Graduate Lauren aims high with BT Sport football programme

Loughborough University London graduate Lauren Heria (Sport Business and Innovation 2021) was selected to take part in BT Sport’s Ultimate Goal programme which first aired in November.

Ultimate Goal takes 16 aspiring female footballers and takes them through a rigorous training camp with the goal of becoming players in the Women’s Super League (WSL). The series is co-produced by BT Sport and Insight TV with the format designed to try to uncover untapped talent in women’s football. The experience culminates in n 11-a-side match against top class opposition in front of dozens of scouts from all over the world representing top clubs including Lyon, Barcelona, Chelsea, and Arsenal.

We caught up with Lauren after her experience:

Q: How did you find the experience?

This is the second season of Ultimate Goal. I saw the first season on BT Sport and I thought it was something unique and important in the women’s game. Coverage of women’s football is still difficult to access so I was really pleased to see BT Sport shining a light on female footballers chasing their dreams of becoming professional. I also truly believe there is so much undiscovered talent in women’s football, due to underdeveloped scouting networks, so the opportunity to put myself in front of scouts and test myself against some of the best talent from across the world was something I wanted to be a part of. So, when applications opened for the second series, I got my application in and was lucky enough to be selected from the hundreds of applicants.

Q: What did you enjoy about the experience and what did you find most challenging?

The experience was very intense for me as an athlete and a person. We lived away from home in a house of 26 female footballers during week one, and 16 female footballers in week two. We were constantly surrounded by cameras. We were learning from the biggest names in the game such as Vivianne Miedema, Lucy Bronze, and Joe Cole. We were also very much aware we were competing against each other to remain on the show and receive a spot in the Final 16 squad.

Thankfully I made the Final 16 and this meant I got to train and play at St Georges Park, the home of the England teams. A highlight of the experience for me was seeing the St Georges Park facilities for the first time, it felt worlds away from anywhere I had ever played before. It is the peak of high performance and a place I had seen on TV a lot of times in the build up to World Cups or the Euros. So, to be there as footballer, training and competing for a week is an experience I really valued and learnt a lot from.

‌‌Lauren and her BT Sport Ultimate Goal teammates.

Lauren and her BT Sport Ultimate Goal teammates

Q: What did you take away from the programme?

From the experience I gained a wealth of on-field knowledge from pro footballers that has benefitted me incredibly as a player. To be coached on small details of technique by one of the best female strikers in the world, Vivianne Miedema, is something most players will never experience. Getting first-hand knowledge from the pros has certainly given me an edge on the players in my league.

All the lessons learned from the pros, coaches, and my teammates have supported me in progressing up the football pyramid. Since the show I have signed for National League Premier (Tier 3) side London Bees, and I am a Vice-Captain for the squad.

Beyond the football the programme allowed me to get first-hand experience of TV production and working with talent. It also gave me the opportunity to broaden my network in this area. The opportunity to build a relationship with contacts from across football and production, combined with Loughborough University London’s location in Here East next door to BT Sport, has meant I have been able to utilise this network well to support me with the next steps in my non-playing career.

Q: How has your course benefitted you in both the programme and your career?

Like most female footballers, I am pursuing a dual career, and my Sport Business and Innovation MSc has been critical in me achieving this. The course has allowed me to gain knowledge and a network in the sport industry that I can use as the foundation for my business.

Whilst studying, the academic and professional services staff have always been supportive of my football career and have helped me to manage this alongside studying. Overall, the experience of studying, playing football, and completing the Ultimate Goal Academy has been brilliant, and each element of my life has contributed positively to another.

I am really pleased to be leaving Loughborough University London with a distinction in MSc Sport Business and Innovation, a progressing football career, and a business I am passionate about. Bring on 2022!

Q: Where do you see yourself in the near future?

I am currently playing semi-professional football here in England, however, I still aim to progress to a full-time professional contract either here or abroad. I would love the opportunity to travel and experience different styles of football and cultures. Continuing to develop as a player will allow me to achieve this, and I am dedicated to my training.

As a female footballer I am very inspired by the commercial growth of the game, and I want to help develop women’s football further. I feel by combining my expertise gained as a player and football influencer with the academic knowledge and business experience gained through studying MSc Sport Business and Innovation at Loughborough, I have a unique knowledge and skillset that can help companies engage with the female football sector. Therefore, with the help of the Loughborough University London Future Space and LU Inc., I am currently in the process of launching a women’s football consultancy called Equal Kicks. The profits gained through the company will be re-invested into positive initiatives in the women’s game.

Ultimate Goal series two premiered on BT Sport 3 on Tuesday 2 November, with episodes airing across five consecutive weeks on Tuesdays on BT Sport. All six episodes from series two are available to watch via the BT Sport App.