Adrian O’Sullivan coaching column: What is your coaching philosophy?


I took a journey down a Twitter black hole recently. You know one of those where you read an article, like it, read the comments, some guy has put a link to another similar article, suddenly it’s 4am and you’re internally debating the merits of using NFL wide receiver routes with your full forward line? Ya, one of those!

Anyway, I stumbled across a blog from one of my old college teachers Phil Kearney in which he spoke about his coaching philosophy. In it he spoke about reading another blog by a college classmate of mine Ainle O’Cairreallain. And that’s when the proverbial hit the fan. In his blog Ainle speaks about being asked in an interview what his coaching philosophy was and how it completely stumped him. He went on to write about how he actively took time to think about it, write it down and refine it over time before he settled on one he was comfortable with.

I won’t lie, the blog hit me hard. I’d been coaching for nine years at various levels and I didn’t have a coaching philosophy. I felt like a fraud to be honest, almost as if I had been winging it all the time. How could I possibly operate as a coach without any guiding principles for my work. So like Ainle, I decided to take the time and work through my thoughts and work out what my coaching philosophy is.

If you have reached this point and you are a) still reading and b) not sure what a philosophy is then thank you for sticking with it and here is a definition for you.

‘A theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour’

Like any definition this is open to interpretation but for me the route it took me down was to define the type of environment I want to create for my players and for my co-management and to subsequently reverse engineer that to provide myself with the basic principles I want to have in place for any set up I’m involved in.

I made pages and pages of notes but the key ones that stood out to me were as follows.

  1. I want to encourage an open environment of constant two-way learning. Coaches providing scenarios for player learning. Players giving feedback to coaches and peer to peer feedback for both coaches and players.


  1. I want every person (Players and management) who commits to the set up to have the opportunity for personal growth and development. The All-Blacks principle of better people make better players resonates strongly with me. I want to endeavour to provide opportunities for my players to develop as people outside of the sport we are playing.


I have been given opportunities by coaches and managers in the past to learn my trade and I want to provide all coaches who work with me with the opportunity to develop their skill set and take on greater responsibility.


  1. I want every person (Players and management) who commits to the set up to enjoy it. Sport can be very outcome oriented. The higher up you go the more pressure is on management and players to deliver. I never want to lose sight of the fact that the principle reason for sport is enjoyment and have made a commitment to myself, to always strive to create that environment for my players and management team.

So, they are the three I settled on. Very hard to rattle off to anyone who ever asks however! So, I have simplified it to three words.

  1. Can be shortened to – Learning
  2. Can be shortened to – Growth
  3. Can be shortened to – Enjoyment

So, in future if anyone asks me what my coaching philosophy is I can say

Learning. Growth. Enjoyment.

Try it out. You won’t regret taking the time to do it.