Sport Editor Rachel Higgins talks to the three student-coaches whose commitment and leadership has earned them recognition at the UB Sport awards

History student at the University of Birmingham. Also national, international and world champion kickboxer.
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Images by Theo Fung , Sophie Peck

‘Coach of the Year’ outlines the top three leaders across university sport that have led their teams to success. This award highlights the work of coaches that direct the development of the club, assist members’ personal progression, and shape the team for improvement in competition. Coaches in university sports are just as important as the players.

This year, all nominees are students on top of their coaching role, which goes to show the impressive ability to motivate and organise a team on top of individual study. The have also kept up high-level training for themselves to lead by example. Shortlisted for the award are Taekwondo’s Fabian Burkhardt, Football’s Xinhe Xiong and Karate’s Mairi Kerin.

First up is Burkhardt, the UoB Taekwondo captain. Now in his second year as part of the club, Burkhardt reflects on being nominated as ‘one of the most rewarding moments’ in his sporting life so far. It is easy to see why, as this coach has been in the driving seat for Taekwondo’s most successful year in its history. During the limited competition season that was cut short by COVID-19, Burkhardt coached his team at every championship possible and the team brought home an impressive 35 medals this year.

I feel honoured that so many have put their trust in me and let me guide them through their sporting journey

The pressure was certainly felt this season as well, due to the sport’s first trial as a BUCS league. Yet Burkhardt is humble in acceptance of the nomination as he claims, ‘it’s more than just the work of the coach’ and wants to recognise the effort of the entire team. ‘I feel honoured that so many have put their trust in me and let me guide them through their sporting journey.’

Burkhardt also went above and beyond this year in efforts to push the competitive team to glory. Extra practice sessions were put on in preparation alongside endless excel spreadsheets detailing who would be competing when and where, allowing him to keep on top of the whole team during competitions.

This organisation and dedication have not gone unnoticed. In a few final words, Burkhardt wanted to mention his own coach, ‘to whom I owe so much: ‘The best you can achieve as coach is to bring others on the same path’ and to build upon this, my goal is to bring them even further.’

I am excited and a little bit surprised to be shortlisted

Second to be nominated is the Xiong, who has been at the university for five years now. In conversation with Redbrick he revealed, ‘I am excited and a little bit surprised to be shortlisted’ as he feels the award overall is a more of a testament to the support of the club. The men’s third team saw immense success this year, being crowned league winners in an unbeaten season.

Xiong also went above and beyond this year in his role as coach as he prepared and presented video analysis sessions for the team. This focus on performance review and improvements of both the team and individuals shows his incredible dedication. This training tactic was crucial as the videos provided the depth needed to understand ‘the technical details we needed to work on.’

Finally, Xiong wanted to give special mentions in appreciation, ‘I also want to thank other coaches, analysts, physios and my FA tutor for providing support and feedback to my sessions and my team.’ It is clear there are big plans for the future of this team too, as the coach summarised, ‘I hope I can bring more victories to this club and this university I love.’

Last but by no means least, the final nominee is Karate’s Kerin. She too was shocked at making it onto the shortlist, saying that she takes a lot of inspiration and advice from other coaches at the university. Having been nominated last year, Karate had initially set out to win the ‘Club of the Year’ award, therefore should she win, Kerin wants to dedicate her prize to the club members.

As a team, they are allocated only two hours per week for training, but Kerin set up extra sessions to push the club further, even if this meant practising in public. There is no doubt in the commitment shown by Kerin as she left most training sessions without a voice, trying to boost morale amongst beginners. As a result, early on the team became self-motivated and began to work as a single unit, which was ‘wonderful to watch’ for the coach.

Win or lose they behaved impeccably

The standout moment for Kerin this year was the team success at the BUCS Karate Championships. Despite the impressive medal haul, it is the ‘integrity, honesty and respect’ the team showed which made Kerin so proud to lead them. ‘Win or lose they behaved impeccably.’

For the future, Kerin recognises it will only get tougher for the club as the members move up to senior categories. The clubs need at least a doubling of contact hours to tackle this development and stay at the top of the league. However,  as a coach, she wants to focus more on the other side of the club which involves, ‘greater community involvement, fundraising and social activities.’

To find out who wins Coach of the Year, tune into the UB Sport YouTube channel this Friday at 7:30 pm.


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