CARVER Coaching & Performance Newsletter

Hi, Paul here,

I hope this finds you well. This week’s theme is…


Engagement with the newsletter has been great and I am happy that it has been of service to many. My intention is to continue to evolve the newsletter and to provide you the reader with the highest quality content I can.

For the next couple of weeks, I will include a new section in the Newsletter: The CARVER Essay. The CARVER Essay is a personal insight on the subject matter from a sporting friend of mine. These essays will largely be handpicked from Be the Best You Can Be in Sport- A Book for Irish Youth, a book I published just over two years ago. In this book, I gathered input from over 50 respected coaches and sportstars, coaching academics and sports science professionals, to produce a comprehensive guide for the young sportsperson. It is a body of work I am proud of, and one I feel can serve any coach or athlete.

We will begin with the CARVER Insight and it will be followed by the CARVER Essay from the Wexford Legend, George O’Connor. This is a beautiful essay and I feel you will gain much from reading it.


The CARVER Insight

Here I usually write about something that’s been on my mind, or something I have observed through my day-to-day work with coaches, athletes, clubs and organisations. Some weeks I will know in advance what I’m going to write about, and the piece will be completed early, while other weeks it will take longer to come. For some reason, this piece has taken longer to come… but I could feel it coming. I write this piece as of late, when speaking to this topic at coaching workshops, I have observed how it appears to resonate with people; it dawns on them that they may have been missing a trick.

I feel we have a limited and limiting scope on who, or what, a coach is. In truth everyone has the potential to be a coach and contribute to a sporting environment. As I see it, the head coach or manager’s success in providing the appropriate environment for his or her players, will largely be determined by who they can get to help them, and how they can empower these people to contribute. Here I am not talking about elite level sport, I am talking about youth sport, run by volunteers in the community. To quote an African proverb,

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

Our traditional view of what a coach is, is what I term, a ‘grass coach,’ the person that runs the session. Without doubt, the ‘grass coach’ is critical to the environment. It simply cannot be denied that appropriate knowledge is key to providing the appropriate challenge, and that it is a rare and valuable skill, to be able to harness the dynamic nature of a group. Indeed, I wish to labour this point about the rarity of these ‘grass coach’ coaching skills. From my observations, I have come to wonder if the average volunteer ‘grass coach’ alone is capable of providing a good enough experience to retain players long term, or is it in any way fair or appropriate to expect them to be? I feel we must really broaden our lens on what or who a coach is, and how many differing skill sets can be utilised to complement the work of the ‘grass coach’. In truth, the coaching team must consist of a diverse range of coaches.

“Environment is the silent hand of behaviour”; that’s something ‘I know for sure’. And so the question becomes what inputs or skills are required to provide the optimal environment to unlock the extraordinary potential of sport. In other words, through broadening our scope on coaching, how can we take the massive burden off the shoulders of the volunteer ‘grass coach’.

In brief, I believe it is all about having as many good people as possible, modelling excellence in the environment. It is about the players observing these ‘coaches’ interacting as a team in a warm, fun and respectful manner in order to provide an excellent experience for them.

So let us take a quick look at who can be a coach, and what a coach can do.

For me, the key to all good coaching teams at all age groups and levels, is good administration. For the past number of years, I have been lucky to have had the best there is, my boy Mike Hannon (I like to call him Miguel, and he enjoys it too).

Above you will see Mike Hannon- one of the greatest coaches I know…. although he knows nothing about sport (his words… not mine.)

Within the role of admin falls: social and pastoral care, parental communication and the general ambition to care for everyone in the environment. This person doesn’t need to know anything about sport and in many cases it may even be an advantage if they don’t. They need to know, and care about, people. They need to be able to smile, and talk, and have a laugh. They need to value the power of sport for a healthy society, and this enables them to look at the players as people and so care for their needs. I cannot stress the importance of this role enough… Shout out to my boy Migi!

Other coaching roles can include: mentors, individual coaches, athletic development coaches, video people and so on. Ordinary people can fill these roles at volunteer community level with a little support. If you are building a coaching team, it is important to appreciate what roles will enhance the environment. Thereafter it is about empowering people to gain competence and autonomy in these roles. Much of my work involves working in the background with coaches and management teams to enable them to understand the power of the environment and how differing skill sets can be harnessed to maximise its potential for good.

A common complaint you get from coaches and managers, is that they can’t get people to help. I feel this is the case because often ‘the ask’ isn’t clear, and the challenge appears too big or broad. When pulling a coaching team together at any age grade you are selling a vision. Your challenge is to talk to people, and explain to them the type of environment you want to create for your players; show them the exact role you feel they can play. It is so important to note that everyone doesn’t need to be there every day, and one of my philosophies on recruiting coaches is that ‘anything is better than nothing.’ For example, a mentor might only need to be there once a week, an individual coach can come late and go early, the admin person does not need to be omnipresent once it is well set up. I will repeat myself here… if you are trying to attract good people to contribute to your coaching environment, the philosophy of ‘anything is better than nothing’ is powerful. Once you get good people in the door, and they are empowered to contribute in a meaningful manner, they will want to stay.

One of the V’s of the CARVER Framework is ‘Visions’. One of those visions is a ‘Vision for your Coaching Team’. My vision for a coaching team is ‘CCCC’: People Care, they Contribute, they are Competent, and we are Connected.

What are the roles you need to fill in your coaching team that when done properly will create an environment that will unlock the extraordinary potential of sport?

The CARVER Essay

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

George O’Connor is a retired Wexford hurler. After seventeen years playing senior hurling, he won his first All-Ireland Hurling medal in 1996 at 37 years old. It was his last game for Wexford and his second last game of hurling ever. He played one more game for his club and left it at that. He had given his all.

After he retired, he devoted his time and energy into building coaching structures in Wexford and beyond. George ran into tough times and experienced severe depression but came out the other side a stronger and wiser man. Today he is happy and healthy and likes to help people who are suffering and struggling with their inner demons.

Tough Times

It is ironic that I sit here on a beautiful first of May evening at the beginning of summer. All I can think of is getting out to the land and experiencing its beauty. Nature has its great properties of healings and searching the body and soul. It is calling me. I sit with my unconscious hat on and feel the flow. I am afforded this opportunity by Paul to give what I feel is an honest and truthful account of my experiences to date.

Today I was with a great friend of mine, a man of depth and resilience. A man that has lived to date, four lives in one, and continues to surprise me with his knowledge. We spoke for what I thought was an hour. In fact, it was closer to three. He spoke of his deep understanding for young people. “Ah sure,” he said, “we protect them, feed them, care for them and most important of all, give them the great gift of time.” Music to my ears. So simple, yet it sounds idyllic. “So George,” he continued, “we give the children time, not presents, not money, nothing extravagant, just time” he said.

Life feels great for me now, however there were times when this wasn’t the case. There have been times when I have suffered. Times when I have felt little hope for the future: anxious, stressed, depressed, devoid of life… an empty vessel, only hanging on. I have reached some highs in my life, but have also reached many lows. I have needed help and I have sought help. In a dark period of my life I have had a number of false dawns where I thought I was better and fully recharged, only to run flat again. I have been forced to learn about myself and the inner workings of my mind, my body, my spirit and my soul. I have learned to love myself. It has been a journey of self-discovery.

(Above is a picture of George at the full-time whistle in the 1996 All- Ireland Final. As an interesting aside… I (Paul) used to have this image as the screensaver on my phone long before I got to know George. For me it is a truly iconic image.)

I am writing this short piece for young people who may experience tough times. Times in their life when the mood is very low and they feel alone and down. Times when there is little or no light. The batteries feel like they are dying. I know how it feels. Life can be tough. It can be busy and unrelenting leaving no time to recharge the batteries and reinvigorate the spirit. The never-ending demands on a person- go, go, go! The batteries get worn down, a wave hits us and we become susceptible to viruses of the mind. The spirit seems broken, and the soul is darkened. Sadness comes over us. A way out of it is unclear. Help is needed and we must ask for it. We must learn how to cope, learn how to survive and then, go and learn how to thrive.

How do we understand stress, anxiety, and depression? Can one fully understand themselves first under the headings of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual? This must be in our toolkit if we are to succeed in bringing the colours back into our lives. No doubt some of the tools in this book can help. For me it always helps to reconnect with nature.

Look, a blackberry! There, a wild strawberry! See the trees connect to one another. Hear a thrush bird sing. See the swallows arrive and wonder how they know when to leave? Engage and spend time in Mother Nature. Observe myself in it and through it gain the strength and composure to thrive in the hustle and bustle of this modern world. For me, we have to ‘listen to ourselves’ and ‘learn ourselves’, learn how to spend our time in ways that will open our mind and soul and strengthen our spirit. Time well spent is a healer. Time is precious. Learn to spend it wisely.

We are all wired differently. Some of us are gentler souls than others. Some of us go through hardships in our lives that affect us deeply and if not healed properly, these wounds are always there, ready to reopen. We all have our demons. We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like to acknowledge but we see lurking inside. These can cause some of us to do irrational and selfish things not out of love for ourselves, but out of fear for ourselves. When times are bad, you must ask for help. There are people that can help you understand this life and the struggles it can bring. You must also learn what works for you and what is the best way to spend time that can nourish your mind, body, spirit and soul. I wish you well on the great journey of life.

God bless,


Powerful stuff from George.

Catch you next week,

Copyright Paul Kilgannon 2021
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