healthCORE Postgrad Student Wins International Sports Science Award


Shane O Donnell, a healthCORE postgraduate student, has won the Youth on the MOVE (YOTM) prize for best project with his initiative Active Future Programme: Using physical activity to promote education amongst adolescents at risk of early school leaving. An initiative of the International Sports and Culture Association, YOTM is designed to develop and increase training for youth in sport.

Shane’s project aims at assisting a particularly vulnerable segment of the Irish population. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that fourth-fifths of European adolescents are insufficiently active. In Ireland, just 19% of primary and 12% of post-primary children meet the recommended daily physical activity levels. Ireland also has the fourth highest suicide rate amongst young people aged 15-24 in the EU

Shane’s win is the culmination of his selection last year as a participant for the Youth on The MOVE programme - a platform for 30 young minds across Europe to explore ways of implementing grass-root campaigns and initiatives for promoting health and wellbeing. The project saw participants plan physical activity events in their respective countries with the aim of ‘getting their nation moving’. The programme consisted of a five-month online training course in physical activity promotion alongside offline training in Barcelona. On returning to Ireland, Shane designed a programme aimed at young adolescents at risk of early school leaving and how physical activity might play a role in supporting this cohort.

“ I came back to Ireland inspired, motivated and ready to make a change. In Ireland we have the fourth highest suicide rate amongst young people, aged 15-24, in the EU and, sadly, there has been an increase in suicides among this age group in the local community. To tackle this issue, I set about designing the eight-week Active Future Programme”, commented Shane. 

A partnership was formed with Michael Byrne from the Tullow School Completion Programme and the Active Future Programme was run in association between Institute of Technology Carlow, Tullow Secondary School, Tullow School Completion Programme and supported by the Now We MOVE campaign.

Shane’s programme involved 20 participants and was integrated into the Sport Science year 3 curriculum where the Sport Science students worked closely with the adolescents, delivering inputs, mentoring and provided support for the duration of the project. The programme ran for eight weeks and included: healthy eating; physical health education; physical activity classes; positive mental health education including coping strategies, understanding behaviours and problem solving techniques; personal planning for the future. Participants were also given tours of Institute of Technology Carlow, were invited to sit in on lectures of their choice and met representatives from the courses they were interested in.

On completion, participants were able to: evaluate their attitudes and stereotypes regarding third level education, fitness and self-image; apply problem solving and personal motivation skills training to design a personal action plan (Future Me Plan); assess behaviour to activities and food and determine if they are unhealthy or unhelpful and list third-level courses they might be interested in.

Holder of a first-class honours degree in Sports Science from Institute of Technology Carlow, Shane O’Connell is currently in receipt of funding from the Irish Research Council Employment Based Programme to complete his Masters. The findings from his Masters pilot study have informed the development of Carlow’s 'Connecting for Life’,  a county-wide suicide prevention action plan. A manuscript based on this work is close to being finalised for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. As part of Phase Two of his Masters studies, he is currently engaged in a comprehensive national consultation process with both ‘at risk’ groups of middle aged men and key service providers, that will inform the proposed final phase of his research - community capacity building and suicide prevention in middle-aged men in Ireland. His work on developing the 'Active Future Programme' was voted best overall project in Europe and South America at the ‘Semanrio Internacional MOVE Brazil’ in December 2017.