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From detective sergeant to small business owner – Sandy’s journey with WELS

Cutout photograph of Sandy Johnston smiling in outdoor watersports gear and a helmet on a blue background. The OU logo appears in the top left with the words 'SANDY'S JOURNEY' written underneath.

From detective sergeant to small business owner – Sandy’s journey with the OU has spanned three decades and is set to continue as he progresses his studies with WELS to support a flourishing new career as an outdoor instructor and coach.

Sandy Johnston, currently studying for a BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness & Coaching in the School of Education, Childhood, Youth & Sport (ECYS), embarked on his journey as an OU student in the ‘90s whilst working as a police officer.

Despite having early career aspirations of becoming an outdoor activities instructor, stemming from a love of the outdoors, Sandy found himself joining the police force:

“Since I was a kid in the scouts, I’d always been into hillwalking, canoeing and kayaking, all these things you can do outdoors. Its always been my thing. I did some voluntary work at outdoor centres to become qualified as an outdoor instructor, but political changes at that time closed a lot of outdoor education jobs. I didn’t see a future in that area, so a complete change of career plan followed, and I joined the police.”

A few years into his police career, Sandy decided to return to study and registered with the OU to do a Social Policy Diploma. This led to further courses in Sociology and Criminology which eventually resulted in a BSc (Hons) Open degree.

“I got support from the police with funding, which helped quite a bit, and studied around my shifts… Studying those areas helped me in my police career and gave me more confidence, especially when I moved from dealing with people at street level to being a detective sergeant in the Economic Crime Unit.”

Throughout his career with the police, Sandy’s passion for the outdoors continued so he made the decision that upon retirement he would finally pursue his childhood dream of becoming an outdoor instructor:

“You retire from the police at a relatively young age with a decent pension, so during my last few years in the force I spent a lot of my spare time gaining outdoor sports coaching qualifications so when I did retire, I picked up work as a freelancer, mainly at outdoor centres. That kept me busy in summer, but I was conscious that during the winter I wasn’t going to get as much work, so I thought I’d go back to study again.”

Sandy returned to the OU, this time joining the Faculty of WELS to undertake a BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness & Coaching:

“I wanted to study the theoretical background of sport, fitness and coaching to support me in my day-to-day work… I really enjoy the Sports degree because it fits in perfectly with what I do in my current occupation as a freelance outdoor instructor. The studies make me think more about my actual, practical coaching.

“Coaching has always fascinated me, so I’ve studied coaching theory before, but this course is filling in some of the blank areas. You get that satisfying kind of, ‘Oh that’s why!’ realisation when you study and discover the reasons why certain approaches or methods work better than others.”

Reflecting on the differences between studying with the OU in the ‘90s and today, Sandy said:

“The main difference between the OU back in the ‘90s and the OU today is not having to set your video recorder for 2:00am to record a programme you need to see to study your module! Everything’s available online now, which is a great improvement, as it’s easier to access, although the quality of the course materials is just as good now as it was then.”

Looking to the future, Sandy hopes to utilise the knowledge gained from his Sport, Fitness and Coaching course to expand his business:

“I now have my own little business: Sandy Johnston Coaching. I coach people in kayaking, canoeing and water sports, mostly. It’s a nice way to work, working for myself and freelancing with other organisations, such as the scouts or different outdoor centres. It’s really enjoyable and I’m getting paid for something I love doing.

“My plans for the future are to expand the business and work with long-term students to help them to develop. I’m going to continue my studies in coaching. I’m a performance coach in white-water kayaking and I would quite like to do the next step up – British Canoeing Coaching Level 4, which is a postgrad diploma – because I want to improve my standing as a coach. I’ve got another ten to fifteen years of my working life left so it would be nice to work at the very top end of coaching!”

Finally, Sandy’s advice to anyone thinking of doing an OU course? “Just do it!”

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