Paudie Butler is a renowned coach and coach developer. In his youth, he represented Tipperary in both senior hurling and football. He is a former National Director of Hurling and is revered by many for his lifelong service to the game of hurling and to coaching in Ireland. He has travelled the country spreading his word on the value of sport in the lives of Irish youths. Here he gives an insight into the importance of self-awareness and the role mindset plays in maximising your talents.

Self-awareness is the key to growth. You have chosen an ambitious path that will be demanding of yourself and others. If you are to achieve your dreams you will need guidance and support from experienced people. Excellence is never easily achieved and talent will only take you so far. In sport, the challenges come thick and fast. Careers are short and learning opportunities must be recognised and taken to heart.

I have been coaching for fifty years. It has been a wondrous experience. I have been so lucky to come under the experience of so many great coaches and mentors. They have helped me see things in new ways that I would never manage on my own. I have coached thousands of teenage boys and girls. Their enthusiasm and hunger for knowledge always inspires me. I have also tutored thousands of coaches who now guide and coach teams all over the country.

I understand how ambitious you are, how you love this sporting life. You love to test yourself and let yourself be tested at the highest level. That demands great humility. One must accept the ups and downs of competitive sport. There’s no such thing as failure, only opportunities for learning. Of course you worry sometimes that you might not be good enough or strong enough or fast enough or pretty enough or popular enough or whatever. These are the challenges every human being has to deal with. You are not your thoughts, you are yourself, precious and unique.

“If it’s going to be it is up to me” is a sentence that helped me greatly along the way. It is from Declan Coyle’s book The Green Platform. We take responsibility for our own actions and reactions. 60,000 thoughts run through your head every day. You choose your path and let all the other thoughts sail on past. Negative thoughts will destroy you if you linger on them. They must be consigned to the trash bin.

Being self-aware means you are able to recognise how you react to feedback and instruction from coaches, parents, teachers and mentors. These are people who have your best interests at heart. Defensiveness indicates that you are coming from a place of fear and self-doubt, instead of love and confidence. Self-belief will enable you to seek out feedback and benefit from it.

We are all born into a definite time and place and get conditioned very early. Becoming self-aware means you can stand back and examine your beliefs and how you are thinking. In the pursuit of your dream you must set high standards for yourself and hold yourself accountable. Sport is a fierce tester of truth and courage. How you do one thing is how you do everything. We can’t switch on and off. We must learn to live in the present moment. We get opportunities every day to fully participate in life or turn a blind eye. There’s always lots to be done.

Victor Frankl wrote his highly influential book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ after surviving the concentration camps of Germany and Poland during World War 2. He faced death every day. Thousands died in the gas chambers. Starvation, disease, prison guard brutality and despair claimed thousands more lives of utterly innocent men, women and children. He tells us how he used every trial as an opportunity to grow. “What is this situation teaching me now?” he would say to himself. He confided in a small group of positive people who spoke of what they wanted to achieve when they found freedom. He kept his dream in front of himself even when it looked hopeless. He was able to forget about himself and help others who were losing hope. We will never be in such a desperate situation. But the same question is relevant, ‘What is this great opponent teaching me now?’ ‘What is my coach saying now that will enable me to thrive and meet my challenges?’

Games now are more complex than before. The pace is very high, new tactics are being used and analysis of opponents is normal. To meet these demands we need the support of older and wiser heads and we need to be active learners.

Many ambitious people keep a journal. It enables them to write out their objectives and map out their pathway step by step. Normalising excellence is the path of the great sportsperson. They recognise the power of habit. They replace old lazy ways with integrity and discipline. Good habits make good character. Not only are you becoming a great player but you are becoming a leader also. Leaders choose their actions and they live up to their beliefs, they know how to fuel the body, they know how to practice their skills at match pace. They know that to operate at full capacity they must have a growth mindset and an even tempered disposition. Great players enjoy the feedback on their performance. They know they need the insights and the intelligence of others. They know they need to continuously learn and improve.

Pride and arrogance are the great enemies. It takes courage and humility to ask for help. The love of the game will help you keep your lofty goals in the forefront. Enjoy your game, your family and your friends. Seek out the honest opinion of trustworthy people. They will be the signposts you need to help you travel the road.

Slán,

Paudie

This essay is an extract from Be the Best You Can Be in Sport- A Book for Irish Youth

Copyright Paul Kilgannon 2021
Website by Grafton Digital.