSc from Stirling will help me in achieving my goals.”
Graduate of the University of Stirling
Taking on this degree was a huge step, but it was one I was willing to take to better myself – I want to be the best coach possible and work at the very highest levels. The MSc adds another string to my bow, and I’d highly recommend it to others – including football managers and coaches.
Nicol, from Kirkcaldy, started his senior career at his hometown club Raith Rovers, under manager Jimmy Nicholl, at just 17 years old. A talented prospect, the defensive midfielder went on to spend three years playing in the Scottish Premier League with Hibs, during which time he also played with Scotland youth teams. However, after Nicol broke his foot twice in one season, incoming Hibs boss Tony Mowbray organised for him to join Norwegian side Strømsgodset on loan in 2005, enabling him to play football throughout the summer and return to match fitness.
Nicol and his family enjoyed the Scandinavian lifestyle and – other than a fleeting return to Scotland in 2006, when Nicol briefly played with Peterhead – they decided to settle in Norway. During his time there, he has played for Haugesund, Mjøndalen, Moss, Frigg, and Asker, a third-tier club he also managed between 2015 and 2019. He has been assistant manager at Mjøndalen IF since 2019.
Nicol, a father-of-two, balanced his master’s with his full-time job and family life – setting aside two hours every day to focus on his studies – and he believes the flexibility of the programme and the support of his tutors and other students was fundamental in him achieving his degree. He will also receive the Research Based Learning Prize: Best Applied Coaching Project.
He said: “The support, competence and encouragement of the programme lecturers and tutors was excellent – they had very good knowledge of all sports and understood the context and culture of coaching in different types of sport. They were understanding and open to helping me as an individual, and responded quickly to any queries, which was important for me – at first, I was a little unsure but eventually, with their help, I got the knack of completing academic work.
“Meeting the other students – people from different sports – was also eye opening for me. I learned a lot from my peers, not just the lecturers. We had some excellent interaction on the programme and the insights gained will stand me in good stead in my future roles.”
Nicol is looking forward to sharing his newfound knowledge and experience with fellow coaches, and he is even considering embarking on a PhD to further explore the coaching environment in football.
He said: “Taking on this degree was a huge step, but it was one I was willing to take to better myself – I want to be the best coach possible and work at the very highest levels. The MSc adds another string to my bow, and I’d highly recommend it to others – including football managers and coaches.”
Dr Justine Allen, Programme Director of the MSc Sport Management at Stirling, said: “I would like to congratulate Kevin and all of our graduates on their achievements and successful completion of the MSc. Kevin’s story is not uncommon in our programme and shows what can be achieved with an openness and desire to learn, hard work, and good time management.
“Students on the programme are frequently juggling many competing priorities and the dedication they show to produce high quality work is outstanding and inspiring.”
Nicol joins an illustrious list of graduates from the programme, including Noeline Taurua, New Zealand Silver Ferns netball coach; Robbie Britton, international ultra-runner, and coach; Lesley McKenna, British Ski and Snowboard Park and Pipe Team manager; and Duncan Hodge, former Edinburgh Rugby coach.
The MSc Sport Performance Coaching at the University of Stirling rates 96% for overall student satisfaction in the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey 2021. For more information, visit the MSc Sport Performance Coaching webpage, or learn about Stirling’s other sports programmes.