PAUL Barr’s enthusiasm for coaching is both infectious and impressive.
As he heads into his 38th consecutive season as a coach, his passion hasn’t waned. And neither have his energy levels. The fire is still burning.
‘I love coaching and I still find it very enjoyable,’ Barr says, as we chat last Friday evening, a couple of hours out from another training session.
‘I’m looking forward to the session tonight as much as I did when I started coaching in the 1980s.
‘I was 19 years old when I started as an assistant coach with St Michael’s College in Dublin – and I haven’t stopped since.’
Barr’s not even close to easing up, and last week he was announced as Bandon RFC’s Director of Coaching.
‘We are thrilled that Paul has accepted the position of Director of Coaching as this marks the beneficial development for our club and allows us to build on the already vibrant coaching scene at the club,’ Bandon chairman Michael O’Mahony explained.
It’s a role that Barr is tailor-made for. His coaching CV is stacked. He is a former Director of Rugby at St Michael’s College in Dublin, a former head coach at Presentation Brothers College, Cork, and has delivered coach development workshops for Munster Rugby. His experience goes across all the age grades; take 2019 as an example. Not only did Barr coach the Bandon team that won the U16 All-Ireland title, but in the same season he coached Cork Con to All-Ireland League Division 1A and Munster Senior Challenge Cup titles.
Barr understands Bandon’s coaching model and club philosophy better than anyone, and he has that vast coaching experience to call on and share. He wants to bring everyone along on this journey.
‘For our underage club in Bandon, our mission is to create an environment where a youngster can achieve their full potential in the sport and in a really strong community environment,’ Barr explains.
‘To achieve that, we have really great volunteers coaching in the club and it’s about giving them the confidence, the tools and the knowledge on how to run a training session, how to coach youngsters and how to make the environment a really positive one for the players.
‘That’s where my role kicks in, to lend experience to the coaching groups that are coming up and making sure that they are informed enough, have the experience and the confidence to take the teams through the age grades.’
In recent years Bandon RFC has taken a ‘teaching games for understanding’ approach with its underage teams – and it’s been a great success as Barr explains.
‘It’s using the game to teach the game,’ he says.
‘Children come to play the game, therefore the majority of the training should be playing the game.
‘Particularly for the younger group, they are there to play games and to enjoy themselves, with the skills development running parallel to that.’
Barr offers an insight into the club’s training approach.
‘Another thing we look at is counting the number of touches of the ball each child has,’ he explains.
‘If the game goes to ten-a-side, 11-a-side or 12-a-side, you might find some kids – for a variety of different reasons – have only one touch of the ball in the whole training session.
‘What we do then is that if it’s a 12-a-side game we then move to two six-a-side games. The younger the group, the earlier the divide to make sure the child gets involved, gets to touch the ball, gets to feel good about themselves and that they have fun.
‘If the player is enjoying themselves and the coaches are too, and everyone is working hard, then success tends to be a possibility.’
Excited by the challenge of his new role as Bandon Rugby’s Director of Coaching, he has objectives he wants to meet, like introducing a system of communication from the J1 adult team all the way down the U13s. He also wants to look more into the drop-off of players from underage to adult rugby.
‘One thing I would like to do is unify the underage with the adult club because I think a lot of clubs would acknowledge that there is a disconnect between players of 18 and 19 years of age and the adult clubs,’ Barr says.
‘I’d be fascinated to see the number of players across the West Cork clubs that leave the club at 19, go to college, and don’t play again. I don’t blame the player because there is a big divide between underage and J1 rugby, and trying to find that gap is a challenge that I want to look at.’
Barr has spoken in the past about how Bandon RFC – West Cork’s most successful rugby club in recent years – wants all its teams, from adult down to underage, to play a similar style and adopt the same principles. That will help players’ transition up through the grades. The club’s coaches have an important role to play here, and Barr is ready to play his part.