Unique graduates prove their mastery of the art and science of coaching at Cathedral ceremony


Rugby coaches from top flight rugby in the UK and Europe donned their robes and mortarboards to be honoured as Hartpury Masters graduates at Gloucester Cathedral.

This was a celebration of a landmark achievement involving Hartpury University Centre, the University of the West of England and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) as these ‘students’ followed a unique pathway to achieve their Masters in Professional Development (Coaching Science), having used their RFU Level Four coaching award as the basis for their postgraduate study.

Stephen Meehan from French Top 14 Club Toulon, Darren Cunningham, who is now a coach consultant at Kelso RFC, and John Widdowson from the RFU all graduated at the Hartpury ceremony at Gloucester Cathedral last week.

Kevin Bowring, Head of Elite Coach Development at the RFU and former coach of the senior Wales' rugby union team, who attended the ceremony, said: “The Level 4 course delivered by the RFU is recognised as helping to develop the craft of coaching to a high level. The extra support from Hartpury, giving coaches the chance to evaluate and reflect on their practice, adds hugely to their skills and knowledge, as well as giving them a high level of academic recognition by achieving a Masters degree.”

Each coach had to complete a self-evaluation and review of their Level 4 experience before planning a piece of research that would address their future development needs and those of their fellow coaches and colleagues.

While Stephen focused his project on ‘positive coaching language’, John’s was based around ‘developing a coaching philosophy’ and Darren looked at ‘emotional intelligence in high performance coaching’.

John Barker, Professional Development Awards Coordinator at the University of the West of England, said: "The calibre and impact of the work-based learning that this group of graduates has produced on this sector-leading Hartpury postgraduate programme will echo through the collective thoughts of players, coaches and organisers of sport for years to come. "This innovative collaboration between the University of the West of England, Hartpury University Centre and the Rugby Football Union will in future hopefully become a model for coach education across the sporting landscape."

These top rugby coaches joined more than 300 fellow Hartpury graduates in celebrating this UK first at a stunning ceremony at Gloucester Cathedral on Thursday (October 20th). As well as Kevin Bowring, RFU Coach Developer Dick Tilley was also in attendance to mark their achievement.

Dean Clark, Senior Lecturer for MSc Coaching Science at Hartpury, said: “Working alongside coaches who share such a passion for player development and so fully embrace opportunities to develop their craft has been a wonderful experience. It was a privilege as their programme manager to see them graduate with their Masters awards surrounded by family and friends and our partners from the RFU Level 4 development team.”

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