Outgoing Cork hurling selector Kieran Kingston says nothing prepares coaches for the cutting edge of senior inter-county team preparation.
The Tracton man, stepping down as a selector due to work commitments, pointed out even coaches with a lengthy apprenticeship working with underage and adult club teams can find the step up a challenge.
“Most senior inter-county teams — in both codes — try to involve guys who have some experience coaching at club or underage inter-county level,” says Kingston.
“From my own perspective, I had experience with underage teams in Tracton and Douglas and I was involved with Tracton’s intermediate team for a few years. I came in as an inter-county selector then, so I had a fair bit of experience before becoming coach. It’s not for me to judge how successful 2014 was for Cork, others will do that, but certainly I would have found it very difficult stepping into that role if I hadn’t come through that level of apprenticeship.
“At the same time, I don’t think anything prepares you for being at the cutting edge of an inter-county team, particularly in a place like Cork where there’s an expectation every time the hurlers go out that not only will they win, but that they’ll win the All-Ireland. That brings its own pressure, its own demands, but also its own satisfaction when you win something.”
However, coaching elite players is not a matter of over-complicating training sessions, Kingston says.
“Sometimes you can get caught up too much in elements of coaching and if I’ve learned anything from the last couple of years with Cork it’s that the key aspect is to keep it as simple as possible. That’s very important. I’ve seen teams go through a warm-up that you’d need a degree to follow, but when the game starts 10 minutes later, then, they’re blown away.
“There can be a certain sense sometimes of ‘if I don’t have 40 cones on the pitch it’s not a good training session’, or ‘if I don’t vary the drills it’s not a good session’.
“One of the ways I approached it was I wasn’t there to be an entertainer – that if fellas wanted to be entertained they should go elsewhere.
“They were there to work – to train and to learn, and a lot of coaching, to me, is down to how the players apply themselves to what you’re doing.
“You’re relying on the players a lot, on their discipline. The commitment, support and attitude of our players for the last couple of years was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Kingston adds there can also be a different dynamic for those players, depending on their status in the squad.
“The challenge there is that you have lads who aren’t on the panel of 26, say, and you’re trying to keep them motivated – and they have to keep themselves motivated – to break into the 26, and from there to break into the team. “That’s a challenge in itself. There are other challenges. You have to reflect in the coaching the effort the players are putting in, there’s the profile of the team, particularly in somewhere like Cork, the expectation.
“As for the coaching itself, though, I think a) you have to keep it as simple as possible and b) repetition is important, because there are a certain number of key skills integral to hurling which guys have to repeat and repeat. They improve and improve, getting it right five times out of 10, six, and then nine times out of 10. You’re preparing them to do that under the mental and physical pressure of a big game.
“What’s important then is the ability to communicate individually and collectively why you’re doing a particular drill, and how that relates to a particular match situation — as well as how that relates to improving the game plan over a period of time. That involves a lot of communication and getting players to buy into what you want to do. All of that takes time. People wonder how much time and effort you have to put into inter-county coaching or managing. Putting those things into effect takes up an awful lot of time.”
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