Category Archives: goals

Our Life’s Black Box

I like to read, sometimes I read novels but mostly I am drawn towards books about how to improve my thinking, coaching……life. I find it fascinating to look at how other people have developed over the years and seeing if there is anything I can adopt to try and add value to what I am doing.

My favourite book at the minute is by Matthew Syed.

The book is Black Box thinking. Very briefly, it looks at how industries and individuals can learn from mistakes, improve how they operate and ultimately improve performance.

black box

The application to my job are obvious and, the first time I read the book, that is all I applied it too.

However a different application occurred to me as I read through the opening chapters again.

In these chapters Matthew talks about the landing of US Airways flight 1549 (the one that landed on the Hudson river). Specifically he talks about how the Pilot, Chelsey Sullenberger handled the incident.

When crash investigators went to the planes ‘black box’ and listened to the recording of the incident they heard that Chelsey and his Co-Pilot never stopped communicating, they had an open line of communication through the whole incident.

This constant communication allowed the whole crew to function correctly and avoid any lose of life.

Everyone knows the footprints in the sand ‘poem’. Looking back at two sets of footprints as we walk through life with God but noticing that when we go through troubles there is only one set. assuming that God has abandoned us at those difficult times but being told the one set of footprints belong to God and that He carried us through.


These two stories got me thinking.

What if I was able to go back and listen to my ‘black box’?

What would I hear?

When times have been tough and challenging what has my reaction been? Has there been a constant, open, line of communication between me and God or have I just assumed that I have been abandoned just when I needed the most help?

I know that, sadly, historically I would have to confess its been the latter.


#TNDO (in everything I do)

til next time



The right book……

There are literally hundreds of self help books on the market today. Walking down the aisle in any book store and you will see titles that proclaim to help you achieve happiness, grow your wealth, unleash your inner spirit warrior and any number of other ‘be better’ promises.

They all have one thing in common – they promise to help you be the best version on you that you can be.

I have read my fair share of these books seeking to unleash my inner giant, learn the secrets of highly effective people, train my mind. They are all good books, very well written and, on some levels, very informative. I have no doubt that at some point I will read them again.

However, they all lack one vital ingredient to fulfil their stated goal – making you the very best you you can be.

Now I realise that this blog is, primarily, a swimming/coaching blog.

Really it’s about me and my journey to be the best swim coach I can be. So there is a link to what I’m about to say.

The truth is that all these books have their place, they all serve a purpose but if you are seeking the best version of yourself then your reading the wrong books. You only actually need one book.

The desire for more, the desire for fulfilment is in our very DNA. We are programmed to want to develop, to grow, to be better.

Man’s desire to explain everything, to search out the truth about our world and ourselves, to be the very best versions of ourselves is, in my opinion a twisting of the original reason for the DNA programming.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that these desires stem from a need for more, a need to fill a hole in our very being.

Our desire to fill that ‘void’ has led to the publication of hundreds upon hundreds of self help books, self help courses, life coaches and everything that goes with that.

This emptiness that we, as a species, feel is (in my opinion) because there is a bigger picture, a better plan for our lives, a blueprint that we need to follow if we really want to be that best version of ourselves.

Where do we find this blueprint? In the one book that we should be reading. A book that predates all those other books we turn to for ‘the answer’

The Bible

The Bibles tells me that God has a plan for my life he wants to make me the best version on me, the version of me that he planned right from the start.

There are no payment plans, no courses to attend to reach the ‘next level’ there is only submission to him and trust in his plan for my life.


D is for…….

The next in my A-Z of coaching…..

d is for…..

Every child that joins a swimming club has a Dream. They want to win races, to get better and, ultimately, go to the Olympics.

Dreams  are aspiration desires. Dreams should be BIG, dreams that don’t scare you, dreams that don’t get you out of bed every single day are simply not big enough.

Those people who achieve their dreams are those who have the DRIVE to transform their dreams into goals.

The D in my A-Z is therefore Drive. 


To be driven is to be compelled to act in a particular way, especially one that may be considered difficult.

There is no doubt that sport if difficult. No ‘normal’ people would do it. Its a lot of early mornings and long weekends. Its dealing with injuries and disappointments. Its antisocial.

It takes special people to stick at sport for the long haul, to reach the very top.

It takes people with Drive

Personally the thing that drives me is the desire to prove that I know what I am doing smiley-face-flat

I consider myself to have been incredibly lucky as a coach, I have coaches some athletes who have been exceptional Irish swimmers but there is always that little doubt at the back of my head. The reality that those athletes would in all likelihood have achieved at least as much, if not more, elsewhere.

If my desire is to become as good as I can be, to be as close to world class as possible, then I believe I need to assist athletes to reach their fullest potential on a consistent basis. It is this drive that wakens me every morning at 5am, that makes the decision to say no to nights out an easy one.

It is my belief that no matter what area of life you have ambition in, without drive your dreams will remain just that.




B is for…..

not-giant-enough-letter-bis for……

Backstroke …. maybe. I seem to have quite a bit of success with backstrokers starting with having been lucky enough to coach an athlete onto the 2008 Olympic team. Then more recently athelets who have broken every Irish junior record both long and short course on the backstroke and I currently coach the fastest Irish backstroker in history (danielle)

Bravery … possibly. I believe it takes courage to stick to your convictions. There will be times that people question you and what you do. There will be times when you question yourself. It wont all be plane sailing. However, in my opinion, it is only really possible to properly assess the process at the end, so its essential that you see it through. I have found that reflection is an absolute must when it comes to what we do. (I started this as a way to assist me in doing just that)

Belief … In what you do. If you dont believe it you will never achieve it (cheeeesy)

To be honest I could have chosen any number of things for this but I have elected to go for


How cool are these stone sculptures btw

Being balanced in swimming terms simply means being in the correct body position. cutting down on the drag. We spend countless hours working on body balance, drill after drill after drill specifically to work on the body position.


That would be a little predictable so, for the purpose of this Blog (another B), the balance that I feel has the biggest impact on my coaching is the work/life balance. How do you give the time that is undeniably needed to a career that is not only relentless or the athlete but also the coach? And, at the same time, give the attention to your family that they deserve (and if im honest, I much prefer)

Harper is 9 months old now, she is incredible, crawling around, getting into everything. At the minute Louise is still off work but, come January, when she goes back to work, I effectively become a working, stay at home Dad.

The balance has to be right.

There is no 1 size fits all answer, each of us has to find what works for them but we all need a balance between work and family life or we will never be able to stay the course.

**sometimes making the right choice is the hardest thing to do**


Change the world

A retiring navy seal gives one of the most inspiring speeches I have heard.

If you want to achieve your goals…….start by making your bed in the morning.

Its only a little thing but if you cant do the little things right you will never be able to do the big things.

This is great advice for life and sport.

All those little things coaches push over and over are important – essential – if you are to achieve your goals.

If you can look back on each training session and know that you did the small things right, if you can face challenges and learn from mistakes, if you can set your sight on that one goal and never ever give up, then you will be successful.

I love this video, hope you do too.

Have a great sunday

(Go make that bed)



As Galileo said ‘measure the measureable, and make measureable what is not so’

This current season I have made a concerted effort to measure as accurately as possible how much work we do and at what intensity. Now obviously I have always recorded this, but this season I took it to the next level (for us) and tracted intensity, volume and rest for every individual athlete. 

We got nice wee graphs like this

For the overall cycle.

And this for each individual

Which is kinda cool. It showed very clearly where people where getting sick for example. 

So having this information is great and it got me thinking, what else can I record that will provide me usefull information about the state of the athletes in my program.

A few day thinking and I came up with a list of things that, if I could record and track them,  could potentially provide useful insight.

(I am 100% sure that there are better coaches than me out there already recording this stuff and much more)

  1. Hours sleep
  2. Sleep quality
  3. Mood
  4. Resting Heart Rate
  5. Hours of training
  6. PRE
  7. Weight

Hours sleep is easy, every morning they tell me how many hours they had.

Sleep quality is rated out of 5, with 5 being excellent and 1 being insomnia. Right now we are going with them rating it but I think that some sort of sleep tracker and a raio of restlessness to sleep would be better. To give me a figure I can track I simply multiply the hours by the quality

Mood is done a day behind so they give me a rating on how they felt yesterday.

I plot a graph of Mood and Sleep quality to see if there is any correlation

(Blue is mood

Orange is sleep)

Resting HR they take in the morning before training on an app on their phone.

PRE and Hours of work I collect after each session. Hours of work is not how long the session lasted but rather how  much time was spent working (session length – rest intervals)

After a quick google search I found that I could use this information to measure Acute (ATL) and Cronic (CTL) training load or Fatigue and Fitness. Lots of formulas later and these combine to give a Training Stress Score (TSS) or ‘form’ so in theory I can see at a glance when they are getting more fatigued and I need to back off a little or when I can push them. 

The blue bars are fatigue and  the orange line is fitness. When the orange line goes above the blue bars this represents a more rested state (very basically) 

Anyway… takes weeks of collecting this stuff for it to be at all representative of whats happening so I have started now hoping that it proves usefull next season.

As yet I havent started recording weight as I cant beside if using base metabolic rate and body composition is providing me useful enough information for the time spent collecting it