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Why I Love Coaching – Peter Burke

By 25th May 2016June 25th, 2018No Comments

Why I love coaching – Peter Burke

Coaching helps me build new relationships and challenges me to learn and improve everyday. This piece is a sort of proxy self-reflection log on the why and the how of coaching. What motivates me and why do I get so much out of it?

In no particular order I look at building relationships, being open to challenge for improvement and the importance of finding mentors for continuous development. I hope this offers some value and insight as to what is a big part of my life. All feedback welcome.

I’m reading a book on the All Blacks at the moment called “Legacy”. The mantra within: “Good people make good All Blacks”. It got me thinking. Good people make good business people. Good people make good players and good athletes. Actually, good people make good parents, good friends and good coaches, but why?

Zig Ziglar (the father of modern marketing) suggests: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want”, for me, I guess that’s what coaching is about – helping others get what they want (this could be physical, mental, social, emotional etc). Ziglar attests that the key to all happiness lies in relationships. If you can build and maintain strong relationships you will be a happier person.

For me the coach – athlete relationship revolves around three primary pillars:

  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Challenge

Trust can’t be assumed – it has to be earned. Legacy counts for nothing in sport (or life). Just because you were a top athlete or player doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a great coach. In coaching trust is earned through investing time and effort in people and being clear on what your motivations are. As Tim O’Connell says “You must enjoy helping people”. Another of our athlete’s here in CrossFit 353 recently reminded me “Love is giving people what they need, not necessarily what they want”. The goal is to develop relationships over time where athletes/players trust that you have their best interest at heart.

Transparency is crucial in building trust. I’m rarely (never) the best coach in the room at CrossFit 353. When I see Claire or Gary stand in front of the class and demonstrate a picture perfect overhead squat my inner fat kid opens a mars bar and takes a bite. Some say “those who can’t coach” – and yes sometimes that’s true but very often players/athletes respect openness and honesty beyond the coach’s proficiency at performing a skill. Regularly in class I’ll grab Barra or Caroline and use them for a demonstration. On pitch when coaching a team I feel transparency is equally important. The role of the coach is to facilitate learning. As Julian Pineau teaches – Give principles not methods. In CrossFit the principal might be to squat. Simple. It may not be a perfect overhead squat of 100kg but if we can set the principal the methods will follow. In rugby terms, this is presenting a group of players with a problem and letting them solve it – if you can prod and poke towards the correct principles they will find the right methods. It’s the old teach a man to fish adage.

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”                                                                                                                                                          – Ralph Emerson

If you have shared trust and are transparent with the group or individual you are coaching then the most valuable learning tool for both sides is challenge. This year I coached in St. Mary’s College RFC. This is the highest-level team I have worked with and undoubtedly the highest caliber of player. The playing group is relatively young and the environment is one of sharing opinions and experiences with the purpose of challenging one another. The overarching goal: whatever makes the team better. Former Munster Rugby professional Ivan Dineen joined the club this year and immediately we all sponged knowledge from him and his lengthy exposure at the top-level. Similarly David Fanagan, Conor Gilsenan and Ryan O’Loughlin were superb at challenging the why behind certain suggestions – this lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation to the how. I believe we all stand to develop most from challenge, feedback and constructive criticism. #JustSaying

Moving on – Kevin Croke is a man-crush of mine. He has a mind full of incredible information on everything from amateur psychology to bovine physiology. Early in 2016 I duped Kevin in to having coffee with me once a week (my goal: sponge as much wisdom from this man encyclopedia of human performance as possible). Kevin tries to read one book a month. Invariably I skip the reading and try to extract the ‘ jist’ from ‘Big Kev’ during these sessions. {See some of Kevin’s reading list here}. Kevin is reading a book at the moment called “The Happiness Project”. He came out last week with a gem: “Pete, you cannot be too nice to somebody”. Think about it? If we revert to Ziglars notion of giving others what they want to ultimately get what you want AND the key to happiness being relationships…I must say – I agree. Unfortunately I don’t always practice the latter but this is the type of golden nugget you would randomly get from Kevin to get the old noggin’ thinking!

I digress…. back to our coffee sessions:

Now and again we would touch on coaching and how an individual approaches certain scenarios and deals with situations in the hope of challenging each other to improve. We have started pulling together some content around coaching to try to challenge each other, reflect more and learn. An example of this would be the 353 Coaching Ethos that Kevin, Gary and I developed earlier this year. This is a reflection on our coaching principles and is proudly displayed on the walls of the gym. It is something we try to refer to daily.

Only this morning Kevin and I were discussing the concept of coaching as a social science. There’s huge value in remembering there’s always a person behind the player/athlete. Only by investing time in developing relationships can we begin to understand when to give someone a push or when they might just need a hug. I’m a firm believer that you become the average of the 5 people you spend most time with. I’m very lucky to have Kevin Croke and Gary Featherstone as two of my five.

Read Kevin’s recent article on recovery here

Read Gary’s recent article on training volume here

The final reason for my grá for the coaching is selfish of course. I’m kind of a words and language ‘wannabe’ nerd. For some reason I’m into syntax and the art of communication. Unfortunately Andy Keane won’t let me forget that he beat me in English in the Leaving Certificate (but that’s another story). I kept a notebook of quotes I liked for a while which I lost of course. Either way there is nothing like coaching to learn how effective (or ineffective) you are at connecting with people. Communication is multi faceted and often feedback is non-verbal and instant i.e. if you’re waffling too much you better read this from the audience and wrap it up quick. You can’t bluff people. If you’re honest, transparent (succinct) and open to challenge people will respect you. That respect however – like trust – is earned not assumed. The role of the coach or teacher in my opinion is to be seen and heard least.

{I had a Math’s teacher in 6th year named Gary Coakley. Not once in my six years in St.Michael’s did I hear Gary raise his voice or lose his cool. There was an unspoken respect for how he conducted himself and also because we felt like he genuinely cared}.

The role of the coach is to empower those around you through expectation. Facilitate learning through pointed questioning and prod and poke to help individuals understand the why. Very often they will arrive at the how themselves. Of course encouragement and positive reinforcement where appropriate play a big role too – but that is for another day.

(Nearly there now)… I have a constant desire to improve and better myself…I guess everybody does? In other words I am always hungry to learn new things. You won’t find me reading Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, if I’m reading – it’s someone’s biography that I better get something out of (narcissistic I know). {Two great autobiographies: “Open” – By Andre Agassi and “Scar Tissue” – By Anthony Kedis}. Alternatively I’d just ask ‘Big Kev’ what he’s reading.

With self-improvement in mind in relation to coaching (or life in general) I feel it’s really important to expose yourself to individuals and experiences that stretch you. Some might call these mentors. I like the concept (can’t remember who said it) of lead – follow. The premise is everyone starts at the bottom. In order to progress you have to learn (follow). Once you’ve learned you have a responsibility to teach, to help those around you progress (lead). If you spend too much time in either bracket you may stagnate. I’ve been fairly ruthless in seeking these people out in my life. Brian Hemeryck is certainly someone I’ve followed and learned from, as is Mark Byrne and James Norton – but to name a few. Notable mention to Greg McWilliams who also had a big impact on my early playing & coaching days. Coaching is an instant learning tool for self-development. I’m lucky to work in a team of 6 coaches here in CrossFit 353. We meet every week and one of the topics of discussion is coaching. We encourage challenging each other in the pursuit of improvement.

One of the coaches with the All Blacks has in his contract that he can travel the world to learn from other organisations. He has been to sumo camps in Japan to NBA franchises in America to ARL teams in Australia. One mantra that the All Blacks unashamedly borrowed from the Sydney Swans ARL team is “No Dickheads”.

Good people must make good Aussie rules players too!



e| peter{at}

p| +353 86 8688057

instagram| @crossfit353




CrossFit 353 interview with the Irish Independent

Peter Burke on coaching Norway Rugby

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