What is Success?-Adrian O’Sullivan


We are in the thick of championship now, prime time for hurling. And maybe the action on the pitch and the punditry and chat off it is inspiring you to become a coach. You might think you have the antidote for Davy’s sweeper system or you could set up a forward line to cause havoc like Eamon O’Shea in Tipperary. You might already be involved in teams and be looking for guidance. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.

Over the course of the summer, we at Sportstalk will be publishing a series of articles that look at hurling coaching in a different way. Simple, practical advice that you can learn from and easily apply to your own teams. In the coming months we will be covering topics such as:

  • The difference between a trainer and a coach
  • ‘Asking Why?’ – The most powerful tool in coaching
  • Goal setting – the difference between victory and success
  • Fitness for hurling
  • The elephant in the hurling room – setting up a defence
  • Player development

I don’t have all the answers. I believe that in coaching there is no black and white but mainly grey! This is how I do it and I hope that whatever your thoughts on the content, you will take something away from each article that will get your own creativity flowing and take your coaching to a better place.

Week 1 – How To Measure Success

As random as it may sound it was the appointment of Sam Alardyce as England football manager a few years back that made me rethink my attitude towards success. More precisely what is success and how does one measure it?

Well it’s obvious isn’t it? Success is trophies, winning matches, medals, parades, slaps on the back, few free pints in the clubhouse. Case closed, short article!

Victory vs Success

Well not exactly. I have been toying with the idea for a while now that there is a distinct and clear difference between winning competitions / matches and success. That victory and success are not one and the same. That it is possible for multiple teams to be successful but for only one winner to emerge.

When Big Sam was appointed to the England role, plenty of TV and radio shows went through his record and were quite scathing due to the fact that he had very little silverware to his name as a coach. But one pundit made a very valid comment and it was a eureka moment in my mind.

‘Every team Big Sam has been involved with’ he stated ‘Has been left in a better place leaving than when he took over’. Wow. That is success right there. Therein lies the makings of any coaching or business mantra.

‘Leave the team in a better place than when you took them over.’

Simple isn’t it? Well it sounds simple but it does require some groundwork to allow you to track whether or not you have left the team in a better place.

  • Fitness – Are the team in better physical condition than previous years. This might be easier to track in your second year with a team as you can refer back to previous fitness and gym tests. In year one this might simply be have we made incremental improvements in fitness throughout the year.
  • Player Happiness – Was the in-season dropout rate lower than in previous years. How many players returned season on season. I am always absolutely delighted if not one player drops off my squad during a season. Do not underestimate the importance of enjoyment.
  • Performance – Did the coaches and management facilitate the squad to play to their full potential, This is more of a qualitative than a quantitative assessment and a little harder to track. But honest discussion and appraisal will give you that answer more often than not.

If you can take a team and make them marginally better in various areas, this is being a successful coach in my eyes. If there are 16 teams in a competition there will only ever be one winner. Does this mean that the other 15 teams were unsuccessful? Of course not.

Goal Setting

When it comes to goal setting for a squad, again it is vitally important to separate victory and success. Coaches and managers often struggle with this one. How can I stand up infront of a group and say that anything other than championship success is our goal?

But when ultimately there is only going to be one winner in a season then again the distinction is necessary.

Two coaches I have worked closely with in the past, Peter Beirne and Colm O’Brien are firm believers in ‘The Process’. That while victory may be the ultimate destination, teams need to focus on the process or the journey towards it.

Simply put – We know we want to win but how do we get there?

This process involves putting performance KPIs into everything the squad does. Repeatedly hitting these KPIs is going to lead to greater consistency in performance and ultimately give you a far greater chance of victory.

So in the case of a squad, and to focus on one game as an example. The process might involve:

  • Limiting the opposition to under X amount of scoreable frees
  • Focusing on work rate ratio – How many tackles per opposition possession
  • Shooting X% of times from the highest percentage scoring zones

The three above can be summarised are discipline, workrate and smart use of the ball. So by setting these KPI’s now your team has a focus in every game and this focus then starts to mould your teams identity.

Ask yourself this. Would it be a success if at the end of the season your team were described as disciplined, hard working and smart?

There are definitely a few of you reading this who are going to be muttering that a KPI never pucked a ball over the bar! And ok, does achieving these KPIs guarantee victory in the game? No. But, what it does allow is comparative analysis from game to game. This is vital as it allows the team and management to monitor their progress and performance levels throughout the season. Again, results simply don’t do this.

The best example of this would be if you are playing against a team who are in a higher league or at a further stage in their development than your own team. So you lose by 8 or 9 points but you hit all of your KPI’s. This is still a success. The team performed to it’s potential but was beaten by a better side on the day. As opposed to just focusing on the result.

It all comes back to the original statement.

‘Leave the team in a better place than when you took them over.’


Adrian O’Sullivan is a member of the Westmeath Senior Hurling coaching staff and the manager of the University Of Limerick Ashbourne Cup winning team.

Twitter: @CoachSullyST