When Sports Scholar Niamh Charles learned that LJMU could allow her to combine her natural flair for sports with her enjoyment of academia, she immediately applied to study Sport and Exercise Science at our prestigious School of Sport and Exercise Sciences.
Since setting her sights on a career in professional football Niamh has gone from strength to strength, reaching dizzying heights when it comes to both her academic achievements and the realisation of her dream to become a full-time footballer, playing for some of the most formidable teams in the FA Women’s Super League. We caught up with her to speak about her university experience, her biggest achievements so far and her goals for the future.
“When it came to deciding where I should apply for university, the reputation of LJMU’s sports offering was second to none and was something I was keen to experience and be a part of. I was aware that the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences had a history of nurturing world-class athletes and I knew I’d be getting an excellent quality of teaching and support.”
As well as working to complete her degree, Niamh has also managed to juggle her full-time football career alongside her studies too, making her university experience a unique one. She describes how the support of her tutors and help from the Sports Scholarship scheme allowed her to keep all of the balls rolling:
“It’s been massively beneficial for me to be able to play football professionally and still continue with my studies at the same time. The support the university has given me has been great, in particular from my tutors and the rest of the Sports Scholarship staff who really go out of their way to guide you. In my case, being part of the Scholarship scheme and getting so much guidance from staff definitely helped me to strike the right balance, and commit to both my studies and professional endeavors to the very best of my ability.
"The teaching curriculum on the Sport and Exercise Science course was also massively applicable to my career. Everything I learned in lectures could be related back to myself as an athlete. It also provided me with a valuable opportunity to continue to progress in my career, while still obtaining an education. It was certainly a challenging experience but it’s one that definitely enabled me to better myself as a person, improve my time-management skills and further develop qualities that I hope will continue to set me up for future success."
When it comes to her footballing career Niamh has enjoyed amazing triumphs, securing professional contracts with both Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC. She reflects on her career journey so far and how she was able to turn her dreams into reality through hard work and perseverance:
“I’ve definitely packed a lot into the past few years! The dream all started when I began attending the Liverpool Centre of Excellence in the last year of Under 15’s football, after attending an open trial. I quickly progressed through the age groups and made my first-team debut at the age of 16. It wasn’t long before I was signed for Liverpool FC where I played for three years until recently signing for Chelsea, which has been amazing. During this time I have also proudly represented my country in two European Championships and two World Cups through the youth age groups.
"In terms of the day to day reality of the job, there’s no denying that it’s very busy and taxing both mentally and physically – but it’s all worth it. My typical working day, while I was studying, would involve around five hours at the training ground undertaking pitch and gym sessions, as well as treatments and meetings. I would then do more individual recovery at home as well as preparing for any upcoming games. Any spare time of an evening would typically be taken up by uni work. So like I say, very busy!"
As well as her recent signing to Chelsea FC, Niamh has also scooped the Paula Gorman Prize for the highest performer in Sport and Exercise Science, in recognition of her amazing academic achievements during her time at LJMU. Of this she said:
“Winning the award was a shock as I hadn’t considered a prize as the aim of my studies. I was purely focused on getting a degree to set me up for the future. Winning is something that I’m very proud of, as it reinforces that all of the work I put in when I was really struggling to find the energy has been worth it. The prize is also a huge reflection of the efficiency of the support system at LJMU that I’ve been able to benefit from too.”
In terms of her future plans, Niamh certainly shows no signs of slowing down...
“After recently graduating I’m now focusing mainly on full-time football, which is new to me as I’ve always juggled football with studying. I’m really enjoying being able to give it my all as well as getting to know the new area I have moved to. Beyond this, I want to continue to enjoy football and play for as long as possible. I can also see myself returning to education in some capacity in the future, whether it be football-related or to focus on other academic pursuits.”
When it comes to her advice for other young girls or women who have aspirations to work in the world of professional football, Niamh feels that love and passion for the sport are key to success:
“It is a really exciting time for female football in this country and the opportunities available are continuing to increase. The most important thing I would say is to make sure that you enjoy playing. Of course, you should take every opportunity to better yourself as a player – but it’s important to mainly focus on the fun and enjoyment football can bring to you. When you’re doing something you love, who knows where you could end up!”
If Niamh’s dedication and success have inspired you, or you too have a passion for sport – visit LJMU’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences and take a look at the courses on offer today. You can also learn more about our Sports Scholarships Scheme and how it can help to take your skills to the next level.