Innovative coaching pushing Hampstead & Westminster on

Innovative coaching pushing Hampstead & Westminster on
Sarah Kelleher has been steadily making a name for herself with her innovative coaching practices. Whether at club level, national junior team level or within a business sphere, here is a woman not afraid to push the boundaries of her own work, or her group’s physical and mental resilience.

Among the notable transgressions from cones and commands, the former Irish international has tapped into players’ creativity with song writing exercises and she regularly pushes individuals well beyond their comfort zones to reach personal heights of performance or achievement that they didn’t know were possible.

As any coach will know, to introduce ideas that fall well outside the conventional box of training tools takes a huge element of trust on the part of those being coached. From reactions and interactions, trust is something the engaging Irish woman instils in her charges with abundance. When she describes the sense of togetherness that exists among the team at Hampstead & Westminster, where Kelleher is co-coach with Kate Richardson-Walsh, much of the credit for the atmosphere must lie with the environment that the co-coaches have worked hard to create.

“Kate and I have always agreed that we have to create an environment where people can flourish and be their best selves,” says Kelleher. “You are at your best when you can express yourself as a person and as a player and that comes from having the trust and the confidence to be open.

“At the heart of being confident is action, and to take action and try new stuff out you have to be confident – that is a positive loop. If you can get that loop going and not worry if something doesn’t work then you have a great recipe for unlocking peoples’ potential.”

Although determined to unleash the creative beings, Kelleher also talks about the importance of helping their players attain balance between risk and reward.

“We help them understand risk and reward, to recognise when they can try things and when they may have to play it more safe. You have to pendulum swing people into creativity because there is a tendency to play it safe too often. You have to give them bandwidth to try things out.”

Sarah Kelleher

It is concepts such as these that have made Kelleher such a success in both the sports coaching and business consultancy world. Alongside her role at Hampstead & Westminster, which included guiding the team into the top division of the EHL, she was also coach to the England U18 side – a role that saw her really explore how much creativity and trust you could release through coaching.

Her most recent coaching appointment sees Kelleher join the European Hockey Federation’s Top Coaches Programme as one of the team’s coach educators. The principles and ideas that form the bedrock of her still-developing coaching philosophy extend into the world of business, where, as she says, there are so many intersections with sport.

“Whether it is a business or sports team, you are trying to create an environment where you, as leaders or coaches don’t need to push values; instead the players step up and lead. That is where you get great leaders emerging. In fact, if we look at women in business as an example, successful businesswomen often come through a sports team because sport gives us that high performance, team-leading attitude.”

It is an approach that is certainly working at Hampstead & Westminster where Kelleher says she and Richardson-Walsh get plenty of feedback from their players.

“It is,” she assures with a laugh, “a good thing.”

While the Covid situation has made this a difficult year in particular, when it comes to getting together after matches or to have those informal conversations where so much team-building happens, Kelleher says the environment at Hampstead & Westminster is approaching the way she and her co-coach would like it.

“You have to be clear about your purpose and why you are all here. It is important to get to know people beyond the pitch. For example, Kate and myself are having a meeting with the players to really dig down about what do we really want during Covid times. Together, we are co-creating our purpose and who we want to be. This provides the anchor that you can keep coming back to.”

Besides creativity, Kelleher is also a firm believer in resilience and its essential role in personal growth.

She says: “Resilience is part and parcel of club life. There are players whose journey is towards playing in the Olympics, other players are juggling working or returning from injury. To cope with those issues, we are creating an environment where vulnerability is okay and actually, we want people to have personal connections and feel they can have difficult conversations with myself and Kate.”

As Kelleher says, she is not yet the finished article as a coach and, at Hampstead & Westminster, they have not yet created the perfect environment. And the current pandemic is not helping in that particular quest.

“This is a difficult time but we are navigating it together and we are always open to listening to our players and becoming an even better high performance team. We have so much potential to go further and I am excited about that.”

Hampstead & Westminster’s next game is away against Holcombe on Saturday 24 October.