Jan. 16, 2023

Nick Holt begins term as dean of Faculty of Kinesiology

'Fateful swerves' along professional path lead new dean to Calgary
Dr. Nick Holt, Phd, dean, Faculty of Kinesiology
Nick Holt is new dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology. Courtesy Nick Holt

Growing up in Wales, the little goalkeeper harboured no grand plans.

Good enough to play for youth side in the nearby city of Wrexham, he wasn't dreaming about any potential livelihood, in soccer or otherwise, at that point.

"I had no idea," recalls Dr. Nick Holt, PhD. "I knew my future lay outside the village. I loved sport and thought it would be amazing to work in sport — but I didn't really know what that meant, because the only job in sport I knew was being an athlete."

Thankfully, Holt — en route to the position of dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary — encountered some fateful swerves along his professional path.

The first was while spending a summer coaching soccer in the United States. There, as a teenager, he met people who were studying sport science. "I didn't even know that was a thing," Holt says. "So I went back home and talked to my phys-ed teacher. He made a phone call for me."

The reference led to his entry into "a top, top school in Britain" — Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England.

"That's when things changed."

Having discovered his calling — earning a BSc in geography and sport science, then a MSc in exercise and sport psychology at the University of Exeter — Holt chose to pursue his doctorate at the University of Alberta.

Asked how he ended up in Edmonton, he laughs. "Chance. Pure luck."

Explaining, he recalls that while at Exeter, he had been applying to only American schools. But a visiting professor from Canada urged him to reconsider.

So Holt wrote a letter to the University of Alberta, inadvertently addressing it to the wrong person. "But he passed it on to someone else rather than putting it in the garbage." And Holt was offered a spot in the program.

Despite knowing "nothing about Canada, nothing about Edmonton," he packed his bags in 1998 and headed overseas. "Why not?"

It proved to be a life-defining chapter.

While working on his PhD, Holt played goal for the Golden Bears — twice backstopping them to the U Sports gold-medal match — and ended up meeting his future wife, Carole, who was a member of the Pandas soccer team.

He also carved out his research niche — positive youth development in sport.

Doctorate in hand, Holt landed a job in Leeds, England, but he was missing Canada. He returned to the University of Alberta in 2004, working as a professor, raising a family, coaching soccer, running ultramarathons, constructing a remarkable portfolio.

Now he's bringing that considerable expertise and experience to UCalgary, where, on Jan. 1, he opened a five-year term as dean.

"I'm really looking forward to it," says Holt, 49. "The University of Calgary is on an upwards trajectory, no question. The faculty is world-class already and it has potential to grow. I really like the diversity ... you've got the Olympic Oval, you've got (Dinos) Athletics, you've got Active Living. What is unique is the breadth of things. The Outdoor Centre. The Sport Medicine Centre.

"The whole range of things in this faculty definitely appealed to me."

After his hiring came news of Joan Snyder's legacy gift — $67.5 million to UCalgary, including $30 million to the Joan Snyder Fund for Excellence in Kinesiology. He calls a donation of that magnitude a game-changer.

"It's still difficult to get my head around. It's transformational."

Goals for the department remain lofty. "I'm encouraging everyone to be ambitious, to think big, with clear strategic objectives we want to achieve," says Holt, who, in 2017, was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists.

"How do we create an environment where we can be the leading place to do research, the best place for students to come, with incredible connections with community?

"There's no doubt we want to enhance our status as the leading faculty in Canada and be one of the very best in the world."

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.