James Claffey Interview by John O’Shea

Cobh Ramblers first team coach James Claffey is someone who is enjoying life with the St Colman’s Park club.

On top of his footballing coaching experience, he works as a Sports Psychologist, including lecturing on issues in the sport, exercise and performance industry for over a decade.

Claffey is currently in middle of his UEFA A Licence course, with among his tutors being Ireland U15 manager Jason Donoghue and Irish U21 boss Jim Crawford.

With the lockdown, the past few months will have been different to anything Claffey or anybody in football has ever experienced before.

On what Cobh Ramblers have been during the COVID-19 shutdown of action, he describes:

Claffey : “I think as soon as the information broke that there was going to be a lockdown, Stuart(Ashton) and Dec Coleman, who is the assistant coach there, put a plan of action together very quickly.”

Claffey: “In typical fashion with Stuart, we had a plan really quickly. We basically said we need to keep these guys active during the lockdown.”

Claffey: “We split them into four groups and we were creating weekly challenges for them. What we tried to implement was there would be a level of competition. So for example every player would do a 5km run and you’d have five players in each group.”

Claffey : “At the end of the week, the winners were the winners and the team that finished bottom would have to do a forfeit, something like press ups, burpees or sit-ups and they’d send the video of them doing that into the group then as well.”

Claffey : “We were trying to hit on the essence of sport, which is competition and try to get the players to be competitive against themselves. The lockdown hit everybody in different ways. But the players were fantastic because the chat was full of life.”

Claffey : “They were interacting and communicating with each other. Some were talking about their scores from the challenges saying I beat this score or that score. It just gave them a lease of life during lockdown”.

Claffey: “At my end with the sports psychology, I just created a small little leaflet based around advice from the Psychological Society Of Ireland.”

Through his experience as a Sports Psychologist, Claffey has an understanding of the mindset of players.

He feels for footballers, both young and old, it is very important to look after your mental health and wellbeing.

Claffey: “I think a great thing now is that it is becoming bigger and bigger. You are hearing the likes of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors in Basketball, you are hearing all of these top coaches speaking.”

Claffey : “You have to know the game and understand the game. But coaching, like psychology, is all based around human interaction. You need to make sure that people are feeling good. You can have all the best tactics and coaches in the world, but the best teams are the ones that have good human interaction.”

Claffey: “We are lucky with Stuart(Ashton) and Dec(Coleman) with Cobh Ramblers are fantastic for honing in on that, knowing when it is right to be putting an arm around somebody or when they need a little kick up the backside.”

Claffey: “It is one of these things and I am forever saying it to young coaches or athletes. When we think about health, we have pillars of health and at the bottom of all that is the foundation of our health.”

Claffey: “The foundation of our health is and always will be our mental health. So I could have a pillar of health which is diet and nutrition. I could eat fantastic every day and I might make sure my diet is excellent in terms of being an athlete at the elite level.”

Claffey : “I might actually have good exercise and physical activity. I might also be getting good rest during them days. But underneath all of them pillars is the foundation of health, which is mental health.”

Claffey: “If that is off or somebody is having a bad time, then the other pillars of health will all fall down. So the key cornerstone for not just players but people, is to always have good mental health.”

Claffey has been a part of the first team coaching staff right since Stuart Ashton took over in charge as the manager at Cobh Ramblers.

On a general level, he has really enjoyed life coaching with Ramblers.

Claffey: “When I moved to Cork, a chance came up with Cobh Ramblers because of Stephen Henderson, which was fantastic and I am very grateful for that. When Stephen left and Stuart took over, Stuart offered me a role to coach as well as do the Sports Psychology, which was brilliant because I had just started my UEFA A Licence at the time.”

Claffey: “I’ll never forget driving in Cobh across the seafront that first day, coming across into St Colman’s Park and just thinking Cobh at the best of times is one of the most beautiful places, when you come out onto the seafront there is just something special and magical about it.”

Claffey: “I have just thoroughly enjoyed it. Stuart Ashton is a UEFA Pro Licence coach and Dec Coleman has vast experience as an A Licence coach. For me, to be honest I am observing what they do all of the time if there is something I am not sure about, I will ask them and the answers that they give are phenomenal.”

Claffey: “Stuart has vast experience as a player and a coach and his day to day job is obviously coaching as well.”

Claffey: “The likes of Shane Kavanagh have been great as well. Kavs is the heartbeat behind Cobh Ramblers and I don’t know many people realize that. On the day to day, Shane is taking calls from 8 in the morning to 10, 12 o clock at night sometimes. He has been great for me.”

Claffey: “Walking into St Colman’s Park, one of things that I love is that there is a welcoming atmosphere. Even the first day I walked in, ‘Handsome’ Bob Donovan came over and gives you a hug, like he always does. He makes you feel very welcome.”

Claffey: “Overall, there is lots of great characters around Cobh Ramblers. I have to say I have really thoroughly enjoyed my time there in terms of going in and learning all about the club.”

Touching on the area of coach education in Ireland, Claffey feels that the coaching structures currently in place by the FAI are very impressive indeed.

Discussing his experience of the UEFA A Licence course, he says:

Claffey: “I have to say that the UEFA A Licence here in terms of the coach education is phenomenal. It is something that coaches need to be aware of, that the infrastructures here are as good as I’ve seen.”

Claffey: “Certainly the type of guest speakers we have had are of a high calibre. We had the director of football from Greece come in and give a talk.”

Claffey: “It was just phenomenal to hear the differences of different cultures across coaching, trying to take little snippets and learn from them as well.”

Someone with a Master’s Degree focused in Sports and Exercise Psychology at Waterford Institute of Technology, Claffey now spends much of his day to day work lecturing in this particular area, through his work with the likes of Pearse College and IBAT College in Dublin.

For anybody who might be interested in working in the sports psychology area, Claffey discusses:

Claffey : “In relation to psychology, there are plenty of starting courses out there. There is a distance learning starter course with Kilroys College. They do one where you do 10 assessments, they just send everything out and you don’t need to go to class. So it is a distance learning format.”

Claffey: “There is a number of different diplomas you can do, particularly up in Dublin.

Claffey : “The more we talk about it, the more Sports Psychology is being embraced all the world over. Most of the big organizations will have somebody working over performance psychology as well.”