University lecturer swaps flying for football and wins top coaching award
02 November 2016
A SOCCER starlet who swapped flying for football has won a top coaching honour.
Sara Hilton was crowned Performance Coach of the Year at the FA Wales (FAW) Community Awards in Cardiff, for her work across North East Wales.
And Manchester United and Wales legend Ryan Giggs was the first to congratulate her.
As director of the North Wales Girls Performance Centre and as a Level 1 and 2 coach educator, the 25 year-old Liverpool FC fan has trained hundreds of youngsters over the last five years and is also leading the National U15 Girls Development squad.
Now a lecturer on Wrexham Glyndwr University’s new BSc Football Coaching and the Performance Specialist degree, she is looking forward to further success on the pitch, having had her own footballing dreams cut short by injury as a teenager.
A brief spell as an air hostess in London followed, before Sara went back to the game she loves and began coaching with the FAW Trust alongside studying for a degree in Sports Science at the University.
Her ambition to become a teacher is now a reality, combining her love of football and helping people of all ages develop their coaching skills and confidence.
She graduated last Friday, and with the support of boyfriend George has the world at her feet after a “rollercoaster” few years.
“To begin working at the University at the same time as winning this prestigious prize and graduating is completely overwhelming,” said Sara, from Holywell.
“This is my dream job, and the response we’ve had to the new course has been brilliant, with 16 students on board and a lot of interest already for next year from both male and female coaches.”
Sara played for Wales as a centre back and midfielder before damaging her cruciate ligament and travelling to the US on a scholarship as a 17 year-old.
She returned a year later before injuring herself again and deciding to quit the sport altogether.
Sara then journeyed down south and became an air hostess with Ryanair, but her head was never really in the clouds - she knew her future lay in football.
“After I injured myself again I couldn’t even stand the sight of a football, I couldn’t watch it and I needed a complete change,” said Sara.
“But nine months later I was over that and came back up to North Wales to begin my coaching qualifications.
“I remember my first day was when Gary Speed tragically died. He was a big inspiration so that really resonated with me and made me want to go forward and be a success.”
She added: “It’s fair to say football is still a male-dominated sport – and 90% of the people who attend my courses are men – but the women’s game is growing in popularity and we do have a female on the degree with us this year.
“I spoke to her at the beginning because it can be quite tough, I’ve been there myself, but now it doesn’t faze me at all and has given me the ability to balance the room, take on different opinions and deliver sessions with confidence.”
Those on the newly-unveiled qualification will be based at the University’s Colliers Park training facility in Wrexham, working towards professional coaching qualifications alongside the degree.
Wrexham Glyndwr has also launched a BSc in Sports Coaching for Participation and Performance Development under the stewardship of programme leader Pamela Richards, Associate Head of the School of Social and Life Sciences.
She said: “The BSc Football Coaching and the Performance Specialist degree is designed in partnership with the FAW to prepare students who want to work as a coach or performance specialist.
“Students on the programme will work towards the Football Association of Wales (FAW) Level 2 (UEFA C) and Level 3 (UEFA B) coaching Licenses.
“Those completing the programme will develop the skills to work with youth and senior football teams at grassroots and a high performance level, as well as having a better understanding of the social context of the sport.”
The team at Wrexham Glyndwr includes specialists who have extensive applied knowledge and experience of working across the performance range from grassroots to world class international level, combining FAWT staff and academic experts.
As for Giggs, he is McDonald’s Director of Welsh Football, which presented the ceremony.
He said: “These awards are a fantastic initiative and fully give these grassroots heroes the recognition that they deserve. I want to congratulate Sara on her award.”
For more on the degree, visit http://bit.ly/2dDdhtj. Visit the next open day on November 12, and postgraduate open evening on November 16.