The Day I Found My Coaching Marbles

A few years ago I attended a job interview at Setanta College under two of the best known names in Irish and international Strengthand Conditioning, Liam Hennessey, and Des Ryan. The interview, which I had been looking forward to, was unlike any other that I had attended in the past. For over two hours, I was put through the mill by Liam and Des, discussing nutrition, Olympic Weightlifting, fundamental movement skills, and anatomy, among other topics. Trying to remember anatomical landmarks was quite the challenge under the conditions, , and I certainly came away knowing that it was somethingI had to brush up on, but that was not the main takeaway of the day. When the discussion moved on to the topic of coaching, I thought I was cruising along quite well, until Liam popped the question that stopped me in my tracks, and arguably initiated the biggest leap forward in my professional development to date. I have thought about this question every single week since that day in history around three years ago, revisiting the answer often, and asking myself the question as I am driving or sitting on a bus, just to make sure I can still answer it in an instant the next time somebody should ask it.  If you are a coach It is a question that you should know the answer to, and should be able to rhymeoff in your sleep.

'What is your coaching philosophy?'

During the interview, I asked for the question to be repeated in an effort to buy myself some time, but in reality, I now know that the very fact that I had to try and buy time on this question meant that I had a major gap in my approach. Sure, I had good coaching experience, I walk the walk when it comes to training, I was ambitious, and I was continuing my professional development at every opportunity, but I came I came away knowing that without a solid coaching philosophy, something big was amiss. I got something out for the purpose of answering the interview question, but inside, it wasn’t enough for me. I came away thinking 'How can I help others, if I don’t even know myself?'

In the days after that interview, I mentally debriefed, and discussed with my great friend, Munster Rugby Coach, and housemate at the time, Joe McGinley. Off all the questions, the one that stood out the most for me was 'What is your coaching philosophy?'. I took myself off to a quiet place many times after that in an effort to formulate my answer. It is always a wok in progress, and I want to share it with you today.

My Coaching Philosophy

"Coach by building partnerships, with an overriding focus on quality of movement, a clear sense of purpose, trust, and enjoyment."

To me, building a partnership with the people that I coach is a key component of both cooperation, and encouraging leadership among those that I coach. I don’t want to give my clients/ students/ athletes a fish. I want to teach them how to fish. Quality of movement is a cornerstone of any programthat I put together. Whether I am programming for an Olympic hopeful, or somebody who wants to lose 20kg of bodyweight. Building with quality is a more sustainable, rewarding, and professional way of doing business that thrashing around with little aim or attention to detail. With a clear sense of purpose built on the foundation of solid goals, motivation to improve is taken care of, and the more we achieve together the more trust is developed, and the greater the next achievement will be. Having fun and enjoying the process is the pillar that keeps the whole house standing, and is what makes the effort sustainable and worthwhile.

Building a coaching philosophy is not something you should do off the top of your head if you want it to be meaningful and useful in guiding how you conduct your work. It took me quite a bit of thinking, rethinking, and brainstorming to come up with mine, and although I am happy with it, I am always keeping an open mind as to how it could evolve over time. My coaching philosophy is not your coaching philosophy, and yours is not mine. There is no real right or wrong answer, and your coaching philosophy might be totally different to mine, but just as valid. To me, it is a personal thing that reflects what I hold dearest when it comes to coaching, and how I want to be perceived both professionally and personally. If you are a coach, I think you should start asking the real questions and start to formulate a coaching philosophy that your are proud of. Asking yourself the following questions might be a good start;

  1. What made you want to be a coach?
  2. What do you enjoy most about coaching?
  3. Why do you think people seek you out as a coach?
  4. What are the most important aspects of coaching to you?
  5. What are the main things you consider when programming for a client/ student/ athlete?
  6. What sets you apart as a coach?
  7. What words would you like people to associate with you as a coach?

To Liam, and Des, and Joe Gorey who was also on the interview panel that day, I say 'go raibh maith agaibh'. To all you coaches out there, I say get on this right now if you are serious about building a fulfilling, successful, and sustainable career. As Socrates said 'Know Thyself'.

This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.