Christy O'Connor: Detailed planning can separate the great players from the rest

Journaling was crucial to All Black legend Dan Carter's success; a new book by Paul Kilgannon shows how it can be used in any sport
Christy O'Connor: Detailed planning can separate the great players from the rest

Iveleary were one of the teams that enjoyed a very successful 2021. The best players and teams always document their goals for the season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN early November the excellent ‘High-Performance Podcast’ with Jake Humphry and Damian Hughes featured an interview with the former New Zealand All-Black Dan Carter.

Titled How to make the leap from being good to being great Carter certainly was great; along with playing 112 test matches and winning two Rugby World Cups, Carter is the highest point scorer in test rugby and the most capped All Blacks fly-half of all time.

Carter spoke in great detail about the lessons he learned from his career, but the standout feature of the interview was how clear Carter was in his thinking. His process made it simple.

His purpose or vision was to be a great All Black and Carter would constantly work back from that starting point. “Every day I got out of bed I’d say what does an All Black great do,” said Carter. “It sparked a real growth mindset in me. Being an All Black great is something I’d write in my book at the start of every year. I’d want to see it every day.”

Carter was constantly writing stuff down, especially around planning. His former coach Wayne Smith was really strong on players structuring their week and Carter rigorously abided by that code.

Carter always wanted such defined structure in his week that he minutely broke it down into exact detail. Every Sunday Carter would write his plan for the week. He didn’t want to waste any day, so he’d even plan his days off.

“I was really strict in my preparation,” said Carter. “I think that was a big part in my success and my drive. It’s something I’ve taken this into my life after rugby.

“I want to plan each day. There’s something about writing it down.”

New Zealand's Dan Carter celebrates with the Webb Ellis Cup.
New Zealand's Dan Carter celebrates with the Webb Ellis Cup.

For any player or athlete or coach, the disciplined habit of journaling has always been a pragmatic tool when assessing performance, analysing strategies and developing an effective structure to their game.

Simplicity is the key to the science behind the practise. Committing thoughts to memory often become lost in the diverse information stored in our minds unless it is assigned significant importance.

Unless it is written down, the likelihood of instantly recalling that specific memory, moment or piece of information – which could make the crucial difference to improvement of performance – may just become lost in the vast chasm of memory.

Detailing each session not only enables players, managers and coaches to build an accurate picture of how they are progressing, it also creates an effective recording process which highlights learning efficiencies, or potential insights into underperformance.

That may sound fanciful, but journaling is a process which improves the single most powerful asset any athlete or player possesses – their mind.

In such a technological age, there is so much information coming at everyone now that one of the greatest challenges is to process that information, to understand what’s important and what’s not relevant.

Modern players have never had more stuff to attend to, ranging from diet to gym work to analysis sessions to individual skills work-ons, and a whole lot more.

Developing the coping mechanisms to process all that information efficiently has never been so important because everything is happening so fast.

“We must purposely and strategically make time to distil, reflect and contemplate,” writes Kilgannon in the book.

“Good thinking means better decisions. Better decisions allow for less stress, more free time and more opportunity.”

Journaling certainly provides a space for players and coaches to embed good practices and processes in order to utilise information and use time wisely.


Reading back chronological markers of success also invariably breeds greater success. Journaling forces players and coaches to slow down, pause and ponder, creating much-needed space in such a busy world.

“We do our best thinking when slowing down and concentrating,” writes Kilgannon.

“Journaling frees your mind and provides space for new ideas and thought patterns to develop. Journaling help unlock your talents.”

Carter certainly always believed that it did for him. Even now that he has retired, Carter has a gratitude journal and a planning journal.

He spends half an hour on it on every Sunday planning his week ahead.

In the podcast, Carter said that Richie McCaw, who captained the All-Blacks to those two World Cups in 2011 and 2015, was even more planned and detailed in his journaling than him.

“Richie knew exactly where he was going,” said Carter. “He was going for greatness.”

Kilgannon writes how the best coach for all of us in life is our private or inner voice.

That voice can often be counter-productive, but anyone can learn to develop that voice and use it as an ally.

Journaling certainly can allow anyone to tap in and listen to what kind of coaching advice you are giving yourself, and ultimately allow you to become your own best coach.

At one stage of his book, Kilgannon quotes Jeff Duntemann, who has written multiple books on software technology.

A good tool improves the way you work. A great tool improves the way you think.”

And Kilgannon’s latest book is another very effective sporting tool in helping sportspeople be the best they can be.

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