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Top-up degree is life changing experience

Clare Carson's story is proof that age doesn't need to be a hindrance to your personal development.

The Crusaders and Northern Ireland Ladies football international graduated from UCLan's Sports Development and Coaching programme in 2011, and is now changing the lives of youngsters in her homeland. We caught up with Clare to find out more.

Tell us about your time at UCLan:

"I studied a Sports Development and Coaching Top-up degree and graduated with a 2:1. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I wish I'd done my full degree at UCLan. Even though I was 28 I learned a lot about myself.

"I gained a lot of new skills and it provided a great insight into sport development that I hadn’t seen before. I was privileged enough to work with great lecturers who went out of their way to help me. The network of people and organisations I met during my time there has been invaluable."

What are you doing now?

"I currently work as an Irish Football Association (IFA) Primary School Coach in the Newry and Mourne area of Northern Ireland. There are a total of 32 coaches funded by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) and my role is to teach the fundamentals of sport to primary children in years one to four. These include spacial awareness, balance and coordination.

"We incorporate these through football, ideally once they are competent in the basics. Our job provides children with the tools to play a wide range of sports and gives them the skills to participate longer, helping them take part in active life styles."

What sort of challenges do you face?

"No day is ever the same – the kids can be very complex and challenging. I work with a range of children with many different needs, both physical and learning, and I’m tasked with providing inclusive, fun sessions that aid their development. Previously I was purely focused on coaching football to older ages, so this has definitely widened my experience."

Away from coaching you've enjoyed a successful time as a footballer. Tell us about this.

"Where to begin! I play for Crusaders Women's Football Club, who have been the Premier League champions six times in the last eight years. I've played in European competitions and been to some beautiful countries, including Austria, Croatia and Slovenia.

"At international level I've played since I was 24 and been privileged enough to travel to many countries. Last year we played at the Cyprus Cup against South Africa, South Korea and Republic of Ireland. Being capped by my county is one of the greatest achievements of my life - nothing compares to standing for the national anthem on game day."

What are your long-term aspirations?

"I'd always envisaged being a teacher and I guess to a certain extent that’s what I am, but it’s made me rethink what’s involved in education and how there are additional ways of educating children.

"I also coach at the IFA County excellence development squads and find this to be a great experience. In the future I would like to do a top-up PGCE and also aim to coach at elite level age groups.

"One other thing I’m very keen to do is a master’s degree. Hopefully in the next five years I’ll have at least a couple of these completed. Eventually I hope to be either a lecturer or progress into a higher role with the IFA."