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ALAN GOOD

When it comes to coaching philosophies, Focus assistant club director and coaching director Alan Good has a simple idea: to make himself redundant.

The 32-year-old Irishman, who left his native land to join Focus in 2017 and has gone on to help The Covenant School to a state championship final and a first-ever Blue Ridge Conference title this year, says he strives to create decision-makers and create an environment where problems are set for players, rather than solved for them.

"A good phrase for this that I heard from a coaching mentor at home was that we shouldn't give the players all the answers, but we can show them where to look," he explains.

"When I started out coaching in 2013, I was very much a transactional coach - in other words, 'Here is my knowledge, now go use it'. I still fall into that trap every so often, but as I progress on my own journey, I'm becoming more of a transformational coach. The idea is that the game knowledge is already within the players - the challenge for me is to create the right practice environment to draw it out of them.

"I want our girls to gain tactical awareness and the confidence to read the game and creatively find solutions to the challenges it presents, so they can be adaptable to whatever style or system their high school or college team plays. When games and tournaments come around, that's the exam for the players - and us coaches can't sit it for them." 

Alan credits his approach to being introduced to the TGFU (teaching games for understanding) in 2014, the values of which he now espouses as a USA Field Hockey coach educator.

"I try to make our training sessions look like a game, or a part of the game, as much as possible," he says. "I still use drills for technical work occasionally, but for me, the best learning happens in game situations with real defenders, real pressure, and real decisions to make, all under certain constraints to help speed up the players' understanding.

"It often means training is messier, but the transfer of knowledge to the game has been proven to be far more effective. The more often we expose the girls to those scenarios in practice, the clearer those pictures should look for them in the game."

A multi-sport athlete during his teens, with rugby, soccer and tennis at the forefront, Alan came late to field hockey in 2008 at 22 years old, when he was asked to write about the sport in his then-job as a national newspaper reporter: "I figured that if I was going to write about it, I should learn how to play it."

That began a love affair with the sport that saw him start Southern Fried Hockey, one of Ireland's most successful camp companies, as well as taking voluntary roles on Munster Hockey's management committee and as an umpire of high-level Division 1 games. 

He eventually broke away from journalism to become one of the country's few full-time hockey coaches in 2013, building extensive experience at schools, club and adult levels as well. Alan spent three years as head coach to Munster U16 girls, one of five regional teams that provides players to the Ireland U16 program, and also worked with the province's U18 boys and U18 girls.

Numerous titles were won along the way, but Alan's clearest memories are of the encounters that changed him as a coach.

"I failed my first Level 2 coaching qualification assessment, and the feedback was quite blunt," he explains. "At the time I wanted to blame everyone except myself, but in hindsight I needed that humbling experience, and I did much better second time around.

"I'd forgotten what it was like to be back in the learner's position. The experience gave me more empathy for the players I coach, the difficulties they face and the perils of not taking responsibility for your own actions when things don't go to plan. 

"One of the biggest changes I've made to my coaching is to try and simplify the game as much as possible for the players."

Having coached in both the developmental and high performance realms of the game in Ireland, Alan says he enjoys the Focus setup where there is a balance of both.

"I'm probably more of a developmental coach than a high performance one, so I enjoy the fact that at Focus, our main priority is developing the girls as players and people as best we can, to get them ready to play in college. Other environments are very results-driven but we can be more process-oriented. It's why you see the #busygettingbetter tag on all our social media posts.

"Nonetheless, tournaments like NITs and RCCs allow you to build that competitive, do-or-die element of knockout tournament hockey that'll be important for the girls to have experienced when they might find themselves in a game with a conference title - or even an NCAA one - on the line. It's a nice balance."