Meet Uti: MSc student, SRU employee and professional breakdancer

After securing an internship while he studied his MSc Sport Performance Enhancement, Uti is now employed by Scottish Rugby Union as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. Uti tells us how he got his dream job and gives us the scoop on his professional breakdancing career.

Breakdancing gif      Breakdancing gif

What were you studying when you starting looking for an internship?

I studied the undergraduate degree BSc Sport and Exercise Science here and went straight onto study my masters in Sport Performance Enhancement. That’s when I started looking to build experience in strength and conditioning as I knew that was the sector I wanted to get into once I had graduated. 

How did you first approach Scottish Rugby to ask them about the opportunity of an internship?

To begin with I approached one of the senior lecturers Dr. Susan Brown after class one day and I told her that I really wanted to specialise in strength and conditioning. I was particularly interested in working in Rugby because I knew it was pretty advanced in this area compared to other sports. The Scottish Rugby Union BT Rugby Academy Edinburgh is actually located on campus at Sighthill where I was studying, so Susan suggested I go and speak to Chris Leck the strength and conditioning coach and see if there was anyway I could get involved. 

Did they offer you an internship straight away? 

Initially Chris offered me a shadowing role whereby I could go in and just watch the sessions and take everything in as much as I could. I was a bit nervous to begin with because gradually you want to get involved but you don’t know where and how much you can. As we went on over the next few months Chris encouraged me to get more and more involved and he gave me segments of the session to deliver on my own which was great. After a while I was covering parts of the session, delivering the movement and mobility section of the warm-up, and then eventually I began covering a couple of full sessions by myself.

"Perseverance was really important, I was turning up early to sessions and going out of my way to help. I thought it was really important to come across as very committed and in the end it paid off massively"

What was it like working in the area of sport performance that you knew you wanted to pursue a career in?

It was really exciting. I knew that I just had to grab this opportunity and get stuck in so that I could learn as much as possible from it. I really think you have to be driven and have an independent attitude to get where you want to go – you’ll get out of it as much as you put in.

It sounds like you were a self-starter and go out of your way to get this opportunity, but that when it came along you grabbed it with both hands. Would you say that was an important part of it?

Yes I definitely think that’s it. I think in any role like this you have to be a self-starter and you have to go and get yourself stuck in to get these opportunities. No-one is going to hand stuff out to you. Perseverance was really important, I was turning up early every day to sessions, going out of my way to help, doing things outwith my role. I thought it was really important to come across as very committed and in the end it paid off massively. 

So how did you end up getting offered the job of assistant strength and conditioning coach with the SRU?

In the end it came down to the fact that I had shown a level of commitment that impressed them. I had a conversation with Chris Leck and Jared Deacon where they had really recognised that I was fully committed. They also recognised that I had picked up their style and way of doing things, and on the back of all this they offered me the role. They said they wanted to reward me for the hard work I had put in.

"The opportunity was a rare one and I didn't want to let it go. The university encouraged me to take it and helped me work my studies around this opportunity."

So you were still studying when they offered you the job – how did you balance studying with this great job opportunity?

The lecturers here were really approachable and helped me manage both. The opportunity was a rare one and I didn’t want to let it go, but the university saw that as well and they encouraged me to take it and helped me work my studies around this opportunity so I could succeed academically as well as progressing professionally. It was definitely a challenge, but because the rugby academy is based at Sighthill it was really convenient to go straight from classes to work. I was also delivering sessions at Murrayfield as well which is just a few stops on the tram line so in that sense it was really convenient to fit into my schedule, and I just had to be on top of my time management in order to juggle both. 

What is your favourite part of your job now?

I just really enjoy all of it. It doesn’t feel like I’m working, it doesn’t feel like a job. I go down, I’ll work hard and get stuck in and there’s a good environment and atmosphere at the gym. I’m learning so much and it’s very hands on. I think people often forget to think about how they are going to apply the knowledge they learn, and I would definitely recommend going in and getting an internship or some experience wherever you can because it makes a massive difference once you are working professionally.

How do you think the MSc is helping you succeed in your role?

The real benefit of my course was that you could adapt modules so they accommodate what you’re trying to do. For example because my interest was in Strength and Conditioning, so I was able to tailor the modules and the dissertation to my own interest. You can tailor all the modules to benefit you for the career that you want to go into. I thought that that element of the course went hand in hand that I was doing something with Scottish rugby, and particularly because there’s an independent study module where you can focus on what you want to do and what will benefit you.

The  lecturers and the supervisors promote that,  they really encourage you to make a decision on what you want to do and where you want to end up and they try and pull people in and work around you to facilitate what you want to achieve as much as possible.

"The lecturers encourage you to make a decision on what you want to do and then work around you to facilitate that"

What’s the step up like between the BSc and the MSc?

It’s a logical step up, the work load is higher and the content is more in-depth and more self-directed,  but at the same time there is more interaction with the module leaders and the lecturers, so you have a better opportunity to interact and discuss things with the.  It’s also very hands on – the applied nature of the course was really important because you’re encouraged to go away and learn how to use the equipment and to apply the equipment to different athletes. That element of it really prepares you for an applied environment which most sports science jobs are unless you’re wanting to go into research.

And do you think having access to the labs and booking them out a helped to prepare you for the reality of having to use them in your current job?

Yes definitely that was a crucial element.

"The applied nature of the course was really important because you're encouraged to go away and learn how to apply the equipment to different athletes. That element of it really prepares you for an applied environment which most sports science jobs are."

What is your dream job for the future – do you want to stay in Rugby?

Id like to go into strength and conditioning or a head of performance role down the line, and mainly strength and conditioning is what I’m interested in. From the beginning I wanted to get into rugby because I like the nature of the sport. I like how advanced they are in sports sciences, they’re very forward thinking in terms of constantly trying to develop and change their training so I think I would like to stay in rugby, and I think particularly Scottish rugby are very advanced in that respect.

You’re a breakdancer right too– how did you get into that?

I started off at school, and took on more and more classes, then I got more involved with a group doing training sessions, and after a while it becomes kind of self taught. I really enjoyed it so I kept going and got into competing and teaching as well around the world. With my group I’ve been all over, Holland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway.

You’re not tempted to start a rugby career instead?!

I think working in the rugby environment you’re always tempted – that kind of competitive element of it and the training and the hard work ethic that they show is pretty contagious, so being in that environment its natural that you want to get stuck in and get involved.

So maybe that’s a new hobby? But then you’ll always have to compare yourself to the best of the best wouldn't you because that’s what you’re constantly surrounded by working in an elite environment?

(Laughing) Yes you’re right I think I’ll stay away from it actually!

Okay and finally, who’s your favourite Scottish rugby team at club level?

I think my answer has to be Edinburgh to that question otherwise I’ll lose my job! (Laughing).