During the final weeks of the Portobello school year, Colm Murphy is frenetically keeping track of his students and handing out grades. It’s an incredibly busy time of year after which anyone would want to take a long break.
But Colm doesn’t go and sit on a beach somewhere. Instead, he dives straight into summer camps for the children at his local tennis club.
“The youngest ones are five. It’s mostly aimed at primary schools so a few of them are 11 and 12. We split them into smaller groups within that but the smallest ones are really small. They’re very funny.”
You can sense the delight from Colm as he talks through the fun of coaching kids.
Even on this unseasonably stormy summer day where the sessions were disrupted more than once, you can sense his enthusiasm and passion. The energy he radiates personifies that delight that only comes from someone who is fully enjoying his day-to-day activities.
Colm had always wanted to be a PE teacher and a coach of some kind. There’s no doubt that he’s living out his dream but that alone isn’t enough to explain him being so content with life.
That kind of happiness comes from someone who has endured a winding and often disrupted journey to where he wanted to be.
“In school it was all about the sport and not about the study. I came to study very late in the day. At the time the only thing I wanted was to become a PE teacher but the academic requirements for that were way out of my reach.
I certainly didn’t regard myself as any kind of student or certainly not an academic. I was enjoying sport far too much to actually apply myself to my studies.”
Needing to get a proper job, Colm forewent college and went to work straight away.
Instead of PE and coaching, he spent his days in a bank. After working his way up through entry level jobs to land in the finance department, Colm was pushed towards doing accountancy exams. A proper job.
“I was trying to basically hammer a square peg into a round hole. It didn’t want to go…I had to stop at the certificate stage, I couldn’t force myself over the line no matter how valuable it would be. I was just completely sick of it at that point.”
Having not found his fit in the bank, Colm departed to an IT Software company. He was closer to what he wanted to be here, filling a position of leadership in quality control and project management. But it still wasn’t PE or Coaching.
While it didn’t feel like it at the time, Colm was very fortunate to be forced away from that career after a couple of years.
“The dotcom bubble burst in 2002 and the company I was with just shrank and shrank and shrank…eventually [my boss] called me into the room and said ‘I have a new list [to let go] and you’re on it.'”
There were no opportunities in the sector. That forced Colm to look elsewhere, which led him back to the tennis coaching qualification that he had earned in his youth.
“Funnily, I really started to enjoy it hugely, really quickly. And I actually got quite busy really quickly as well…this was an enforced change that I wouldn’t have chosen but it was kind of opportune as well. So what else could I do? What else would I like? What else would fit with this?”
At 35 years of age with two kids and a mortgage, Colm couldn’t go back into a 9-5 college education to become a physiotherapist. He instead found a Blended Learning course that could fit into his established life that allowed him to become a qualified physical therapist.
Despite never being a good student in his youth, Colm impressed so much on his course that the Institute of Physical Therapy and Applied Science offered him an opportunity to become a lecturer.
He carried out that role while still coaching and working as a therapist himself for more than 10 years before Portobello Institute came calling.
Colm has been demystifying the course material for Portobello students for three years now. He’s an energetic lecturer with a positive outlook that helps students to build their confidence and knowledge so they can overcome the challenges they have set for themselves.
But more than just putting on a show and celebrating their development, Colm’s journey allows him to empathise with his students on a professional and personal level. Especially the mature students.
“I find the mature students to be really interesting. I suppose it’s because my pathway has been unconventional and a lot of them are in the same boat…You look back at some crunch times in your journey and you wonder how you managed to get through it.
I often end up having that conversation or conversations like that with mature students.
You say, ‘Look there are gonna be bumps in the road here. You mightn’t know yet what they are but they’re gonna pop up and you need to be prepared for the fact they’re gonna pop up. If it does pop up, come and talk to me because chances are whether it’s me or Cathal [Brady] or Barry [Roe] we’re going to have had a similar experience.’”
When Colm was a mature student, he and his wife were both working and studying while taking care of their two children. They had a third child during those years and each of them felt the heartbreak of losing a parent.
So even though students now get to work with an incredibly enthusiastic and positive lecturer who can put on a show in the classroom, the person behind that lecturer also has all the experience to empathize and understand their needs.
- MSc Applied Sport & Exercise Psychology (Waterford IT)
- Post Grad Certificate in Third Level Teaching & Learning (DIT)
- Diploma in Physical Therapy (IPTAS)
- Tennis Ireland Development Coach (Tennis Ireland)
Research / Industry Participation
- Anatomy & Analysis Tutor for 11 years with IPTAS (Institute of Physical Therapy & Applied Science). 2006 – 2017
- Physical Therapist in private practice since 2006
- Tennis Ireland Development Coach since 1994
- Sport Performance Coach since 2015