Coaching Association of Canada

Nicola McGovern - Special Olympics Golf

Preparing for a Major Games: Communication, communication, communication!

Before having the opportunity to take five athletes to the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, golf coach Nicola McGovern got her start as a Special Olympics swimming coach at her local pool. When the local Special Olympics program added golf, she was a natural fit to take on the role. Nicola took some time prior the Games to talk to us about the role communication plays in preparing for a major event.

Are there particular individuals with whom you’ve been working where you’ve seen positive communication play a big role to your team’s preparation?

“The work we’ve been doing with the PGA of Canada has been invaluable for both the athletes and the coaches. The professionals have been a wealth of fundamental, technical, and strategic knowledge of golf. They’ve been excellent at getting their message and instructions across efficiently with simple communication to athletes and have collaborated with both the golfers and the coaches on our plan. The focus of our sessions has been on pre-competition preparation leading up to the World Games in Los Angeles.”

Including specialists as part of your team and ensuring they feel welcome and engaged with the athletes can be a huge asset resulting in big returns for the team. This means keeping them informed and part of the communication loop.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started coaching?

“Coaching is about listening to the athlete and how they feel they’re doing. Coaches need to listen to their athletes, assess their athletes, and then establish their plan. The athlete comes first. Golf isn’t a team sport, everyone comes in with a different capability and they need to be treated accordingly.”

With athletes coming from various parts of the country – in Nicole’s case Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia – it’s essential to address each of them, and their needs, individually. Making sure the individual needs of the athletes are met instead of trying to address them all as one will make athletes feel like you’re invested specifically in their performance.

On using creative ways to stay in touch with athletes all over the country:

“Communicating with our individual coaches and athletes regularly about their technical and tactical progression, mental training development, nutrition changes, and other facets of the training plans has been key. I can’t always see my athletes regularly because we are based across the country so we use a variety of different ways to keep the lines of communication open. We use social media, including a group Facebook page to support each other and encourage each other. We had a group training camp in LA which was invaluable. The entire team went to the World Games venue and played the course we’ll be playing in competition. Every opportunity we have to build communication with the athletes is of utmost importance.”

Getting athletes together for a training camp before a big event will help foster a positive team environment. If you can’t always be together, engaging over social media is a great way to keep motivated, stay up-to-date on athlete progress, and connect with an athlete’s personal coach.