Below, Setanta graduate Peter Hughes provides an insight into his coaching career which has brought him from his playing days with the Tyrone senior footballers to working with the Derry senior footballers and now as Rehabilitation Physiotherapist with New Zealand Sevens. 

From Playing to Coaching

Initially starting out his studies in engineering, which he outlines was “a great grounding for the sporting world with a lot of principles and methodology I still use today”, Peter’s transition to a career in rehab and S&C has brought him to many different sporting realms including GAA, Australian Rules Football, Rugby and American Football. 

A previous member of the Tyrone senior football team, Peter outlines how he first began to combine his physiotherapy and S&C capabilities. 

“I first studied physiotherapy but realised I would need an in-depth understanding of strength and conditioning to enable better outcomes with the athletes I worked with. From this I moved more towards that remit but still applied and worked from both lens ie performance and rehabilitation being one rather than separate entities. This is something I still value hugely to this day. 

I will always view injury from a performance lens and the performance lens from an efficiency and effectiveness perspective which should in theory contribute to reduced risk of injury.”

Working with Derry GAA

Previous roles included stints overseas with UAE rugby federation, the Flying Fijians, the Port Adelaide AFL team along with an internship with the Fresno State University S&C Department before becoming Head of Athletic Development & Rehab with Derry GAA.

“The role in itself was pretty broad and included looking at stream lining and creating a seamless pathway for developing better footballers. I was keen that this role focused on all facets on assisting players develop their technical , tactical , physical and mentality. In addition to the pathway the majority of my time was spent in looking after the preparation of the senior men’s team to include rehabilitation. Similar to the role in rehab I took a deep dive at profiling individual athletes to create a program designed at improving specific areas of their on field performance.”

Rehab Physiotherapist with New Zealand Rugby

After two years in his role with Derry GAA, an opportunity arose to work with the New Zealand men’s and women’s Sevens squads as a rehabilitation physiotherapist. 

“The role involves working across both teams , the Black Ferns sevens and the All Blacks sevens where I am tasked with returning athletes safely and quickly back to performing on the World Series circuit. I am supported by head physiotherapists in both teams who focus on the day and daily running’s of the team and looking after the players when on tour whilst also having a heavy hand in my space. I will manage the rehabilitation from early to late stage with alignment to the over all teams program at that time.

My day can vary quite a lot as I am trying to cater for two programs essentially. So on a given day there is usually a body team meeting (everyone who contributes to athlete physical health) whereby we ensure we are aligned for each individual’s focus and objectives for the day. Following this, there will be a coaches meeting where information is shared from medical and support staff on players that may have injuries or need modifications in that session. The coach will then share the focus of the day. After this, the athletes complete performance prep prior to going on field . During this time I am often working with individual athletes around prep prior to going on field to complete any on field work they may have on that day. In the PM, collective gym sessions is where I will work with individuals on their specific rehab.”

Integrating S&C and Rehab

With a background and experience across both S&C and Rehab, Peter outlines how he integrates principles from each discipline in his practice. 

“Essentially I view the two as the same. So whether they are S&C principles applied by a physio or vice versa, they result in the same outcome. Progressive overload, variability, individualisation, motor learning, neuromuscular control, coordination, adaptation, loading, accommodation, intensification are some that spring to mind. I always tend to think in terms of movement and the game the athlete is required to play and work back from there. The aim being a focus on improving efficiency and effectiveness of movement which can often result in a great level of detail in analysing how an individual moves.”

Studying with Setanta

He outlines how his drive to become a “more rounded practitioner” was one of the primary reasons for enrolling in the MSc in Performance Coaching with Setanta. 

“The study enabled and created a pathway for continuous professional development which allowed me to complete embedded research within both my working environments at Ulster rugby and at Derry GAA. From both spaces I could experiment and learn from two different environments and athletes with different movement profiles.

The program has assisted in underpinning and reinforcing a lot of learning that has taken part across my career. The shared knowledge and experiences from Des and Liam in particular were invaluable. Learning from some of the performance solutions they have used for challenges I am dealing with daily has greatly assisted in how I work.

The residential week was awesome getting to meet so many great practitioners at various stages in their professional careers and from all corners of the world. it was great to just share experiences and get to sense how others go about business.

Looking to the Future

For people looking to enter the industry, Peter outlines some key advice from his own experience. 

Learn from all experiences, take comfort in being challenged, seek opportunities to grow and learn, take the time to review, reflect and plan. Make an effort to know what motivates those you are working with this will allow focus around your delivery.

For his own future, he outlines his current focus is on “trying to provide world class support for the athletes I am working with to allows them to thrive on the sevens circuit. Beyond that who knows what the future holds.”