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Four men on football field

Paul Heckingbottom- BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching, 2013

Paul Heckingbottom- BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching, 2013

Paul Heckingbottom- BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching, 2013

Head Coach, Barnsley Football Club

Paul was appointed caretaker boss of Barnsley in February 2016. Within four months, he had guided the Tykes from 12th in League One to promotion to the Championship via the play offs. He was also at the helm as Barnsley beat Oxford 3-2 at Wembley to lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

What made Paul’s achievements all the more remarkable was the fact he juggled the role while studying for an MSc in Sport Coaching at Leeds Beckett, which he finished later that year.

The 39-year-old, who was a youth team player at Manchester United before making more than 400 senior appearances for the likes of Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Bradford, says the programme helped him build a ‘model of performance’ for his players and has, in many ways, proved more valuable than his UEFA coaching badges.

On his motivation for entering higher education, Paul, who was appointed head coach of Barnsley on a permanent basis in June 2016, said: “In all honesty, I started just to make my CV look different. I’d got a playing background, I was getting my coaching qualifications and I thought, right, I’ll set myself apart’.

“As soon as I finished the undergrad I thought: ‘why not? I’ll do the postgrad’. “Again, it took it to another level and built a model of performance, if you like, and how I work now is based to a large degree on what I’ve learned through my university studies.

“I definitely see it as more valuable than my other coaching qualifications, and that’s not to say that they weren’t valuable for me. They have helped me unpick lots of football knowledge, gain lots of contacts and build a profile in the game, and my ongoing continuing professional development will be with them.

“They are fantastic for that, but in terms of making me think differently and approach coaching differently – not the game of football but coaching, management and organisation – then I think the undergrad and particularly the postgrad have been far more valuable.”

Barnsley’s progress under Paul has continued this season in the Championship – with the club free from the threat of relegation after making a blistering start to the season.

Paul has also found the time to pass on his insights, returning to the University to deliver coaching presentations to current Leeds Beckett students as part of their studies. Bob Muir, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for MSc Sport Coaching at Leeds Beckett, said: “Paul is an absolute pleasure. He’s almost like the perfect student to get on a programme.

“He comes with extensive experience. Because he’s got such rich experience, the concepts and ideas we explore on the programme are meaningful. He’s got a lived experience against which he can attach the concepts and ideas. “It’s been absolutely amazing (to watch his progress) and Paul has been in to speak to the MSc coaches this year. We couldn’t wish for a better ambassador really.”

Bob said the fact Paul was able to complete his masters on time after guiding Barnsley to two Wembley triumphs and promotion made his success all the more remarkable and underlined his dedication to his studies. Bob noted a number of students over the years had asked for extensions in order to finish their dissertations, but Paul was not one of them. “It’s a wonderful story I can share with our current cohort of coaches,” said Bob.