Thank you to all my M2M sponsors

Just wanted to use this post to thank all my sponsors for this week’s Mizen to Malin cycle..  Looks like we will be blessed with great weather – wish we were out cycling this morning!

A particular thanks to all my colleagues at Hermitage Medical Clinic who held a special breakfast this morning and have been very generous in their sponsorship and encouragement.

And, as always, for anyone else out there who would like to be a sponsor: my sponsorship page

Looking forward to loading up the bike tonight, packing the sun cream and off to the sunny south west (Mizen Head) with my fellow 51 cyclists at 5.30am tomorrow.

Mizen

 

 

Charity cycle: M2M: Mizen to Malin – Wed 1st June to Sunday 5th June

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Resting in Arklow
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M2M route for 2016

So, lots of training for M2M done since that spin in the rain on Christmas morning (when I still thought 25Km was a cycle).  And then the spins to Howth, to Rathnew, to the Sally Gap, to Arklow. Just three days now until we set out on our 690km venture from bottom of Ireland to top of Ireland (Mizen Head, Co. Cork to Malin Head, Co. Donegal), over 5 days (Wednesday 1st June to Sunday 5th June).

Our route

Looking forward to visiting Mizen, Killarney, Ennistymon, Ballina, Ballybofey and Malin – and lots of places in between.  And travelling with 51 fellow cyclists.

Breast Cancer Ireland

This cycle is in aid of Breast Cancer Ireland and Kilmacud Crokes Development Fund.  We expect to raise in excess of €100,000 to be split between both: that is a minimum of €50,000 for Breast Cancer Ireland. If you have not already supported us please contribute on-line by logging in to my M2M mycharity page – all contributions gratefully received.

Hoping to post each day from the road – perhaps with some gopro snippets.

 

 

Coach in earnest

I was recently watching Daniel Barenboim play Beethoven on television and was reminded of the impact he had on me as a pianist just over 30 years ago.  I had recently completed my music exams and heard the maestro play the piano at the RDS (at considerable expense for a student).  However rather than being inspired to practice more I was left with the feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ – what he does and what I do are poles apart – and will remain poles apart.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of listening to Paudie Butler present his thoughts on coaching kids to a group of about 60 coaches in Kilmacud Crokes – my own GAA Club in Dublin.  He told a great story about the day our great poet, Seamus Heaney, finally decided to go home and be a poet (or, in Irish, a ‘file’), in earnest.

This time I listened to someone with whom I could relate – because he admitted to making so many of the mistakes I have made myself.  He spoke of the mistakes he felt he mad bringing up his own kids and how he wished what he now practiced with his grandchildren he had practiced with his children.

He laid down the challenge to each of us in the room: the privilege it is to work with children and the requirement that we coach in earnest.  He also challenged us to get our thoughts right – the importance of being positive and looking forward to each session and each interaction.  That if you do have this positive attitude you will enjoy it and everyone will benefit a great deal more.

Even more interesting for me – this time I found Barenboim less intimidating and more inspirational – I am enjoying trying some hours on the piano again. The gap has probably grown – given my lack of practice/ playing for 30 years, but my attitude and expectations are different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GAA and coaching – playing to learn

Àttended the GAA Games Development Conference at Croke Park on Saturday 11th January. Excellent conference and excellent facilities.

The Conference focused on coaching children – as against youth or adult.  And the presentations stuck with the theme and presented a number of interesting ideas from a range of different perspectives.

Paudie O’Neill and Jodie O’Connor reminded us of the different focus at different age groups:

  • Child: Play to Learn
  • Youth: Learn to compete
  • Adult: Compete to win

This is not to say that all adult sport is about ‘play to win’ – but rather to remind us that with children we need to remember: they are playing to learn (not to satisfy the appetites of adults or clubs for wins and silverware).

They reminded us of how disappointed the likes of Paudie O’Shea, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara have been when left out of teams – this is not something we should be visiting on kids who are playing to learn.  We need to avoid any potential exclusion of kids at training or on match day.  And Go Games provide us with the perfect environment to ensure everyone is equally involved.

Having had kids play in Croke Park – through the bunscoileanna competitions – I have had the great joy of watching them play.  Have also, unfortunately, seen the huge disappointment for kids, parents and grandparents when their team gets to Croke Park but the kids do not get to play. Surely we need a way to use the Go Games format to ensure all get to play on the Croke Park days?  Otherwise schools risk winning the cup and losing the child.

Made reference to a recent article by Gary Lineker about pushy parents and their net contribution from the sideline to the development of kids (when the kids are playing to learn).  They don’t get it.

For those of us who are encouraged to stream kids at an early age their advice was clear: ‘Don’t try to predict the stars’.  (Mickey Whelan was even more direct later on: there should be no hierarchy amongst players before the age of 12).

And finally, a reminder for coaches: If you want to correct something: use the sandwich model: praise, correct, praise.

Excellent presentation by Paudie O’Neill and Jodie O’Connor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is rugby making progress?

Last Sunday I was privileged to attend the Ireland New Zealand (All Blacks) rugby international at the Aviva Stadium. Fantastic match, wonderful atmosphere, great standard and Ireland were pipped at the last minute by the World Champions.  One of the best sporting events I have attended – without question. And the occasion showed the Aviva off to its best – and no one could question the ‘atmosphere’ at the stadium – it was ‘electric’.

And there have been several fantastic days with Leinster, Munster and Ulster over the last number of years.

But then this morning I read about Blackrock Rugby Club and its problems.  And these are compared and contrasted with the growth and success of Cuala GAA (and reference to my own Club Kilmacud Crokes).

I think back to my playing rugby in Belvedere College, Trinity College and Old Belvedere.  I played schools rugby and, afterwards, junior rugby with TCD and OBRFC.  Great years – and many matches against Blackrock (not against the stars – Slattery, Duggan, etc., but against fellow junior rugby players, followed by lots of craic afterwards in Stradbrook, the Pav or Anglesea Road). I have fantastic memories of junior club rugby and the friendships formed over many years.  And when I played the guys who played on the first XV (or even at representative level) were just better than me.  But generally we felt part of the same organisation, sport, club.

Now my kids play football, camogie and hurling with Kilmacud Crokes – another set of friendships for them and for me.  Lots of the same type of endeavour – coaching, fundraising, àdmin, etc. I thought rugby was thriving also – with huge numbers playing mini rugby.  But I wonder.

Cuala and Crokes are examples of two clubs bulging at the seams – with massive intake of young boys and girls each year.  They are both looking for new and upgraded facilities.  There is huge demand for mid week, flood-lit training facilities – in order to enable teams to train through late autumn, winter and early spring.  There are only so many slots available between, say, 6.30 and 9.30 – Monday to Friday.  And during the winter all-weather or weather-proof pitches are critical to managing the logistics associated with bad weather.

And the current levels of growth are spurred on by Dublin’s current levels of achievement in Men’s senior football and hurling.  Significant growth in numbers of girls playing football and camogie is also driving demand for facilities – Ladies Football being one of the great success stories of the last 10/15 years.

Rugby has all the required success stories – Ulster, Munster and Leinster.  It has the stars – Brian O’Driscoll being the outstanding one.  It has the tradition of Schools Cup rugby.  Mini rugby and tag rugby have been great successes.  So what’s the problem – or is there one?

Om first examination the Dublin football team removes Club players from the fold in much the same way that Leinster removes players from the Club scene.  In GAA circles postponement of Club Championship matches until the county players return is a constant source of debate/ argument. But there is a difference – the GAA players return, they do not have employment contracts with Dublin and at all times remain part of the club.  Presumably there must be mixed emotions in a rugby club as they lose someone to the professional game – to return when?  Nowadays much of the top talent skips the club scene – joining elite squads from schools rugby or via third level scholarships.

I have no issue with professional sport.  In rugby this is what is producing the excitement (and the standard) of the Heineken Cup etc.  But how to maintain and sustain club rugby? This does not seem to have been resolved.  When Cuala and Kilmacud look to develop new facilities – they will first look to their members and their communities to assist with fundraising – but I have no doubt that the GAA itself will support these initiatives – the GAA recognises that development in the community, at club level, player development (at all levels) is the future of the organisation.  I would expect the IRFU to be in the same position – but I wonder whether it is.  It’s not a question about the merits of paying players. Presumably professional rugby should be capable of generating much greater TV revenues – given international coverage.  But it may be a question of looking to divert greater percentages of the cake to supporting and sustaining the amateur organisation that is club rugby.

If professional rugby is to be fed by the schools then does it need club rugby?  I think this is the nub of the question.  In spite of all the words used the reality is that club rugby is effectively in competition with professional rugby.  The Clubs play a role at mini rugby level and in offering playing opportunities to players not attending rugby playing schools.  But ultimately the professional sides are happy to talent spot and recruit at schools level (or via sponsored contacts at University level).

I have great memories of playing adult sport – rugby, cricket, hockey, golf (ongoing), indoor soccer. Sport is great for kids – for any number of reasons.  But I would be very keen to see more adults continue to play after school.  If rugby or GAA finds itself struggling on this front then this needs to be addressed – we need more people playing (whatever sport they choose) for longer.

Right now I wonder whether rugby is getting it right – in terms of the balance between Schools, Club and professional sides.  As a game it offers so much – it still accommodates people of different physical attributes more effectively than many other sports.

Perhaps ultimately amateur rugby will have to establish itself as a separate organisation – with its own objectives.  We have professional and amateur golf – and it seems to work.  Rugby is a great game – perhaps amateur rugby needs to find itself and reestablish its attractiveness and its own energy.  There may be new opportunities going forward for greater cooperation between clubs and schools – on the basis that schools may only have a limited appetite for sending their pupils into professional sport.

I am delighted to see Cuala, our local GAA rivals, expanding and developing their facilities.  I would also like to see Blackrock expanding and thriving (although obviously less so than Old Belvedere, given my own allegiances!).  And more facilities for all other sports – basketball, soccess, hockey, whatever.  For amateur rugby, I hope it finds a way forward quickly.  It may have to do this with less support than anticipated from the professional game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do teams win? What do we learn from winning teams?

Just attended 6 Gaelic Football and Hurling finals over the last 10 days or so. Five of the teams I supported were successful – so an unusually high success rate! And of course we are often told we learn more from the games we lose (and mistakes we make) than from winning games. But I was thinking – what did we learn from winning these games?

Firstly – winning beats losing. There is no ‘could have, should have, would have’ chat after the game. And, in general, the things that went wrong are put to one side and the focus tends to be on what went right.

Why did five of these teams win?

The first team was well coached, had set achievable targets for itself early in the season, had sorted out its defence and had realistic expectations of its own players (and their abilities). The coaches were meticulous in their preparation – including their analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. On the day the team made a fast start and played with hunger and determination throughout the match.

The second team to win consisted of a teams of winners. They had lots of ability and had been undefeated in Championship matches for a number of  years. The opposition played well but may have lacked some vital element of self belief. The opposition started well and had opportunities to establish a decent lead – but squandered these.  The winning team started poorly but never appeared to doubt their own ability to close out the deal. And they did so comprehensively in the end.

The third team won by one point in extra time. They played a good game – against another team of approx. equal ability and drive/ hunger. Match came down to a couple of missed opportunities for one team and a couple of opportunities taken by the other team. Would not be difficult to summarise by saying ‘they got the breaks’.

The fourth team won because they had more ability, more experience and generally shut out the up and coming opposition. Their pre-match preparation was good and after a slow start for 5-10 minutes they gradually assumed control in the match.  As the match progressed they began to exploit some weaknesses in the opposition team.

The fifth team was too strong for the opposition and won out easily.  They were faster, stronger, more skillful and, in particular, had more consistently good players across the park that the opposition.  

The sixth team lost.  This team was probably expected to win – just about.  They led well at half time.  Something happened after half time – a real momentum swing.  They seemed to lose their way for 15 minutes of the second half.  Over the game they conceded three goals – and, as many say, goals win matches.  The winning team exploited the momentum swing and just about held out in the end.

So what did I learn from watching six finals?

  • Winning and losing teams learned lots about themselves and the opposition in each game
  • Individual ability of team members makes huge difference
  • Attitude is very important
  • Experience is an asset
  • Good preparation (ambition/ focus, training, tactics, knowledge of the opposition) can make a major difference
  • Luck makes a difference in tight matches
  • Understanding limitations of your own team is important in setting out to win a match
  • Winning teams believe in themselves and their ability to win – even when faced by adversity
  • In many matches the top players on either side neutralise each other – the battle often gets decided by the weaker players – the team with the stronger weaker players usually exploits this advantage to win
  • Beware of momentum swings – over the 6 games there were plenty of changes in momentum – when teams trailing were afforded the opportunity to change things around.  The challenge having survived to the momentum swing opportunity is to take it and kick on.  Really only saw this happen in the sixth final.

Interestingly no real reference to individual leadership, per se, in these match wins.  Yes – good players were required to perform – but impact of individual leadership not as great as people may expect.

Certainly analysis is applicable to lots of work and life situations – why do teams succeed/ fail? Perhaps the importance of strong weaker players is overlooked in many situations – as also is having realistic expectations of the team. Other factors such as preparation and common goals/ sense of purpose were as expected.

 

Reflecting on a week of sport (well 8 days)

Back in Croke Park today to see Clare beat Limerick in the All Ireland Hurling SemiFinal.  Today I was in the ‘neutral’ role  unsure whether supporting Clare or Limerick.  In the end Clare were comfortable winners.  Last Sunday attended Dublin Cork All Ireland Hurling Semifinal in Croke Park – Cork won by four points.  Was not neutral and was very disappointed to see Dublin beaten.  Some controversy over referee sending off of one Dublin player – although really came down to decision to award yellow card very early in the game.  Got over my bias in favour of Dublin: great game, great spectacle and Cork were just about worth their win.

Last Wednesday attended All Ireland Minor Girls’ Football FInal (actually replay) in Mullingar  – Dublin v. Galway.  With last kick of the game in 8th minute of injury time Galway scored a goal to win by two points.  Have not witnesses such devastation in a long time as that seen in the Dublin camp.  Two well matched teams.  Possibly Galway a little sharper in attack.  Dublin had come back with two very late goals in the first match  so this time it was Galway’s turn.  I am sure the Dublin management must rue the decisions to put five subs on – seemed to disrupt their play and coincided with Galway revival.

Last Friday attended Intermediate Ladies Football Dublin Championship Final in Newcastle, Co. Dublin.  What a beautiful pitch. My own Club, Kilmacud Crokes, were beaten by two points by a very experienced Thomas Davis team.  Great game of football – and right through to the final whistle there were opportunities for either team to win the game.  Another opportunity for promotion just missed by Kilmacud Crokes.

So – not a great return in terms of seeing my teams (Dublin, Dublin, Kilmacud Crokes) losing three times.  But have to say felt privileged to see so many excellent games – served up by amateur players who give so freely of their own time (as do mentors,families, coaches and friends).  I would also be confident that each of the players on those losing teams has gained hugely from the experience – being part of a committed team, achieving such high standards of play and learning from the games themselves.

 

 

 

 

Is it right to try to win?

I find myself being drawn into the debate emerging, again, re tactics employed by managers and teams to win matches. This weekend in the GAA All Ireland Football Quarterfinals Tyrone stand accused in some quarters of very cynical play – designed to ensure they won a knock out match and progressed to the semifinals.  Star player, Sean Cavanagh, was awarded ‘man of the match’, but attracted lots of criticism for committing a ‘professional foul’ when an opposition player advanced on goal.  In their previous match both he and fellow star Stephen O’Neil were involved in ‘professional fouls’ late in the game.  I believe the players did what they did in the interests of their team – in the context of winning both matches.  Their manager has been incensed – he is seeking to protect players who he believes did not do anything wrong – not particularly out of line with what goes on in knock out championship matches.  And he points to the many fouls committed against his players in both games.

During the week I attended an outstanding cricket test match in England – Third Test of the Ashes series between England and Australia. There has been plenty of controversy in this series –   batsmen knowing they were out not ‘walking’, umpiring errors, deliberate slowing down of over rates by England as they seek a draw.

In the last couple of weeks we have had another two top sprinters unveiled as drug cheats.

What does all this tell us?  What is acceptable in trying to win and what is not acceptable?  How does it leave us feeling – us the players, the coaches, the spectators, the kids starting out in their sporting careers?  And obviously the above includes both professional (cricket and athletics) and amateur (GAA football)?

This year I find myself supporting a Dublin GAA  football team that seems to possess great speed and agility in attack – and benefits from ‘open play’.  So therefore we want fast flowing, foul free, play and trust that our skills and speed will bring us home as ultimate winners. But if I were coaching a team against Dublin and did not have the same speedy assets what tactics might I employ?  Without doubt I would look to break up the game, slow down the game, negate the influence of the very fast and skillful Dublin forwards – through denying them possession, crowding my defence, man to man marking, fouling – some combination of all of these  – whatever would work to enable me to counter their advantages.

Of course since I am supporting Dublin this lets me assume the higher moral ground (this year) – as I am supporting fast flowing, open football.  But what of the outer county and the other manager – to whom is he accountable?  In the first instance – to himself.  Thereafter to his players, their supporters and all those involved in the game more generally.  Some where in the middle of this is an expectation from his county that he will maximise their opportunity of winning – and will therefore design and implement tactics likely to overcome Dublin’s range of skills.

Today we saw Mayo ‘destroy’ the Donegal team which seemed to have perfected, in the last two years, massed defence, superior fitness and fast breaking football.  Mayo were not short of men in defence when required – but played Donegal ‘off the pitch’.  Many neutrals had high praise for Mayo and will no doubt believe that the negative tactics developed by Donegal have been seen off.

One other element of sport at a high level e.g. playing in front of 70,000 paying attendees in Croke Park yesterday, is to provide entertainment – some sense of ‘value for money’.  Kevin Pietersen did this yesterday in the Ashes Test match yesterday by scoring another century for England in the aggressive style in which he bats.  Brian Lara, possibly the greatest West Indian batsman of all time, says he saw himself as an entertainer No. 1 and a batsman No. 2.  Severiano Ballesteros claimed in his final TV interviews that his popularity was based on the range of shots he played – that’s why people wanted to come to see him play. But all three were also outstandingly competitive sportsmen focused on winning matches.  And they were three of the most talented – so entertaining the audience was part of their gift.

But would any of these GAA football teams mentioned – Donegal, Tyrone, Dublin or Mayo have achieved very much in terms of winning without developing and implementing tactics which maximise their opportunity to win – by emphasising their skills and limiting the potential of their opponents to succeed?  And is there anything wrong with this?

Very easy for commentators to criticise the manager and/or the team that seem to be less creative, limit the potential of the opposition to play ‘attractive’ football and focus on winning, potentially at the cost of the entertainment element of the game. I felt this frustration myself watching Tyrone yesterday but what does this ‘frustration’ really amount to?

Playing rugby in years past I remember being matched against a future international rugby player – who was 10cm taller than me, an outstanding footballer and able to jump far higher off the ground than me.  My objective was to find ways to prevent him catching the ball  – in the hope of limiting the damage he would do to our team. For part of the game I had some limited success – and did not even question for one second whether such an approach was ‘right’.  I was working with my inferior team to try to counteract one the opposition’s key weapons.

I think it is time for a few reality checks.  Some teams do not have the same skills as other teams. They will seek to develop and implement tactics which counter the opposition advantages – if they do not do this we will not have competitive matches.  Some of this behaviour will include breaking rules and accepting punishment e.g. frees, penalties, yellow cards and, even, red cards.  If the rules prove ineffective in counteracting unduly negative (probably difficult to define) behaviour then the rules need to be adjusted and implemented effectively by the relevant officials.

I have taken huge pleasure from playing, coaching and supporting/ spectating at sport.  I have experienced frustration in all roles – but overall the experience has been fantastic.  I would like to think that drug taking would have no part to play in sport – unfortunately it does and I would suggest should continue to be dealt with very harshly.  However in the case of coaches and players pushing the envelope to try to win I do not have much of an issue.  When I hold all the skills I am absolutely fed up to see there frustrated by less skillful teams.  But it is for me to figure this out – if I possess the skills.  Finally, the ‘professional foul’ is simply an assessment by the fouler (and potentially his coach/ team) – that the result is worth the punishment.  If you make the punishment sufficiently serious it will be cut out (and there will be some innocent victims) most professional fouls.  But sport is not perfect and we do not want it to be perfect.

As a coach to younger players I believe my responsibilities are primarily to assist in development of the players, ensuring they enjoy their sport and develop their skills.  But  I have no doubt that as coaches we will in years to come find ourselves looking to develop tactics to maximise the likelihood of winning specific matches.  I hope that what we do to try to win will be right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes teams pull through?

Three recent football matches again had me thinking about what we are often looking for in work.

Munster won a Heineken Cup quarterfinal  match against the odds away to Harlequins.  Leinster won against Munser in Thomond Park.  And last night I watched an underage GAA football team turn at half time to play into a strong wind, go behind and fight back to win by a couple of points.

And sport is full of these types of circumstances.  But what attracts me is that sense of togetherness, common purpose, that enables a team to overcome the odds.  Yes it requires some of the top players to prove their worth but operating in a team sense – providing leadership, shouldering responsibility, encouraging others.  And lesser players (and least lesser in the public eye) are equally important. Tactics are important and luck will also play its part.  And support from spectators should not be underestimated – although all three games were won playing away from home i.e. with relatively small, but loyal, support teams.

The recent Masters golf tournament was a similar event – even if the teams are down to the player and the trusted caddy.  But there were lessons – in terms of how both players attacked the 18th and attacked the play off holes.  Technique, commitment, trust between caddy and player and finally, I think, one being a little luckier than the other.  But all congratulations to both Angel Cabrera, the runner up, and to Adam Scott, the winner.

The purpose of this post is not to replace the tomes written previously about application of sports principles in business, etc.  But I see so many business failures which can be tracked to the absence of that team spirit – or a gradual fading of the spirit .  All of the teams mentioned have their bad days – but they do understand that feeling of pulling together, leaders encouraging, supporters working in the background, trust and respect and going the extra yard for common gain.  And the successful teams have it in more depth and more often.  And when the luck goes against them they come out fighting again.

Test cricket

Have not been following this test series between England and South Africa very closely.  But today happened to have an hour or so and tuned in on Skye.  Great ‘leg pulling’ between Atherton and ‘Bumble’ in the commentary box (about bell ringing).

After all the excitement of the Olympics great to focus in on the struggle that so often is cricket.  South Africa took the new ball, batsman (Prior) throws his wicket away first ball and then we watch as Jonny Bairstow works his way toward a maiden Test century – only to come unstuck at 95.

So much to occupy your attention – swinging ball, round the wicket to left handers, changing fields, outstanding fast bowling (Steyn).

And a beautiful, sunny day for cricket.

 

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