The International Council for Coaching Excellence (ICCE) Global Coach Conference is in its 11th year. The conference brings together frontline coaches, coach educators and developers, academics and sports scientists to share research, best practice and expertise in relation to understanding and developing coaching practice. In addition, the ICCE is associated with a number of the main journals in my field such as the International Sports Coaching Journal, and the International Journal for Sports Science and Coaching. The conference took place four weeks ago (July 31st to August 2nd 2017) in Liverpool and is due to take place in Tokyo in 2019. All these factors considered, back in November 2016 when the notice for abstract submission came out for this conference, my supervisory team (Dr. Mark Lyons & Dr. Ciarán MacDonncha) and I highlighted this as a fantastic target and opportunity to share our work at international level and meet with a diverse group of coaches and researchers.
Conveniently, at this time we had also developed a unique review paper idea on Game-Based Approaches in competitive team sports, and it was through this idea that we based our abstract submission. We received the good news in March that our abstract had been accepted for an oral presentation and with that, planning for the event started. The conference programme was published in June and revealed a worldwide attendance packed schedule with leading academics such as Prof Jean Cote, Prof Chris Cushion and Prof Wade Gilbert pencilled in for numerous talks. My 20 min presentation slot was on the Wednesday morning of the conference. As regards conference preparation, the next few months involved finalising the review paper, submitting the review paper and organising travel and accommodation for the trip. Once all these issues were taken care of it allowed me to focus on preparing the presentation slides and content.
I arrived at the conference on my own on the Monday morning just in time to see the opening keynote presentation by England head coach and renowned innovator, Eddie Jones. It was the first of six keynote speeches I would attend over the three days. The keynote conference speeches were thought provoking. Eddie Jones and Prof Barry Durst (Sports Scientist) took an interesting perspective on the continued growth of Sports Science and its place in coaching at the moment. They highlighted the value of sports science in coaching but issued a warning regarding its dominance and coaches over reliance on it at present. They felt that coaches knowledge, experience and instinct has been preceded by statistics that don’t tell a complete story. They both spoke about the coach reclaiming a grip on the coaching wheel, a grip that they feel has been loose recently. Their points resonated with me as a coach, especially when I consider the importance we hold on GPS data that is used as a marker to judge player performance. Jones and Durst however, argued that this should be one tool among many that coaches uses to help them in the decision making process. But, ultimately the coach should control the final decision made and not just a statistic. The same from a recovery and tapering point of view, sometimes a coach through interaction with players and experience can gauge what is needed. Their points certainly gave me food for thought and cause to reflect on my own practice.
Outside of the keynote presentations, there were research presentations, lectures, practical sessions, discussions and demonstrations organised by themes for attendees to choose from. A constant dilemma over the three days was deciding what talks to attend and those to miss due to conflicts. In the end, I decided to attend the presentations that seemed to be aligned in some way to my research and authors who I had recently cited in our review paper. In particular, I took great value from a research project based in Sweden and the incorporation of life skills into a coaching program for adolescent soccer players. In addition, Dr Fiona Chambers of UCC presented on a very interesting study investigating the holistic nature of Gaelic football academies. The research highlighted significant issues that the GAA will need to address to stem athlete burnout and dropout.
This was the first international academic conference I attended and indeed the first time I really experienced mass networking. I had a few intended targets that I wished to meet but it seems everyone else was in the same boat. I had taken a course last year during the UL summer school that focused specifically on networking and this gave me a few ideas, but ultimately you just need to be polite and put yourself out there. Dr Don Vinson of the University of Worcester was one particular person I reached out to as I am aware of previous methods he used in his studies that I plan to use in January. We grabbed lunch on one of the days and shared ideas on authentic assessment of tactical awareness. It was a good conversation.
I enjoy doing presentations so I was surprised on Wednesday morning that I was a bit nervous before my slot, perhaps this was due to the exceptional standards set by speakers over the previous few days. The presentation was placed under the theme of “learning more on coaching”. I presented in a room to about 70 people, all went fine (although I would have liked 30 more seconds) and the two questions I received I was able to answer comfortably. Following the presentation, a number of people with similar interests introduced themselves and we exchanged contact details. One of the positives of going alone to a conference was that it forced me out of my comfort zone to meet people and sit with different people each day. It made the few days very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the conference was self funded (following unsuccessful conference funding applications) and although the trip was conveniently located in Liverpool, the trip costs still exceeded €1000 when conference entry, transport, food and accommodation are factored in.
Overall, my first international conference was enjoyable and worthwhile with plenty of learning and a desire to attend a conference abroad next year.