Footballer Avril Johnstone

Young leaders

Avril Johnstone on her research and finding balance through sport

Avril Johnstone, 25, is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde who is researching active play as a way of increasing children’s physical activity levels.

She began her career in sport through a placement with Active Schools and then moved on to work with East Ayrshire Council when she was 16. Avril coached as well as helped children and adults get more active by sharing her knowledge on sport, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

She now works part time at the Agile social enterprise as a programme executive, providing support to a variety of organisations aiming to enable people to become more active, more often.

Which sports do you take part in and how did you get involved?

I come from a family that loves watching sport but doesn’t really do sport. I first got involved in it as soon as I learned to
walk – I kicked a football from an early age and it all began from there.

I played football competitively growing up but walked away from sport when I was 17 after an injury. I am now back playing after about seven years.

I play for United Glasgow. It’s an amazing charity team, focused on inclusive football and anti-discrimination.

I did my research on local women’s football teams before going back and I found the guiding principles of this team really resonated with me. It’s a fantastic club where I have met so many great people but also competitive – we want to win.

How are the skills you've picked up working in sport useful to your academic career?

I’m lucky to have the ability to put on different hats and look at issues from different perspectives. I’ve been a coach, a participant and I also know the academic side of it all.

It was always important to me as a researcher that my studies are applicable and valid for the industry. The skill I picked up working in a sports environment was communicating with different audiences, learning how to put across a message that people of various backgrounds can understand. That has been key to my academic research.

There is so much that I can attribute to volunteering and early work experience – most importantly I developed a passion for sport and it very much relates to my studies and it’s a great feeling to have that passion.

What do you want your research to achieve?

In terms of the output I have, I would like to make people understand that getting children active from a young age is important and change the focus to developing positive relationship with physical activity.

I tried to make my PhD very collaborative and I worked with a lot of organisations to make sure that my research is relevant to the industry. You probably can’t change the world with the research I’ve done but taking a small step towards it would make me very happy.

What are your future plans?

We live in a society where young people are not active enough. Trying to change that and get them to be more active is something I would like to do.

In the short term I’d like to continue my research but in the long term I’d like to have a bit more influence. I would still collaborate with universities, but I want to be able to spread that awareness that we need to have a more active society through participating in more sport and physical activity.

Having so much on your plate, how do you balance it all?

I learned that you need to have some balance in your life. I try to not stress and not to worry. Remember, some things can wait and sometimes you need to take a day off. You end up being more efficient once the balance is there. Try new things if the current approach doesn’t work for you. I’m also a very well organised person, which helps a lot.

The bottom line is the world keeps turning anyway and you just have to get on with that task at hand.

How do you think young people can make a difference to sport in Scotland?

I think young people are massively important to sport development, in particular to get people active. If you want to have a certain group engaged in sport or activity you need to have those people talking about that, making decisions and being part of the discussion, so the conversation is not one-sided.

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