Ask the Expert: Kevin Mannion (Gloucester Rugby Academy)

Kevin Mannion is currently the Academy Performance Manager at Gloucester Rugby. Previously he has worked with Leicester Tigers, British Tennis and Wigan Warriors. He is also a former Rugby League athlete, playing for both Great Britain and England students, as well as playing professionally for Oldham.

1)What has led you into youth sport?

I have been lucky enough to be involved in Sport for a long time.  I wasn’t good enough to make the Wigan Warriors Academy when I left School, so went and signed for a team in the division below. At this club I was fortunate enough to make my Senior debut at 16 years of age, and whilst doing my A Levels was able to play a good standard of Rugby, but looking back I have learnt a lot about managing Junior Athletes. I got a bad injury, which didn’t heal well so walked away from Rugby to go to University and study.

After not playing Rugby in my first year at University, I was lucky enough to tour Australia with Great Britain Students in my 2nd year, and play for England Students in a World Cup Final in my 3rd year. From here I was lucky enough to get a 2nd chance to play professionally, and did for 2 further years. My last game was a match to play in Super League, which post I walked away from playing to start working with the Wigan Warriors Academy.

I spent 3 years there, then moved to British Tennis where I spent 4 years.Moving to Leicester Tigers got me back into rugby, and having spent 7 years there, I am now enjoying the start of my 5th season at Gloucester Rugby.

During this whole period, I have probably only spent 2 years working with Senior players. The ability to see players grow over 2/3/4  years, and then kick on in the Senior game is a great buzz. To play a small part in a big career path, is worth it when you see them being successful.

2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice?

During 19 years of work I have been able to mix with some very good players, coaches and people– see below

From Mike Gregory and some great players at the Wigan Warriors – that made me realise about Culture and what it means to be a local lad to play for the Club.

At British Tennis with Matt Little and Simon Jones – learnt about soft skills and their role in building strong relationships with athletes. Great learning, and for the future.

At Leicester Tigers (a lot like Wigan) they had a strong culture based on Work ethic. Here I was able to work with some good coaches in Kelvin Giles, Neil McCarthy, Neil Taylor (England 20s), and some quality young players that have since developed into good Premiership and International players.

We normally attribute someone as our biggest influence, but for me it is the culmination of my experiences across time that has shaped my practise.

3) What is your particular area of interest?

I am currently Academy Performance Manager at Gloucester Rugby. I probably view ‘Performance’ slightly differently than most.

Yes we run a structured, organised S+C Program which is systematic and consistent with its delivery. We are supported tremendously by James Hudson, so that nutritionally the lads are fuelling their training needs effectively. Our Education Officer Tom Jameson, is great at supporting players with their needs away from the pitch in terms of time management, revision schedules etc

We have a big off field program that encourages and challenges players away from Rugby and tries to give them perspectives away from the game. Professional Sport can be a bubble, and careers can be long or short.

The role of Academies is to produce players for the Senior squad, but underneath that we have to prepare them for life with the suitable skills to cope in and out the environment.

4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 

When I was 16, I over played and under trained. The game itself is not enough to get players through the system – see below:

By providing young players with a holistic view to development, that challenges their skillsets across a number of areas, it will help them firstly understand themselves, and secondly what it takes to be successful.

  • By providing players with the appropriate information, training and recovery; with coaches that have a skillset suited to the developing player, then we have a positive mix for progress.
  • By remembering that players only know what they have been exposed to, so we can’t expect them all to understand everything.
  • Growing their capacity to develop across all areas over the time that they are with you, and for the future – Cognitively, Emotionally, Socially
  • Increasing their ownership of elements of the Program, so making them accountable for more of the outcomes.

All of these areas require support and guidance, by both Coaches, Parents and fellow Players. This in itself means that messaging and language needs to be clear and consistent and delivered in a way that is applicable to that group. Our impact in the short space of time that we have with the players has to be maximal, but by taking parents on the journey we can maximise the impact and get the Family supporting the journey.

5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best piece of advice I have ever received is probably the area I most struggle with.

We can get engrossed in our jobs, and forget the things around us that are really important. For any young coach finding the balance between ‘Working to live and Living to work’ is imperative. I missed my Son growing up by working away, and Sport isn’t a 9-5 job. Go into it with eyes wide open, and enjoy every moment of it.

6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 

Don’t be in a rush to get to the top. Learn your trade, make mistakes and enjoy trying different methodologies in an environment where you can evaluate their effectiveness with reduced stress.

Spend time knowing your subject, and get out to as many different environments and see what’s happening out there. Remember that context is key, and that all Athletes young and old want attention and coaching. Don’t try to replicate what you have seen elsewhere, but create and grow your own culture and philosophy based on your values.

7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?

As a S+C coach there are some great resources out there  – Proformance /James Baker, Dr Rhodri Lloyd, Kelvin Giles, Prof Graeme Close – but I believe that it is understanding the Athlete that is paramount.

Some of the work from Prof Dave Collins team: Aine MacNamara, Andrew Cruikshank, Dr Andy Hill, Neil McCarthy, Jamie Taylor  on Talent development is well worth a read.

The best resource is someone’s time though – if you can get time with a coach (over a coffee or in their environment) that can be the best resource out there.

8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)

@Minion_Kev1 on Twitter

Thanks to Kevin for his time and expertise!