Building sports profile comes on leaps and bounds from a standing start at university
WHEN Ollie Shearer took on the role of sports development manager at the University of Derby, he could not claim that he didn't understand the size of the task ahead of him.
Let us not beat about the bush – the university barely had a sporting profile.
But Shearer knew that. He has now been at the University himself for the best part of a decade, first as a student, during which time he served as sports president of the students' union, then in a job as sports activities manager.
He took up his present role in 2009 with the brief to establish the sports profile – and that he has done.
When Derby was declared the most improved university in the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) league table in the last academic year, Shearer could afford a satisfied moment. Step one had been achieved.
The accolade came when Derby rose from 104th among 156 campuses to 77th.
Naturally, the University of Derby is not about to challenge Loughborough University as the pre-eminent sporting campus in the country. But that was never the aim.
Steady progress is the general aim and the specific one is to hit the top 50 in the BUCS standings by 2015. From what was basically a standing start, that would represent a terrific leap.
Making such strides comes at a price. Since 2009, the university has invested £5m into sporting facilities.
It is Shearer's hope that they may match that investment in the next three years, too.
Practical additions have included a new gym, strength and conditioning training rooms and 3G sports pitches at the Kedleston Road site, as well as gym and sports hall refurbishment at the Buxton campus.
A major step was to establish the Derbyshire Institute of Sport, headed by the Shardlow-based former GB badminton coach Andy Wood.
This body uses the campus as a hub and is funded by the university with the city and county councils.
But Derby's progress is not just about money. As Shearer bluntly puts it: "We're not going for the Manchester City model. We're not just throwing money at it."
But just as important is to change the way people perceive sport at the university and Shearer was inspired by being able to work from scratch: "People have said 'why not go somewhere that is already a sporting university.
"Well, I wouldn't have known what to do there. It would already have been done.
"Here, we can see where to put our energy and we can see results.
"We want to be seen as a sporting provider for the community. We are starting to change the culture here.
"What we've done is not genius or a masterstroke. A lot of it is common sense."
A re-branding as "Team Derby" – look out for striking orange and navy kit – has proved popular and specific partnerships have been sought with bodies such as the School Sports Partnership and clubs such as the Derby Trailblazers basketball club, Kedleston Park Golf Club and Duffield Squash Club, all successful in their respective fields.
"Students have taken on the Team Derby concept and embraced it," added Shearer.
"That's not driven by us, that's driven by the students themselves and Team Derby can go beyond the university."
In terms of direct progress through results, three sports were targeted initially: table tennis, basketball and badminton.
The badminton team was a case in point. While they narrowly missed out on promotion in their BUCS division last year, progress under the coaching of former GB international Donna Kellogg was notable.
In the same way, the university's basketball team had Trailblazers coach Jamie Maudsley overseeing them.
"They were not the most talented team but they were dedicated," said Shearer.
"They changed their culture because they could see that there had been an investment in them. Before that, our student coaches were students themselves.
"There was already talent in the county and we knew there was a good network. These sports had a pathway and a performance structure and we knew we could add value to it.
"All our teams earn points on a weekly basis but students can earn points in sports on an individual basis, too.
"The way the points system works, there is always something to play for and we have found that people in different sports are happy to support each other."
The knock-on effect of all this, Shearer and his team hope, is that sporting students will start to see Derby as a place to come to progress their sporting ambitions.
If they are closing in on world class in their late teens, they may still choose somewhere like Loughborough or Bath.
But people develop at different times and if they arrive at that age a little below the highest level, while still aspiring to it, they may choose the University of Derby in the coming years.
â For more about sport at the University of Derby, visit www.teamderby.com or for more information about studying at Derby, visit www.derby.ac.uk.