It is a year since I started this blog, a year in the life of a coach 🙂 It’s nearly June and it is time for another Blog. So much has happened over the last few weeks; thankfully you can find all the details on the website, so if you are looking for details on things like the Junior and Senior Interpros and our trip to the IYC in Hasselt it is just a click away.
I was not expecting to be an NPC for the U21’s this year, last year I was a late replacement mainly due to the fact that with Mair and James playing I was going anyway and it was cost effective. That was maybe the reason again this year as both Mair and James were selected for the Senior Team.
Unfortunately Mair was faced with a very difficult decision and ended up going to her Transition Year Ball. The reasoning behind that was complex but it was mainly she had never been or even asked to go to a dance or similar event and it was going to be her only opportunity. She spent a lot of time struggling with what was the right thing to do but she had committed to going to the ball a long time before she was selected for the Senior Interpros team. She had fully expected Chloe and Kerry to make up the ladies side of things but with Kerry pulling out she was called up.
Kerry pulling out caused a major difficulty on the selection side of things as she wasn’t available for the Junior Interpros team either and this all linked into the U21 selection which ended up with Munster only being able to find one U21 girl for the team. As it was Nora played really well and with Connaught not fielding any team and other teams a player short it appears it was not only Munster who is struggling at this age group. Without any Irish representation opportunities at this age group and no official U21 ranking either I think something will have to be done to retain some of our youth players.
The following day I had to travel up to Kinsale as I was co-coaching a Munster Junior Interpros training camp on the Sunday. We had five West Cork players on the team this year with Niall booking his place after winning the play offs on his third attempt. I was a bit concerned over being NPC for the U13 Girls. There has been a lot of animosity between myself and another coach this year which is too complicated to really get into here but the upshot was I had three of his players on the team and my own daughter Jasmine. One of the team was not able to attend and we combined the two U15 girls along with our new U15 Girls NPC recruit Amy Lou. I have a lot of theories over taking an alternative approach to coaching girls and we ended up having a “bonding” session with a few cup cakes that my wife baked and some hot chocolate and a chat in the kitchen, a bit of a tea party! I don’t know if it helped with the girls but I certainly felt better about it as we went through our expectations for the event and how we were going to approach the day both tactically and mentally.
I was delighted with the performance of my team on the day of the Interpros and our “weaker” players really pulled off some excellent results and we found ourselves with a Silver medal match in our last game of the day. Jasmine had been selected for the Interpros last year but ended up not playing in any of the matches. Her goal for this season was to make the team and to actually play. Well she certainly fulfilled that and with a win under her belt she just blossomed. There had been many opinions as to the selection of the teams and I felt very happy that not only had the selection been vindicated with that Silver and a Gold in the U15 Girls but the camaraderie and the joy within the team was easily observable by not only me but by the many parents who had made the trip up to Dublin. I had so much positive feedback the drive home was a pleasure.
With the Interpros out the way the final preparations for our trip to Belgium fell into place. I am still a worrier when it comes to trips like this and this was the first time I was going to be responsible for a squad which included players from outside the club. All in all I am happy with the way things turned out. We had problems over the car hire and our late arrival was certainly a stress. But having an experienced coach like Conn with me and our chaperone Brenda’s constant good humour certainly made things a lot easier. We can’t complain about the results with two Junior club titles and a Bronze in the U13 age group along with Ciaran’s terrific win in the singles. I was very lucky to be in a position to coach Ciaran in the singles, a real fighter his effort was 100%. The atmosphere in the squad was great, sure they had their moments but it will be definitely be the smiles and laughter that will stay long in my memory.
Coming home and getting back to “regular” coaching was great and I felt revitalised. I have made some adjustments to my coaching scheme in Bantry and I am very excited about a couple of future prospects. We had a friendly match with Kinsale and Clonakilty recently.
Alan Hurley is doing some great work in what could be described as “East/West Cork,” and we both wanted to do something for those players who haven’t played regularly in the Munster Rankings. I managed to get seven players to travel up and we organised a quadrangular between the clubs. So many of the matches went to the final set and they all got to experience team play in a competitive but controlled environment. The final result hardly mattered but I was still delighted that our Bantry A Team came away on top and I hope that will give some of them the nudge towards taking the next step and committing to an increased training schedule.
Further to the quadrangular Alan and I are in discussions about bringing some of our players together on an experimental basis. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and it is difficult to juggle time and capacity issues. Players of different standards have different needs and if you focus on one group another can get overlooked. So we are hoping that two heads are better and that we can host a session where players will benefit from us working together. Our own independence is important, but there is no reason that we cannot keep our unique club identities and still work co-operatively. I am very excited by the idea, we both have limits on what we can do for our players and I really think they will benefit from this new opportunity and I am also hoping that it will help my own coaching being able to discuss and debate table tennis with an experienced coach who has their own views and ideas. I just hope I am not too embedded in my own ways to be able to put aside my ego after flying solo for so long.
My first season at Abbeystrewry is coming to an end this month. The club would have normally have closed their doors in March but as numbers have been sustained they allowed me to carry on. I still have 14 or so regulars turning up and the club bought a new table recently so I would be happy to carry on till the end of the school term, especially as with rugby, soccer and GAA training starting I have a great group of enthusiastic girls which is unusual, not the enthusiasm but the numbers of them! I definitely have a couple of potential “performance” players but it might be hard to break the “recreational” ethos of the club. I intend to run a summer camp keeping the numbers down and I will try and grab the interest of both players and parents, however the prospect of getting these players to Munster Rankings in Cork seems tough. Those who live in the small villages are used to travelling to various towns and even further afield, those living in the larger towns like Skibbereen and Bantry are not so used to travelling, why do so when everything is on your doorstep. We will give it a go anyway and keep the fingers crossed.
I am working on summer training schedules for some of the players at the moment. Mair still has the Schools International in Limerick at the end of June and is off to Sweden later on in the summer while Jasmine and I are off to Denmark in July. Erik has a camp in Sweden at the end of June and then he and James are off again to Sweden for a couple of weeks. We will have our regular training on Fridays in Goleen along with the Summer Camp in August and I am hoping we can persuade Hu to return at the end of August for a pre-season camp. I am trying to organise a trip for James to China in October, we have always planned to go together and with it being his transition year at school this coming term it seems like an ideal time.
We have the Munster AGM on Monday next. My season as Director of Participation has been interesting and I feel I have laid a good foundation within the schools in Limerick and I hope to see that progress next season. I am disappointed that I never got to Waterford but that might have been a bit ambitious. I have taken a position on the National Coaching Committee for next season and I hope we can revitalise the coaching pathway and establish a better coach education structure. The Munster Branch has functioned pretty well this season considering it feels as though we have been under fire for a few months I am disappointed to learn that one of the most effective of our committee members Tony Higgins has decided to take a step back I have a lot of admiration for Tony and feel his input has been enormous and his skills at event management are extra-ordinary, apart from anything else I would consider him a friend as well a sage advisor. I also hear that Sharon our vice secretary is also stepping down, we already have too few women involved and it is a major loss for our committee.
I cannot not say that it has been an easy season for me on the branch, there is always so much more we could do but everyone has a limit to what they can give and it is all too easy for some individuals to level unwarranted and destructive criticism even if they were better served looking at their own situation. I might often disagree with the majority or an individual coach but that doesn’t make me right. I am a coach who is trying to work for the benefit of the children under my charge and to provide a learning environment that encourages them to gain from the benefits of our sport, in order to do that I have to work within a system that benefits everyone not just my own players and I have to understand others strengths, weaknesses and limits and that takes empathy. I hope Munster stays strong and we can utilise the various skills and experience available to do that but unless we create a better working environment we will continue to have a talent drain and with such limited resources I think that is bordering on criminal.
Is that a too serious note to wrap up May? Well the weather lovely and the garden beckons me so I’m off to enjoy the sunshine and I suggest you do the same.