Thoughts on being a custodian of coaching knowledge and sharing coaching experience
From my earliest days as a shooter, I have always searched for guidance and coaching but was always disappointed at the scarcity that was available. I wanted an experienced shotgun coach to set me off on my career. Being based in Ireland, Olympic shooting is not a big sport and finding someone to coach you was virtually impossible.
Do not get me wrong, there was plenty of friendly advice given to me and much discussion was had over the best way to set up and shoot a target. But there just was no programme or system in place either at the federation level or at the private level.
Occasionally, a coach from a neighbouring country might appear for a weekend clinic. It was always a case of someone ‘throwing an eye’ over your technique and giving you some general advice or guidance on perhaps a better shooting stance.
Against this background, I tried my best to learn more. In my time, the internet was not yet the feature of modern life that it is now. There was no YouTube, no Amazon. So you took whatever opportunity you could to find knowledge. There were some VHS tapes available via English shooting magazines but these were about sporting shooting or Down the Line, but still I would get them and watch them. Looking for any tidbit of information that might make me a better shooter.
As I began to travel abroad to train and compete, I came across a wider group of shooters and ultimately I came across coaches from many countries all with something to offer.
Those coaches I worked with in my early days followed a similar path to what I had already experienced. I got an ‘eye’ run over my technique. I was told I was ‘shooting high’ or ‘shooting low’ and given general encouragement. But I never received a structure or a system on which to base my development. The coaching I was paying for was disjointed. It dealt with the outcome but not the process of shooting. Even back then, I started to think about coaching and how shooting should be no different to any other sport in terms of coaching and structure.
I had spent all my life involved in sport and have experienced many different types of coaches and methods of coaching. I thought to myself, surely shooting can be approached in a similar way to tennis, golf or badminton.
I took a course organised by Coaching Ireland, the sports coaching awards body of Ireland. The course was for tutor development. It’s purpose was to create a cadre of people who would act as trainers of coaches and deliver a syllabus that those coaches would use.
The course taught me all of the principles that still underly my own oaching from developing structured training sessions through to the importance of communication in coaching. I took that course along with many others from different sports. I sat beside snooker coaches, judo coaches and equestrian coaches. All brought their own unique issues of coaching to the table and we all shared our experiences both good and bad for the benefit of all.
I found this cooperation very refreshing after having spent many years trying to squeeze coaching knowledge from others to the point where it was like getting blood from a stone.
That course set me on a path. I was reinvigorated and embraced the teaching and the learning methods I had been learning. Shortly afterwards, I took the appointment as my national federation’s first High Performance Director. It gave me the opportunity to put into action all I had learned and the chance to try out new ideas. It gave me my first chance to gain knowledge as an experienced shotgun coach.
I view the knowledge I have gained over years of coaching as not for my own self gain. Knowledge is not a personal asset to be guarded and protected but something that I am just a custodian of. I believe the knowledge of coaching should be shared freely and openly. To hoard it is to do our sport and our athletes a disservice.
I read a quote in an article about Vincent Hancock which got me thinking about my own journey.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “When I step on that line, I know that I am the best in the world, and my competitors know they have to come after me with everything they’ve got. But I’ve realized, too, that there are others out there who have the same aspirations I do, and my success has given me a responsibility to the sport. So I will never let you win, but I will tell you everything I know, and show you every trick in my book. Then it’s up to you. But this sport has given me my life. I owe it at least that much.”
That quote reminded me my own approach to coaching and my intrinsic reason for being so active in coaching with the ISSF. I will tell you all I know, but you must learn how to use that knowledge. Learning to be a coach is a lifelong search for ways to communicate and impart knowledge so that others may learn and benefit from it. To be an experienced shotgun coach you need to give freely of that experience in order to gain more.