Following last week’s All-Ireland hurling final the main focus of attention is around the team that won, with a lot less thought to the vanquished.
It’s understandable, but it’s important to tip our hat to Galway for how they defended and ultimately relinquished their crown to Limerick, as kingpins of the country.
The manner in which Limerick did what they did appears to have appealed to everyone who has followed their journey this season.
It has felt like they have brought everyone along with them, happy to share in the sense of opportunity that has afforded them such a great year. If we were stateside, we’d be hailing them as world champions, and happy to do so.
But one thing is for sure, Limerick will be scrutinised from top to bottom by other counties and even clubs with serious ambition.
The method behind such scrutiny will be to determine what it is they did and with whom they did it, all in the hope of finding the edge that resulted in them becoming winners, at long last.
Unfortunately, this copy and paste culture in sport rarely, if ever, results in anything like the success experienced by those that were deemed worthy of examination in the first place.
What is often missed are the trials and tribulations that have been experienced before such joyous success.
We have a tendency to look to the end result only and not the often-painful processes that successful people have experienced along the way that ultimately shaped their now revered methods.
John Kiely amassed a team of people to work with his Limerick players who created an environment that set them free so they could express themselves on the field of play.
However, without a shadow of a doubt, each member of his backroom team will have experienced failure in the past as they have worked on developing their current approach.
In fact, it is likely; they will look back on such failings as critical to their own development.
Their rewards for seeing failure as an opportunity to learn and improve their modus operandi are momentous days like Sunday last.
The irony about people like this is that they seldom sit on their laurels thinking they have now figured everything out in the pursuit of success.
The opposite is more likely to be true.
They will probably look to do even better next year, identifying many areas for improvement on what returned success this year.
This is not to suggest that root and branch examination is required, merely refinements and upgrades.
The classic stop-start-continue method of review is a great place to begin such self-examination.
Are there behaviours or items of work that I need to stop doing? Things that were not fruitful previously and could now do with being left behind?
Is there anything I should look to start doing? And on and on it goes. Finally, following feedback from trustworthy sources, what have I been doing that has been well received and is worthy of retention? What should I continue to do?
The work and effort to engage in such simple questions often goes unmissed. What becomes commonplace in a situation like this is that outside observers see titles on a team sheet and little else beyond that. Limerick have a Strength & Conditioning coach, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist; the list continues.
The copy and paste approach results in teams acquiring people of similar title to fill those roles in their organisations. The problem with this approach is that a title merely reflects a piece of paper, a certification of sorts.
Of course, these qualifications are beneficial, but without experience, they count for very little.
On top of that, head coaches are under time-constraints with agreements of three years, if they’re lucky, to have an impact.
So how can the right people be recruited to impact positively on a team’s performance?
An examination of their experience and what they’ve learned along the way is a good place to start. But probably more important than that, is to identify where they’ve failed and how it impacted on their development since. A lot can be learned about a person when they are asked to speak about a time when they were a part of something that did not work.
How do they take ownership of their part in a failed campaign? How do they talk about the lessons that came from such an experience and can they show where those lessons have been learned since then?
The answers to these questions, among others, will tell you much of what you need to know about someone before taking them on board.
Another key component in such a critical process is to identify how they see their development progressing in the future.
If too many answers are filled with references to times and places where a particular approach previously worked, with the suggestion that they’d do it again with you, expecting the same results, that is a red flag for a possible closed mindset individual.
If no two athletes are the same, then no two teams are the same, so no two approaches should be the same either.
Of course, there may be similarities to some things you do, but they should only arise because of coincidence and not by design.
Last week, Amazon Original launched their documentary series All or Nothing: Manchester City.
It is a behind-the-scenes look at Pep Guardiola, one of the most decorated managers in soccer, working with his team on their way to winning the Premier League title in the 2017- 2018 season. Amidst the glee of sports fans waiting in anticipation for what they could learn of his winning ways, acclaimed sport psychologist Daniel Abrahams, issued a word of caution to any coaches tuning in.
He highlighted the fact what you see will be expertly edited for dramatic effect, and if for no other reason, we should be careful what, if anything, should be copied to our own contexts.
His main concerns relate to coaches of young people, who may be more susceptible to emulate the practices of someone as successful as Guardiola forgetting of course that he is working with full-time, adult, professional players at the height of their careers.
However, the message remains the same. Transplanting coaching ideas from one context to another is a fool’s errand. It is critical we look to the processes that created those results and not the results themselves.
If we are prepared to find out what may work best for our current group rather than mimicking the work of others, we might find an even better way. A way that will be specific to the needs of those in front of us and not compared to those in a completely different environment.
All too often the answers to a better way lie within our own space, so long as we are prepared to go
digging. Be forewarned though, what you might find may sting a little — or a lot — depending how long it is since serious questions have been asked about your work.
Not only does fortune favour the brave, it also favours those prepared to look inside for answers before blaming outside for results.