From the classroom to Preston North End’s Academy set-up

A Preston North End student has risen through the ranks to gain a work experience role at the Academy after just three years studying at the football club.

Ollie Birkett, a former FE student and now HE student at North End has put the opportunities studying at a football club offers into good use, and is now attaining work experience at the Academy as he looks to make his mark in football coaching.

“It’s given me a great idea of what it’s like to be a coach,” said Ollie who took a short break from coaching with the pre-academy and development centres to talk about his experiences.

“It’s helped me understand the qualifications I need to be a good coach and what I need in terms of the qualities of a coach and the equipment you need. It’s given me a great idea of what it’s like to be a coach at academy level as well giving me great enjoyment and a great experience.”

Ollie started in his quest to be a football coach as a Level Three student at Preston North End in Sport and Exercise. Here, Ollie joined the two-year long programme combining classroom based modules with practical based experience, which included representing North End in regional and national tournaments.

From there, Ollie continued his education with PNE by studying a Foundation Degree in Football Coaching in conjunction with the University of South Wales and EFL Trust, and is now gaining hands on experience by working with the Academy.

He continued: “With the foundation degree, I came on to the programme not really knowing what I wanted to do. I had a passion for sport and a passion for football so it was a good reason why I joined the course.

“Joining the course has given me plenty of opportunities to see what jobs are out there in sport and within football in particular.

“I don’t think you’d get this opportunity studying at other colleges – you wouldn’t get behind the scenes access in a professional football club and I doubt you would get the opportunity to work with an academy. I think there is plenty more opportunities within the football industry through the education at Preston North End compared to other colleges.”

Ollie has been supported and observed throughout his time working at the Academy by the likes of Lead Foundation Phase Coach, Paul Gray who has been impressed with what he has seen from Ollie so far.

“Ollie has done really well since being with us” said Paul “We are looking for people to come into the Academy who are going to work hard, be committed to what we are trying to do here and people that are willing to learn and get better and Ollie has shown those qualities since he’s come in.

“He’s hard working and not one that will shy away from doing a bit extra when it is needed which is really important for us. I think since he has been with us, his communication skills have really come on and really improved. He is good when he talks to the parents and has good rapport when he coaches our youngest players so we have players from as young as five, six and seven and he really gets down to their level and shows he can work with them ages.

“Hopefully with our guidance and our help, he will get his coaching badges and he will get opportunities to then possibly move up and coach one of the academy age groups and then who knows, he could end up with a full-time position. But he’s going to have to keep working hard, keep listening, learning and get better all of the time.”

Whilst Paul has been a figure who has been able to observe Ollie’s progress during his time at the Academy, somebody who has been with Ollie during his days in the Education Programme is Recruitment and HE Development Manager and former player, Graeme Atkinson.

As well as a senior figure in the Education Programme at North End, Graeme has also been an Academy Coach at PNE for a number of years which has helped Ollie get this opportunity in the first place.

“There’s no reason that when we have got people like Ollie – students who are under our noses and doing really well why we couldn’t utilise what we have got at our disposal,” added Graeme. “We have got other students doing various bits and bobs with other departments and that is testament to the club and the resources and also how they embrace the students that we have on our courses to get involved and to hopefully potentially become our next employees.

“This experience could be massive for him. Ultimately, it’s going to be down to him and the effort that he puts in but for his first year he has done magnificently well and getting some very good plaudits from full-time staff.

“Anybody that is on our programme is obviously getting first dibs and we are progressing those opportunities to reality and hopefully the word comes about that we are doing positive things for students in the community and that going to mainstream colleges is one thing, but we are providing a good level of work experience alongside the courses that we are delivering as an alternative.”

He concluded: “I would fully recommend it to somebody who was unsure with what they want to do and were passionate about sport and passionate about football. I would 100% recommend the education programme because it gives you plenty of opportunities and great experiences. Even if you decide that you don’t want to go into football, you still have a great two years with great experiences – It’s a fantastic course.”

Places are still available to those aged 16 and above to join the programme with a Level Two or Level Three Diploma in Sport and Exercise, so if you have a passion for sport, uncertain on the next part of your education but interested in following in Ollie’s footsteps, contact the Education team at Preston North End now by calling 01772 693309 or email Education@pne.com for an informal chat with regards to the course, and see if it’s right for you.