Student Sporting Insight #11 – James Berry

In episode #11 of the Student Sport Insights, we spoke with football player James Berry, a recent graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports and Business Studies from the University of Stirling.

During the 2022-23 season, midfielder James led his university team as captain in eight competitions, playing a total of 73 games. As top scorer with 23 goals and also providing 13 assists, he lifted three trophies in his final season at Stirling including the BUCS Premier North Division, the Queen’s Park Shield, and the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup. His university team also enjoyed a historic run in the Scottish Cup, becoming the first student side to reach the last 32 of the competition in 50 years.

After an incredibly successful period with the university’s team, James has continued his promising football career by signing a two year contract with Scottish League Two side, Stenhousemuir, and has secured a role as a Business Development Graduate at Queens Cross Workspace.

James offers a compelling insight into the life of a sport scholar at the University of Stirling, Scotland, including some memorable moments, what a typical week looks like as a university football player, and invaluable advice for aspiring student-athletes who dream of playing football while pursuing their academic goals.

Student Profile

Name: James Berry

Nationality: Scottish

Institution: University of Stirling

Degree: BA Sports and Business Studies

What factors influenced your decision to choose the University of Stirling over other universities when considering your academic and athletic aspirations?

If I’m being completely honest it was initially my mum who suggested that I should apply to university. I was in my third year of full-time football after leaving school and it wasn’t going as well as I had hoped so I had reached a point where I had to plan for my future. It was then I spoke with my family and decided to apply to a few universities but after doing some more research into the football scholarship programme at the University of Stirling and what it had to offer, it was an easy decision for myself.

Despite football being my priority, I knew that joining the programme meant that I would have to transition back into full-time education. Although this could’ve been difficult, the range of courses available at Stirling eased this process and I eventually decided to opt for a combined Sports and Business studies degree.”

Reflecting on your four years of playing football for the University of Stirling, could you share a specific memorable moment or accomplishment that you are most proud of and why?

It sounds like an easy answer but honestly I think I’ve been particularly lucky with the teams I’ve played in during my time at the University of Stirling as we’ve achieved so much over the last four years. From winning three consecutive BUCS Premier North Division titles to captaining the team to three trophies in my final year there’s been so many incredible memories. If I had to pick one it would definitely have to be our Scottish Cup run last season.

Being the first Scottish student team to reach the fourth round in over 50 years speaks volumes about the magnitude of those run of games but the way we achieved it was special, the scenes after that extra time winner against Albion Rovers is something I’ll never forget. Then to top it all off, leading the team out that day against Dundee United in front of so many fans as well as my friends and family was such an incredible experience.”

To provide a deeper understanding of the demanding schedule student-athletes face, could you give us an example of a typical week during the competitive season at the University of Stirling? How did you manage your time effectively to balance both sports and academics?

So a typical week during semester time is pretty busy to say the least! Pitch sessions take place Mondays 8am to 10am (can be absolutely freezing in winter), Tuesdays 2pm-4pm, and Thursdays 7pm-9pm. As well as this we complete two S&C sessions each week, one Monday after training and one Thursday before training.

Then of course there’s games, which we had 73 of last season. Mostly these are every Wednesday and Saturday however there were a few occasions during my time at Stirling we played 3 games a week and in fact twice we had to split up our squad and play two games in one day! Combining this with the academic side of things is definitely not easy but you do get used to it and quickly learn how to manage your time effectively.”

Above: PLZ Soccer reporter, Adam Binnie spent a day in the life of James Berry to find out what life was like as a student-athlete.

As a sport scholar at the University of Stirling, what specific support mechanisms or resources did they provide to assist you in maintaining a healthy balance between your sporting commitments and academic workload? How did these support systems contribute to your success as a student-athlete?

As I mentioned allocating enough time to both academic and sporting commitments can be challenging, especially during the demanding periods of semester. To help with this the scholarship programme offers academic flexibility, in terms of deadlines and attendance under certain circumstances, and our manager Chris would also encourage us to prioritise our studies and would be flexible with training whenever you had assignments or exams to complete.

Combining this with speaking to older members of the squad who were always willing to help and offer advice allowed me to quickly grasp the best way to manage such a busy schedule. I feel like learning how to cope with such high demands early on in my university career was important as it set me up for what was to come in my final years, particularly the challenges presented by writing a dissertation in amongst so many commitments.”

In what ways do you believe your experience at the University of Stirling has prepared you for the challenges and opportunities of competing at the next level, particularly with Stenhousemuir?

Well in terms of football I’ve played a whole load of games over my four years at Stirling so the experience I have gained from that has been invaluable. Without a doubt there’s aspects of my game I have massively improved from working with Chris that I will take with me into next season and beyond.

I went from scoring one goal in my first season, to being top scorer with 23 goals in my last so that says something in itself! More importantly, I would also say that I’ve matured and grown as an individual and on top of improving my ability on the pitch, I definitely leave the University of Stirling a better person off the pitch.”

For aspiring student-athletes who are considering applying to a UK university, what advice would you offer them when searching for the best university to pursue their sporting ambitions alongside their education?

Firstly, if your priority is sport and you come from a full-time/professional academy background like I did, don’t underestimate the quality and professionalism of university sport. I was guilty of this at first like a lot of others are and you will quickly learn that it is a lot stronger than you imagine.

Other than that I would just say to choose somewhere that you feel comfortable especially if you’re moving away from home, it’s a big stage in life so it’s important you make it as easy as possible so that you can fully focus your sporting and academic commitments.”

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