Sport Northern Ireland has named Belfast-based athletics coach Matt Shields, Community Coach of the Year as part of its 2017 Coaching, Officiating and Volunteering Awards.

Matt, lead coach at North Belfast Harriers, was presented with the award for his volunteer work, which has seen him dedicate a significant amount of his time and skills to provide opportunities for people within the local community to become physically active and take part in recreational running programs.

Matt is a UK Athletics Qualified Endurance Coach and five years ago, he brought parkrun to Belfast at the Waterworks Park in North Belfast. He is now the Director of Parkrun Ireland and has been instrumental in establishing the 17 park runs across Northern Ireland. Matt has also been heavily involved in the Jog Belfast Couch to 5k programmes which is open to all people of all backgrounds and abilities.

Matt is currently based at North Belfast Harriers Club but his work extends across the entire city of Belfast ensuring access to athletics has widened to the entire community. In particular, he focuses on engaging with underrepresented groups such as women and girls aged 16-24, people who have been referred with a health condition and also people from areas of a high social need.

The Community Coach of the Year award is awarded to outstanding coaches who have made widened access to sport through excellent and innovative practice, particularly among groups with traditionally low participation in sport. It was presented to Matt at a club training session on Monday (23rd October) by David Smyth, Coaching Consultant at Sport Northern Ireland.

Congratulating Matt on his award, Sport NI Chair George Lucas said:

“Matt has demonstrated tremendous commitment to his local community and leadership in introducing new opportunities for people to get active. Through his efforts, he is helping to engage young people in athletics in a way that is accessible and tailored to them. The phenomenal success of Park Run and Jog Belfast Couch to 5K programme demonstrate the success of his work. Sport NI knows the vital role coaches play in creating opportunities to help everyone here enjoy, engage and excel in sport, regardless of experience or ability. The Sport NI Coaching, Officiating and Volunteering awards are about celebrating the outstanding coaching talent and spirit that exists in Northern Ireland. Matt is a clear example of this, and on behalf of Sport NI I congratulate him on his award, and wish him continued coaching success in the future.”

Pictured is Matt Shields and participants from North Belfast Harriers Club with David Smyth, Sport NI.