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Learning from the best as Europe wins again

By sports coach UK Research Consultant Michael Hopkinson

As the dust settles on Europe’s latest Ryder Cup win, team captain Paul McGinley has received well-deserved praise for the way he masterminded this latest impressive victory.

Ryder Cup captaincy is always a position that’s intrigued me from a coaching perspective. We can’t really say the captain coaches the players technically – they have their own coaches for that – but he is undoubtedly responsible for coaching them through the event.

Setting the gameplan and tactics and choosing the pairings are perhaps the most obvious roles the captain fulfils. However, equally if not more important is developing a strong team spirit between twelve elite athletes who spend the rest of the year competing against each other.

So how did McGinley prepare himself for this coaching task? In the two years leading up to the event he spent many hours studying coaches from other team sports to pick up any tips that could prove helpful.

Sir Alex Ferguson (who McGinley organised to give Europe a team talk before the event) and Brendan Rodgers were two examples he quoted, while Stuart Lancaster’s management of the recent New Zealand tour helped him understand how to formulate a gameplan despite missing four or five ‘stalwart’ players (Luke Donald anyone?).

The way he coached the team on a personal level is also impressive. Victor Dubuisson, the supremely talented young French rookie known to be very shy and quiet, was taken under Graeme McDowell’s wing at the request of McGinley well before this week’s match. McGinley used his position as captain to ensure the two played together in the French Open back in July. By all accounts McDowell was by Dubuisson’s side in the days leading up to the event too, with this mentoring role proving highly successful as the pair won both their foursomes matches.

McGinley also confirmed he had met Dubuisson on numerous occasions in the months leading up to the event. He felt getting to know him as a person was crucial for understanding how he could fit him into the team.

Obviously, we can’t all call on world-renowned coaches to help us with our own coaching, but it’s very interesting to see how McGinley used a lot of techniques we advocate for coaches at any level. Comparing your coaching to that of coaches you hold in high regard is a reflective technique we recently recommended coaches should consider using in one of our latest research summaries.

Our Impact of Coaching on Participants report also highlighted the importance of coaches managing personal relationships with their players, something McGinley appears to have down to a tee (no pun intended). While his use of McDowell as a mentor figure also supports our own views around the positive role mentors can play.

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s quite encouraging to think someone at such a high level has achieved great success by using some coaching techniques any of us could try.


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