BACK in 2009 I sat in a small PE office in my former school St Columban’s, Kilkeel along with my PE colleague Cathy Mulholland as we planned a fundraiser.
I made the suggestion of having a coach education event. I had been to one in Croke Park the previous year and found the observational pitch sessions absolutely priceless for ideas and learning and I thought we could offer something similar ourselves.
So off I went in pursuit of some coaches to present on the day. The first phone call was never going to be anyone other than the late, great John Morrison, an inspiration for me in all things coaching. John was delivered a session on a games based approach to training.
The PR started simply through local newspapers and text messages, I’m not even sure that we had Whatsapp back then. Social media wasn’t massive but we had Facebook and I emailed all the local club secretaries.
We had a two short pitch sessions and finished the day with a Q and A and a cup of tea in a large classroom that Cathy taught careers from, and we had just over 50 coaches in attendance.
From those humble beginnings in Mourne we grew in numbers attending every year. The likes of John Morrison, Barney McAleenan, Aidan O’Rourke, Gearoid Adams, Jim McCorry, Lorcan Martin, Peter Donnelly, Conor Laverty, James McCartan, Shane Mulholland, Paul McIver, Anthony McGrath, Mark Poland, Ambrose Rodgers, Brendan McVeigh, Ben Doyle, Turlough O’Brien and myself have all contributed to the practical and indoor sessions over the years.
The numbers attending gradually increased from 50 to 70 to 90 to over 100. We had record numbers last year of 240 making it the largest coach education event in the province.
The impact of Twitter, the coverage from the Gaelic Life and the ever-increasing reputation of the day made this year’s day in St Joseph’s, Newry the best and biggest one yet with a remarkable attendance of over 350 coaches. It was absolutely humbling and filled me with such pride to host one of the largest events in Ireland.
The venue this year was my new place of employment and in my home town, St Joseph’s Newry. The line-up was absolutely stellar, national and international quality, with Bernard Jackman’s opening key-note speech proving spine-tingling. He talked about his own playing and coaching journey, the experiences he gained, the contacts he made.
The Alex Ferguson story about Govan in Glasgow and the three men building a wall, all related to the word legacy, was excellent. He mentioned resilience quite a bit, gave real life examples, spoke about how to become a better and stronger leader and about how to create an environment in which all your players can thrive in.
The two follow up pitch sessions were equally invaluable in their own right. The Down minor footballers were the demonstrators on the day. The first session by Monaghan senior coach and Kilcoo player Conor Laverty themed ‘Launching Attacks’ was top class.
Conor’s games were excellent in challenging players, creating situations that made players think and explore and coupled with his invaluable coaching points. I personally took an awful lot from it.
Conor’s session was followed by Meath coach and coach educator Colm Nally. Colm is well known as someone in the GAA circles who shares his brilliant ideas so openly on social media and beyond and in a GAA environment of cover your homework type policy this is fully refreshing.
Colm’s session was geared around skill development and maximising ball contact, some of the ideas and little golden coaching points were absolutely priceless for those in attendance. Our final contribution on the day was from sports and exercise psychologist, Máire T who presented a brilliant interactive presentation on ‘The Line you can’t cross’, all geared around managing emotions along the sideline.
There was some invaluable advice and guidance on the perils of not controlling your emotions. Her story of one particular manager who use to call his sideline rage after one of his ex girlfriends Donna got a huge laugh and actually started a hashtag on twitter that evening, #Donna.
It is truly remarkable how my coach education event has grown over the last 11 years, and further proof of the thirst and hunger coaches have for learning.
When you see managers and coaches in the attendance of the calibre of Jim McCorry, Malachy O’Rourke, Lenny Harbinson, to name a few, it shows no one is ever finished learning and growing as a coach. On the front cover of the hand-out of drill I included a quote from one of my favourite coaches of all time, the great John Wooden. “It is what you learn after you know it all that counts!” So true, #AlwaysLearning.