Our latest Setanta Student Story is with Leah Kelly, a current player on the Sligo Rovers Women’s Football team, a former inter-county footballer for Sligo and Physical Education teacher. 

Leah is also currently a student on our MSc in Performance Coaching. Below, she discusses her sporting journey, the challenges along the way and I why she has chosen to pursue further education in strength and conditioning. 

Background in Sport and Fitness

For Leah, sport and fitness have always been central in her life. Having represented her county in two sports, this passion also extends beyond the pitch, choosing PE Teaching as her career path. 

I’m currently playing for Sligo Rovers Women’s Team in the Women’s National League of Ireland. I have played senior county football with Sligo Ladies for six years, while also working full-time as a PE teacher in Sligo,” Leah says. 

Looking back on her journey to date, Leah reflected on developments in women’s sports through the years while also recognising the strong support that she had throughout. 

“I think as a female in sport there will always be challenges, but I was very lucky to have strong support from family and coaches which encouraged me to stick with my sport. I think joining Sligo Rovers’ first female team is a highlight in my life and becoming the first female player to reach 50 appearances in the club was a nice milestone too. It is very promising to see the improvement in terms of equality of treatment in sport between genders and hopefully this continues.” 

An Insight into Training

A typical training week for Leah encompasses both individual and team training, showcasing the dedication required to maintain her performance levels. 

“During in-season, my typical training week would involve a gym session on a Monday and Wednesday, team training on a Tuesday and Thursday, Friday would be a stretching and recovery session in preparation for a game on Saturday, and Sunday would involve a recovery run and light weights session,” Leah shares. 

Her approach to training also comes from a personal interest in strength and conditioning that developed during the days of individual lockdown training sessions. 

“During the first lockdown, I began to get very into my own personal physical fitness and began buying gym equipment for my house. From then on, I started following different programs and tracking my progress, and I soon found I was making excuses on how to fit in my gym sessions rather than how to skip them. I really found a love for strength and conditioning and challenging your body,” Leah explains. 

This interest in S&C continued to grow, leading her to begin studying the MSc in Performance Coaching with Setanta. Leah puts the decision to enrol on the programme down to her passion and involvement in sport. 

“I have really enjoyed my experience with studying the MSc in Performance Coaching with Setanta. I think the thing that makes it most enjoyable is that it is in an area I am so interested and involved in myself, and therefore I feel invested in what I am learning. As a PE teacher, I feel I am gaining so much new information that I can apply to my teaching and help enhance the students’ knowledge.” Leah shares. 

Balancing Teaching, Training and Studies

Balancing her teaching career, football training and matches, and MSc studies is undoubtedly challenging. However, flexibility in learning opportunities and an early-morning routine play a significant role in helping Leah to manage her various commitments. 

“The online means of delivering the course means that I can continue to work as a PE teacher and also attend all my trainings and games while then engaging with the Masters in my own free time. It can definitely be difficult when you are trying to balance teaching, team training, studying, home and away matches across Ireland, gym sessions, and off-time. Thankfully, I’m lucky enough to be a morning person, so that definitely helps in terms of getting things done. I think reminding yourself that the sacrifices you have to make now in order to achieve the Masters are temporary and while it may be very hectic at times, it will all be worth it,” Leah emphasises.

She also commends the support in the Setanta team in helping to facilitate this balance. 

“Setanta is a very supportive college. I think they are so aware and conscious of the fact that many of their students are engaging in their courses while also playing sport at a competitive level, and therefore they make their delivery of content as easily accessible as possible. The lecturers are also very helpful to deal with, which makes a big difference,” Leah acknowledges. 

Practical Learnings

Leah outlines how she has been able to apply some of the learnings from the course to her own career along with other benefits. 

“Honestly, I think I have gained great knowledge from each of the modules I have undertaken so far. For example, right now I am studying the Nutrition for Athletes Module, and I am really finding it useful and insightful in terms of assessing and perfecting my own nutrition. I also think the friends I have made from the course have taught me a lot. Networking and chatting with athletes and other individuals in similar fields of work is very useful. I think you gain a great deal of confidence and reassurance from those you meet,” Leah explains. 

Looking to the Future

Leah’s aspirations for the future are twofold, encompassing both her education and sporting career. 

“In the near future, I would definitely love to start using my MSc in Performance Coaching to work in this field. I would love to start fitness classes, personal training, or some type of group fitness in my area. In terms of football, I hope to keep pushing myself both on and off the pitch and hopefully stay injury-free.” 

She also shares a positive outlook for the future of women’s sport.

“I think the future of women’s sport and more acutely women’s football is on the rise. I feel blessed to be involved and playing sport in a time where we are seeing such a shift in terms of respect for Women’s Sport. You just have to look at attendances and TV coverage to see how it is improving. I think for now, we have to continue to drive on the standards and high expectations we have for it. I hope it will continue to improve year on year and that the future for young girls in sport will emulate that of their male counterparts,” Leah concludes.