Northern Regional College teams up with Ballymena United

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Northern Regional College

2nd Jun 2021

Northern Regional College has teamed up with IFA Premiership club Ballymena United to offer an innovative opportunity to talented young footballers who wish to combine that talent with their studies.

The new BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sports Coaching and Development (Ballymena United Academy) will combine a professional football training programme with an accredited qualification, giving skilled players a unique opportunity to develop both on and off the field.

Christine Brown, Vice Principal for Teaching and Learning at Northern Regional College, said the partnership with Ballymena United would bring many opportunities for Academy players.

“The BTEC Extended Diploma is the equivalent of three A levels and focuses on development of employability in the areas of sports coaching, development or administration. It also provides a pathway to university to study for a sports related degree, for example, in sports psychology, coaching and management,” she explained.

Neil Beddow, Curriculum Area Manager for Sports at Northern Regional College, outlined that the new Sports Coaching and Development programme would be in addition to the Level 3 Sports Coaching and Development (with optional IFA/GAA specialisms) currently offered by the College.

“This course is specifically targeted at skilled footballers with aspirations to play at a semi-professional or professional level. The modules they will study have been selected to maximise their potential to play professionally or to pursue a career in coaching, football development or administration,” he said.

Welcoming the initiative to jointly develop the academic and footballing skills of young players, Ballymena United chair John Taggart said the club recognised the importance of developing young players without compromising academic achievement.

“We have a very good underage structure in place at Ballymena United. Many of our senior players joined as youngsters and subsequently progressed up through the ranks to play for the youth, men’s and women’s teams respectively as they got older.

“The future success of our club depends on being able to nurture talent and develop young players and the Academy will allow us to do just that,” he said.

The chairman added that although the Academy will be based at Ballymena Showgrounds, players from all local clubs would be welcome:

“We are a very community focussed club and have a great affinity with Ballymena and the local area. All talented young footballers, irrespective of what club they play for, will be welcome to apply.”

Bryan McLaughlin, assistant coach with Ballymena United, who spearheaded the development of the Academy, said he was delighted to get it over the line.

“Academy players will get an immersive experience with a professional club and access to first class coaching and facilities. They will be able to focus on developing their footballing skills but not at the expense of getting an academic qualification.

“Their training programme will include skills development and strength and conditioning sessions by Ballymena United and College staff to help accelerate their development as players and improve their performance on the field. This will open opportunities for them. For example, it could lead to a professional contract or help secure a sports scholarship to study and play football in the US,” he explained.

He added that the Academy is open to both male and female players and, with ladies’ football in the ascendency now that Northern Ireland ladies have secured their place for Euro 2022, he expects a spike in the number of female applicants.

For further information on the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Sports Coaching and Development (Ballymena United Academy), contact the course co-ordinator Julie Alexander at or visit the course web page.

For information on all full time and part time courses at Northern Regional College, visit