Just Another Coaching Statistic In Irish Football

Coaching Raheny United with Sean Byrne against my future Rovers boss Stephen Craig at Tallaght Stadium

Coaching Raheny United with Sean Byrne against my future Rovers boss Stephen Craig at Tallaght Stadium

DUBLIN, IRELAND - Throughout my time working in football, I always thought that as a sport we cared about the wrong statistic when it came to coaching. Back in 2007 when I first started working full time in coach education the published number stood at around 19,000 qualified coaches in Ireland. By the time I moved on in 2012, it numbered at over 30,000. It is probably closer to 40,000 these days if not more, given the range of courses now available and the number of people still actively taking them. For a country of our size, the numbers at face value are very impressive. The Irish elite coaching numbers scale well when compared with many top nations in terms of coaches per player ratios. I don’t have them to hand but it’s much better than many of our celtic cousins for example – largely down to population size, number of players and the amount of coaches we produce in Ireland.

One should always approach published coaching numbers in any sport with some caution though. Few NGB’s do real insightful research on this, mostly because it’s difficult, time consuming and costly. The key word that really validates any coaching numbers is ‘active’. Since April 2014, I’m one of the statistics that isn’t really relevant.

I’m a UEFA qualified coach that regularly gets included in Ireland’s impressive qualified coaching statistics but I haven’t set foot on a coaching field in a meaningful manner in almost a year now. And I’m not alone. I’m friends with a number of similar coaches holding elite level licences that are no longer working in the game. We are numbers on a spreadsheet but we no longer influence the development of the game – a co-relationship often heralded as the roadmap to football success in this country i.e. more qualified coaches = more quality players. If only it was that simple.

The reality is something very different. In business we talk openly about churn rates of users or customers while in coaching we often turn a blind eye and pretend a natural churn doesn’t exist. It’s a myopic view on development that doesn’t address one of the biggest problems. How can we keep our most qualified coaches active in the game?

As I mentioned earlier, I left my last coaching role in April 2014 when the FAI Women’s National League season finished. My club, Shamrock Rovers, decided to disband the Women’s Team much to our disappointment at the time. It was a tough break at the end of a really hard season of work where we battled through a lot of legacy issues, recruited new players and finally looked like being on the right track with impressive performances in our last four games of the season. I still believe that this Shamrock Rovers team would have been a much better team coming into year two of our rebuilding but it wasn’t to be. That’s football though and I certainly don’t hold any ill feeling over that. It was what it was.

Probably more surprising though was that I hardly heard from anyone involved within the game itself once the news broke of Rovers demise (close associates aside). Nobody from the league itself got in touch despite keeping a team involved and competitive when it might have been easier to let it fall and no calls from other WNL clubs about my own future except for one. Even more worrying though, not one single phone call about any of the 20 odd players we had on our books at Rovers (many of whom have now left football for good sadly). Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t exactly expecting a litany of calls but personally, as a UEFA licensed coach, having coached at international level and won the National League itself only a year previously, I was surprised that the Women’s Football Community that’s usually so keen to promote their sport and grow would be happy to let experienced people leave the game or at the very least not look to engage even if just to assess potential player opportunities.

As it turns out for me, a new work role meant I had less time to devote to coaching anyway but the situation I found myself in, is one that’s mirrored around the country for many people. Good coaches with good qualifications leave the game each year. Most are never spoken to and asked why they are walking away. Surely there’s learning in that for future generations? There must be opportunities for redeployment and to keep people involved.

The chances are that even with my work commitments, had someone called me and asked me to coach one night a week or visit a club to look at players, I would have done it. The call never came, I got caught up with work and I became another statistic. This is too often the reality behind qualified coach numbers.

I’d hazard a guess that over 90% of coaches who leave the game only come back into it due to someone they know such as a fellow coach who asks them to get involved some place else. I might even be ambitious in saying that 10% are identified as being important to retain in the game by an NGB, League or Scouting Network. Is this good enough if we want to improve our football standing as a nation? There has to be something more. I’ve written extensively before about the need for a creation of a coaching excellence and retention programme that focuses on the building of ‘actual’ houses and not just on thousands of foundations. We’re on course for coaching ghost towns if we continue on the same old path.

Mad as it sounds,  as a 35 year old coach, I’ve got potentially 30 years of coaching still left in me. 30 years! Where will football be in 30 years and why wouldn’t we look to retain and develop coaches with experience. I am keen to stress that this is not just about me though. I’m using myself purely as an example here. If I, holding some good roles as I did be deemed not worth keeping in the game then what about the thousands of others with even more unrecognised potential than I have. We’re scouting players but not coaches and as a result we’re only doing half the job.

We must keep smart, intelligent and open minded coaches in the game. Replacing the churn does not solve problems. It certainly keeps the coffers full and the numbers high but it doesn’t facilitate real tangible change. We need a full and comprehensive review of ‘active’ coaches and we need a robust and effective coach talent identification programme. These things cost money. They’ll probably lose money. But isn’t it worth it? I think so.

In closing, I want to make one appeal to everyone out there to help the future of football in Ireland. It’s far too easy to blame an NGB or a network of development officers focused on income generation or leagues/clubs obsessed with winning. Change must always start within one self. My request to everyone who loves football is to make sure we keep our good coaches in the game. Make sure they know their worth and encourage them back into the fold. Invite them down to help with a session, scout an opposition team or just to be a fresh pair of eyes or a different voice on a wet Tuesday evening. We can’t afford to lose coaches so easily, particularly highly qualified ones and particularly in women’s football. Don’t let them walk away without a fight. There were times last season when I almost walked away from football during tough moments in a difficult season. I’ll always be grateful to the likes of Stephen Craig, Sean Byrne and Pat Trehy for talking me down off the ledge and seeing the value in what we do. Coaches matter.

Until things change, we’ll always have to rely on coaching friends to pull us back into the game and keep us involved. Coaching circles are some of the most daunting, ego fuelled and insecure places in the world. For the good of the game, that must change too. There’s a bigger picture. Let’s be renowned for what Irish coaches do on the pitch and not what we look like on a spreadsheet in comparison to others.

Three words – encourage, develop and value. Three more words – I’ll be back.

K.

The Sports Waffle Podcast – Minisode 3

So here it is – The Sports Waffle Podcast is back! Host Karl O’Shaughnessy sets up the new year on The Sports Waffle Podcast by explaining what’s in store for listeners of the pod in 2015 as well as an update on some outstanding items from the last episode with Andrew Hussey.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the The Sports Waffle Podcast on iTunes or listen below via Soundcloud.

40 Days & 40 Nights without The Sports Waffle

Insert witty pop culture tagline here!

Insert witty pop culture tagline here!

DUBLIN, IRELAND – You’ve read the headline and I know what you’re thinking; “He’s a week early with his top sporting habits to give up for Lent piece”. Sadly no. This headline reference actually relates to the last time I posted here on The Sports Waffle. So eh, a few weeks late and all but Happy New Year!

While it’s been quiet around these here parts, I’ve certainly had a busy six weeks of work in 2015 to fill my time. Firstly, like anyone else with a sports job, there’s no off season anymore! The concept of continuous relaxing days off away from the cut and thrust of sports just sadly no longer exist (and yes I still long for quiet sports summers spent at local Bowling Alleys – see The Sports Waffle Podcast Episode 2 for more on this!). In many respects, bowling aside, this is a good thing. Modern sports life is now 24/7 and the ever-increasing digital engagement of sport means an ‘always-on’ approach is required. Poor me, right? Not exactly but you get my point. I’ve been busy!

I did manage however to squeeze in a few articles for RTÉ Sport previewing the road to Super Bowl XLIX over the last few weeks. It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to get my writing out to a wider audience and RTÉ Sport is as big as they come in that regard. I thoroughly enjoyed researching the recent NFL pieces and it’s a credit to the rise of the popularity of American Football here in Ireland that they were received so favourably. You can read some of the articles by clicking here  and hopefully there’s more to come on this and other platforms in the future.

Last year was a great year on The Sports Waffle, if I do say so myself. I certainly felt the output was much better than before and the readership reach seemed to back that up. The addition of guest posts proved a huge hit and I was also bowled over (no pun intended) by the responce to the first two Sports Waffle podcasts I debuted.

2015 now begins in earnest for The Sports Waffle and you can hopefully look forward to even better writing from me (I will try!), some more guest writers and a revamped and expanded podcast series. I’m not ruling out the potential of The Sports Waffle mix tipping over in favour of audio rather than the written word either. Podcasting is a medium I adore. It will certainly feature heavy here in 2015.

This blog has seen many changes over the last five years or so. Some brilliant, some mad. That’s kind of how I operate. I’m not one who believes in doing something right once and then just sticking with the same formula forever. The pleasure in The Sports Waffle has always been in trying new things. I don’t see that ever changing even if the frequency of such madness might fluctuate from time to time.

Like the off-topic rambling in the podcast offerings late in 2014, I expect the lines between sport and pop culture to be blurred even further here on The Sports Waffle in 2015. You have been warned. God help us all. (p.s. You got the Rick Astley and Lent pop culture references by now right?)

So I hereby declare The Sports Waffle open for business…..again.

K.

The Final Score – NFL Weekly Pick’Em

Celebrating my 59% score like a Broncos Cheerleader!

Celebrating my 59% score like a Broncos Cheerleader!

DUBLIN, IRELAND - It’s only right to wrap up 2014 on The Sports Waffle with the final tally from my season long weekly NFL predictions that I have been making here. As I struggled through poor performance after poor performance in the Autumn months, even floating below a 45% correct prediction score at one point, I have some how managed to turn around the last few weeks of the season to finish close to the holy grail (otherwise known as the 60% target I had set myself.) My final prediction score was 151-103 which brings me in at an excusable, almost acceptable 59% success rate.

With the vast majority of NFL experts scoring in the 60% range, I think I can take that as a victory of sorts. Finally to close out the year and purely for fun, here’s my predictions on this weekend’s NFL Wildcard Playoff Games.  As always, betting on my predictions is not recommended!

Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Wildcard Weekend Predictions

See you all in 2015 and thanks for reading my sports waffle this year!

K.

2014 Blog Stats

DUBLIN, IRELAND - The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Thank you to everyone who visited in 2014 and a special thanks to all those who contributed to the blog during this time also. See you all in 2015, if not before!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.