As published in InTouch Magazine (IRUPA), November edition.
Annalise Murphy didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after banishing the pain of missing out on a medal at London 2012 by claiming silver in the final race of the women’s Laser Radial in Rio last August. Growing up in an avid sailing home, an Olympic medal was always Murphy’s ultimate dream.
To an extent, IRUPA has accompanied her on that journey to the podium, with Dr. Kate Kirby at her side in her role as a sports psychologist. “My time with Annalise actually stretches back to 2005 when she was identified as a Development Athlete, so that medal was the culmination of over 10 years work,” Kate informs us while speaking at Huddle Dublin at the Aviva on September 29th. “But she was so driven in her own right that it turned out to be one the easiest jobs I’ve ever done!”
Joining the IRUPA team in October 2012, Kate had already gained extensive experience in a variety of fields. Having attained both an MSc and PhD in sports psychology, she has provided consultancy services for a number of sporting bodies including the Irish Olympic Sailing and Modern Pentathlon squads. Her work with IRUPA has primarily seen her work with the Irish Women’s Sevens squad in a player development capacity.
“Since I first joined IRUPA, it is clear that the organisation has taken much more of a foothold in the game. We have much more of an influence and are held in higher esteem. I would put this down to two things: visibility and manpower. When I started out we offered general services but now we can give the individual greater attention.”
“A big part of our role,” Kate continues, “is helping a retiring player to transition out of his or her rugby career. Unfortunately we can’t prevent the fall, but we can help to soften the landing quite significantly. It is therefore so important that players take the time to engage with us. To provide the best service possible we need to get a feel for them as people with their own character, passions and goals.”
“In the past the most difficult part has been trying to secure time in front of the players. We had no allotted schedule space and had to work around their diaries. With all their on-field training, gym work, physio sessions and team meetings, we had to try and squeeze in where possible. But with the work that we have been doing, I think the provinces are really seeing the fruits of our efforts and they facilitate us wherever possible.”
Working with an Olympic athlete however has brought different challenges to the table. “In IRUPA, much of our work is of an off-field dimension in that we help to develop the players from an educational and career perspective. With Annalise, it was a very hands-on, results based experience. In the beginning we had to work on her all-round skills, from how she packed her bag to how she managed her logistics. We did everything in our power in an effort to help maximise her performance levels. But as she matured and grew into the sport, the work changed. We then became more focused on her mental skills and the consistency of her racing.”
Having been at London 2012, Kate had acquired the requisite knowledge base to assist the 25 year-old manage her Olympic experience. “While she performed well in London, our work in the interim was about developing greater self-awareness and exploring how she responds in certain situations. We had established our working environment but she would be the first to admit that she became frustrated by it and drifted. In Rio she appreciated what she had to do and she got on with it.”
“Before we made the trip out there we reflected on London, the successes and mistakes. It was clear that whatever framework we established would be crucial to achieving her goal. For instance, I stayed with Annalise in an apartment nearby the sailing centre. In London we didn’t spend as much time together and as a result our work became a bit rushed. Furthermore, Rory Fitzpatrick, her coach, lived elsewhere. This was a deliberate move designed to promote fresher interaction.”
Any success is grounded upon strong mental preparation and Murphy, with Kate by her side, perfected her approach to Rio 2016. To bounce back from such disappointment and spend the next four years planning to put things right takes an enormous amount of dedication and drive. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but as Murphy crossed the finish line every sacrifice she had made along the way became worthwhile.