Guyra polocrosse player Sam Finlayson is one of 14 athletes who have been included in the inaugural University of New England Sports Academy.
Finlayson has played polocrosse at state and national level and is eager to continue rising up the ranks in the sport.
He heads to UNE to study International Languages and Business this year and is excited by the prospect of combining his education with his passion.
“I was a part of the lonestar scholarship program of NIAS in 2015,” he said.
“When I heard that I could do a similar thing at Sport UNE but with more one-on-one training and monitoring focusing in my particular sport I was excited to see how far I could actually go in representative polocrosse.
“I hope to be able to push through the threshold I have currently reached and excel with the assistance of the staff at SportUNE.”
The new initiative follows on from the success the university has had in allowing athletes to access tertiary education while pursuing their sporting endeavours.
The Academy will continue the tradition in developing athletes both on and off the field.
Director of UNE Life, David Schmude, said the university had been aiming to establish an Academy for a long time.
“So many athletes want to combine their sport with flexibility around their education and one of the things UNE does well is offer that flexibility,” he said.
“The students come to UNE to get an education but they also now, in today's world, have aspirations to take their sport to a higher level and that really hasn't changed for many years.”
Former Sydney Swans strength and conditioning coach Matt Pine will work with the Academy athletes during their university careers. The university will also provide academic support for the athletes.
“Those sort of students who can come through and we will support them through strength and conditioning and off-field leadership development and combine that with their sporting stuff,” Schmude said.
“There are so many skills you develop on the sporting field that are transferable to life and work - teamwork, communication skills, conflict management -all those skills are really important.
“The Academy will also teach some great soft skills, those sort of things that you may not learn within a classroom.”
Former UNE student and Australian cricketer Erin Osborne was on hand for the launch and praised the university’s efforts for helping her complete a Bachelor of Clinical Exercise Physiology.
“It was fantastic to have Erin there, Australian cricketer, past UNE student and Tamworth girl from the region and she has achieved a huge amount,” Schmude said.
“For her to speak so highly of UNE and her life of cricket was quite inspiring for our students and we had quite a large contingent of staff there who listened to that and feel very proud about it.”
The 14 athletes who were chosen from around 40 applicants come from a variety of sporting backgrounds
“We have Sam Finlayson from polocrosse, we have a professional waterskiier,” Schmude said.
“All these people aren't your mainstream sports, it is about the student, about the athlete and that is what we want to develop. We have partnerships with all sorts of sports, we are big on rugby, big on soccer on campus, netball within the region, but to be able to develop some of those individual athletes a little bit further is where they are really excited.”