A Career in Management

I have been involved coaching and managing teams since I was about eight years old. The first team I managed was Romania, followed by Bulgaria.

I took great interest in the teams’ tactics and how the players interacted with one another on the pitch. It was great to get this international experience at such a young age. I remember Santa Claus duly brought me a book about tactics when I was about ten. I never looked back.

It was easy enough to implement the formations and line outs onto the Subbuteo pitch. And in comparison to my later experiences with players, you didn’t really have to worry whether they understood what you were talking about or whether they could handle the nuances of the position. They were just slotted into a particular position on the green baize and told to play there.

One of the great frustrations was the lack of replays: brilliant goals were fleeting moments never to be repeated. I could easily get my team to score from frees the ball crashing through or over the wall but when the ball hit the net that was it. Sadly the world would never see these moments.

Occasionally there would be problems with injury. Sometime an adult would enter the living room and clumsily stand on the pitch sending the silky midfield playmaker into smithereens and a long period of rehab. A few players had their careers ended this way. It was as bad as the cruciate ligament tear in those days.

Often some teams lacked a player or two – on my pitch although Argentina had just won the World Cup they weren’t just as good. The reach of the ruling Junta didn’t extend to the Living Room stadium.

My strongest team was Uruguay, with a number 8 called Santelli. In the real world he was just another fairly anonymous attacking midfielder. But I was able to get the best out of him and I played him in a sort of attacking inside left role. He was a real handful and led my Uruguay team to numerous successes. It was a great example of man management.

My sister got me Peru for Christmas – for some reason she took a shine to them and their white strip with the red sash after the Argentina World Cup. They were good but lacked that little something extra.

I hunted down other teams. I had a grá for teams from behind the Iron Curtain but the manufacturers didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm. Maybe it was the cold war. I managed to get East Germany, in the real world they were for nothing but I turned them into world beaters. Using the tiny numbers and a few extra players I’d sourced I was able to make up a few tournament-sized squads and I tried to make sure everyone got a run out in a fashion the exponents of positive coaching would endorse wholeheartedly.

I searched for Haiti and Zaire but could never find them – I always fancied a shot at managing either team, I reckoned I could get the best out of them with a bit of organisation and tactical nous.

The players got loads of games. I organised a series of international tournaments. Some were run on a worldwide basis, others within Europe or South America. I recorded the scorers and the group stages meticulously. There was no danger of anyone querying a result.
I remember one particular momentous family occasion when my brother was involved in a heated discussion with my parents, my role was to keep the players focused on their match.

A few times using spare rods that formed part of the pitch side fencing we erected Gaelic posts and were able to run off an All Ireland series of sorts. My players weren’t happy with the unfamiliar rules and it died a bit of a death.

Picking teams. Formations. Tactics. How to counteract particular players. Dealing with success. And failure. It was great preparation.
I watch on now as my own sons play Football on their wii. They pick their own teams and set their stall out. They haven’t yet learned to park the bus. They are too focused on all out attack but they’ll learn.

The other day, I picked up a sheet of paper and saw that Leo had made out a rudimentary tournament. It brought a smile to my face.
I am proud to have managed players over a number of years with varying degrees of success and failure.

Perhaps in their own time, the boys will too.

The Parent Crap. And Sport.

One of the problems in coaching is that no one prepares you for problem parents. They are a curse. Opinionated. Especially if they bring a small degree of their professional expertise into any debate. “Well I am a social worker.” Indeed.

Man at work. The communication chord.

Being a parent myself I can see the trap in watching my own children develop. Once when my daughter went to dancing I watched, increasingly irate, as the teacher put a group of four year olds through a stretching routine that was inappropriate and then separated them according to who had dancing shoes and who didn’t.

Cáit being without dancing shoes became distraught, and being annoyed at seeing her upset, I had a sudden burst of Dance Teacher Rage. It was unbecoming of me but it certainly alarmed the teacher. Although we laughed about it at home it educated me as to what I was capable of. It wasn’t pretty.

It is a typical occurrence, some parents can’t help it. Because our children move through life formed and driven by our DNA they also carry with them our insecurities, paranoia and psychoses.

When they demonstrate characteristics that are not obviously inherited by either parent we gaze at them and wonder ‘where did that come from’. For me the biggest problem with children is that too many parents project their own life failures onto them and try to relive their life through their children in the hope of success. Redemption? To fix their own fuck ups?

They agonise over their every success and failure. They bollock the child who doesn’t know any better and may already be doing their best and incapable of exceeding it.

I read recently one parent express their frustration at the communication failure of the coaches dealing with her child. It was all the coach’s fault of course. It always is. The diatribe was backed up with a load of textbook crap.

The difficulty in coaching is that if we constantly point out mistakes and errors and are critical the child becomes conditioned to expect this as the default position.

I asked a group recently to tell me what they had done well and none could answer. Therein lies the tale.


My first rule of coaching would be this. Drop your children off and then go home. Second, don’t come to any matches unless separated from the action by soundproof glass (sadly I have to come across a pitch that offers this facility). Third of all, please note both the above criteria doubly apply if you are a teacher, social worker or any sort of do-gooder profession where you think you know it all and sports coaches know damn all. Fourthly, do not coach your own children.

Parents inevitably have an inflated opinion of their son or daughter’s capability. It is compounded if they know little or nothing about the game itself. Then they patrol the sideline and they only really see one thing. Their own child.

They praise him or her when he or she scores a goal. They object when he is put in goals or she is asked to defend. All they see is the end product. John Wooden said it takes ten hands to score a basket. He’s right. No player can score without the other members of the team playing their part. Other skills need praised. Positioning, disciplined play, passing, tackling, taking frees. There’s plenty going on beyond hitting the back of the net.

Personally I want the children I am coaching to develop as rounded wee footballers or hurlers. Parents are entitled to their opinion but unless they are prepared to get involved in a meaningful way they are out of order.

For that reason I prefer not to coach my own children. I am prone to lapse into parent projector mode – I tell them what to do and get frustrated when they don’t. The alternative is let them learn on the job. Decision-making is the hardest skill to coach. Even with senior players it is difficult although arguably by that stage they are no longer able to change ways that have been set in stone for years. A coach recently shouted at my son to ‘Shut your mouth and do what you’re told.” I let it pass. That was the best thing for him. He makes his own decisions on the pitch. When it comes to scoring goals and passing I frequently come home delighted.

So what do we do with these parents other than send them home? Well educate them. Especially those that have not been involved in team play in sport. They need to learn that part of being a team is doing what is best for the team. And at underage participation is important as is learning the discipline of playing different positions. And as a parent sometimes the best thing to do is shut your mouth, watch and listen.

In the last week we had a situation where a senior player having played as a forward and been pigeon holed as a forward was tried out in defence and was a revelation. It is a failure of coaching to date that this wasn’t realised before. The smiles resulting from a decent performance were worth the trip alone. She knows who she is.

In later years the competitive instinct may receive greater emphasis. That’s not to say children aren’t competitive. They are. My nine-year-old son is possibly the most competitive person I have ever met and he has been like that since he was a toddler. He is skilful at sport and very confident in his own ability which potentially marks him out as one to watch but also means he could have to learn to live with crushing disappointment.

He says to me. What was the best thing I did today? And what’s my answer. Well. Sometimes I think I should stop everyday. And ask myself the same question. And so should you.

Tackling Drills

On 15 September @ a session up at Pairc Eoghain Rua, we ran a set of tackling channels using tackle bags. The players were told it wasn’t full contact, that the emphasis was on the runner breaking the tackle. Some chance.

After it Aileen ended up in casualty & there were a couple of other ‘injuries.’ The craic was good as evidenced by this exchange from Facebook. A number of the key culprits are revealed.

Eoghan Rua Camogie

Éilis did some wreckin with the tackle bags @ training-Aisling Carey never knew what hit her! September 16, 2010 at 12:53pm · Like ·

Adelle Archibald Aileen nearly slaughtered clare d, mauz and I on Sunday and then had the audacity to tell us to man up because she wasn’t even going full pelt .. September 16, 2010 at 12:58pm · Like

Eilis McNamee Aw look at me go, after gettin flattened by jane i had to start sticking up for myself! :PSeptember 16, 2010 at 4:35pm · Like

Jane Carey Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha p.s ive a wile sore elbow thanks to double trouble kerr n mcNamee!!September 16, 2010 at 5:46pm · Like · 2 people

Lesley Reynolds Wots the chance of you all being fit to play next week? You’re a pack o’ eejits!September 16, 2010 at 9:49pm · Like

Eilis McNamee that will teach you to mess with me and megan again 😉 btw i have a very sore everywhere.September 16, 2010 at 10:08pm · Unlike · 2 people

Joe Passmore Aileen was in casualty too after her & Maybin had that trainwreck.September 16, 2010 at 10:48pm · Like

Jane Carey Hardy har har har, clonduff ill think they hit a brick wall wen they cum up against the mighty roes!!!!September 17, 2010 at 4:17pm · Like

Eoghan Rua Camogie Not jokin’ bout Aileen by the way!!September 17, 2010 at 4:28pm · Like

Kelly Maybin Eh and why am i only findin out about this now!! How did she end up in hosp when i was on the bottom of the trainwreck lol!!??

Scoring Goals is Easy, Imagining them is the Difficult Part

Eamon O'Shea - with eight days to go to Croker, he was just what the doctor ordered.

A while back I went to a coaching course organised by the hurling wing of Ulster GAA.

It was held at Dunloy’s excellent new indoor facility with a few of the sessions scheduled for outdoors.

The sessions were delivered by some of the usual suspects. Some very technical stuff on conditioning and matches by Micky McCullagh related physical prowess to the practicalities of hurling. Ronan McWilliams spent a good while explaining the intricacies of what we call the circle drill, which we have been using as a high intensity warm up for a season or more.

Then, Eamon O’ Shea took over. A few times in my coaching career a light has been switched on. Once when I went to listen to Johnny McIntosh talking about shooting; then the first time I actually listened to Paudie Butler. One night in Cookstown Gregory O’Kane unwittingly told me all I needed to know about keeping a session positive. A meeting with Paddy Tally led me to tear up what I did and start again. O’Shea had a similar effect.

Not a cone in sight. That immediately threw me; I like my cones to focus players’ spatial awareness – to mark like we used to with jumpers the areas in which I want them to operate. But Eamon’s opening line caught my attention immediately. “I see the pitch as one big space and I immediately think how am I going to use it.” This sounded good to me.

On physicality “Express yourself, some do it with this [held up the sliotar] some with this [jabbed someone with the hurl]. Don’t go looking for Jackie Tyrrell, if Jackie wants you he’ll know where to find you”

OK, you got me now Eamon. Next he had us imagining hitting the ball, an imaginary ball you see. Then, he had players actually hitting the ball. Have the youngsters imagine hitting the ball he said, don’t overcomplicate things. Yep, that’s a good one too.

Then he just set up a simple drill that replicated Lar Corbett’s goal in the All Ireland Final. Brilliant. Simple. To make it worse, he then he showed us Lar’s second goal. Both worked moves, made on the training paddock. By players that knew how each other thought and where they ran.

Outdoors the coup de resistance, he ran a series of running plays without the ball. The players still hurling mind you, just there was no sliotar. Twas brilliant, brilliant craic.

Just what I needed with a trip to Croke Park for the Final a week later. I had left our training that morning in a black, black mood to rush over. Severely pissed off with what I wrongly perceived as pre match negativity in some quarters. It was my own concerns and my own self-doubt that were troubling me in truth and I was feeling the pressure that day. Eamon O’Shea was just what the doctor ordered.

He lifted my spirits, opened my mind and gave me a raft of new ideas for training the following week. I just wished I had an extra week to reshape what Iwas doing a bit but whatever. The next day we were on our orientation trip to Croker to look around and soak it all up before the following week’s match.

I talked to the players about Lar Corbett, and O’Shea talking to the players about scoring goals. Putting themselves in that place. About them imagining scoring and celebrating.

And what happened in Croker the next week? Grace McMullan scored a hat-trick. And we won. Grace is well capable of that, cometh the hour, cometh the woman.She told me afterwards had mentally prepared herself for scoring goals. Well, if you can dream it you can do it as our Méabh says.

I emailed Eamon a bit randomly to sorta thank him, and his reply? “Scoring goals is the easy part, imagining them is more difficult.”

I had spent the weeks ahead of the game imagining Méabh lifting the Agnes O’Farrelly Cup on the steps of the Hogan. Listening to yer man helped that dream come true. Yep, if you can dream it, you can do it.

Postscript: Last night at training, I asked a group of under 8 hurlers to strike an imaginary ball. “We’re hitting this one over the bar to win the game I told them, can you do it?” Every one of them nailed it, myself in the middle like an eejit hurling my own imaginary ball over the bar, hitting the winner. Twas the best craic we had all night. And that, taught me another lesson.