Following the resignation of Michael Ryan as senior hurling manager attention has turned in Tipperary to appointing a successor to the Upperchurch-Drombane man. It is critically important that the County Board appoint the right man . . . and not a “great man” as senior hurling manager; it’s about finding the right man who is actually qualified to do the job.

A number of years ago Kieran Shannon, a qualified sports psychologist and a sports writer of real note, wrote a highly-relevant article concerning such an appointment process – you can read the piece by clicking here.

In the article Kieran Shannon refers to the “great man theory” – the concept revolves around the misguided fast-tracking of former “great” players into coaching or management roles. Great players, however, do not automatically make for great managers, selectors or, especially, coaches.

Kieran Shannon’s argument was/is that sports administrators often fail to appreciate what effective leadership looks like, what effective motivation involves and the value of good communication. Too many sports administrators subscribe to the out-dated school of thought that leaders don’t have certain skills, but instead have certain qualities.

When the Football Association of Ireland, for instance, appointed Steve Staunton as Republic of Ireland manager they subscribed to the “great man theory” – the administrators involved during the appointment process deluded themselves into thinking that Steve Staunton’s playing style was transferable to a management role.

During the past year former Manchester United great Ryan Giggs turned his nose up at an offer to learn his trade while coaching the club’s youth team. Giggs believed that he was above starting his management career at a lower rung. Here, Ryan Giggs implicated that coaching is easy and that he knew it all because of his achievements as a player.

The ability to do something and the ability to coach that something are two very different things. The skills required to play the game successfully are very different to those required to succeed in coaching. Indeed, if you fall into the trap of fast-tracking a former great into a coaching or management role you run the risk of appointing an individual who then has to learn on the job. Coaching is a trade that can be learned, but the point is that it must be learned in the first place.

And, ironically enough, right across the sporting world the most accomplished coaches are often not those who emerged from exceptional playing careers, but, instead, were ordinary players who had to work hard in order to overcome significant challenges. As a result such coaches and managers have developed a startling ability to learn from their experiences and an empathic outlook – these individuals understand and appreciate limited players.

Conversely, great players often struggle to understand ordinary people; they cannot understand players who can’t do what they themselves could do at their ease.

Great players can often emerge from their inter-county careers believing wholeheartedly in talent and often have little or no understanding of the concept that you can design and implement a system of play which will work to protect the weak links in your team.

Ultimately, Tipperary hurling now enjoys an opportunity to go in a new direction and adopt a fresh line of thinking. But mark these words down: identifying a candidate to take over from Michael Ryan as manager of the Tipperary senior hurling team is not about finding a great man, it’s about finding the right man for the job.

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