The Special Olympics Ireland Games take place this weekend with more than 1,500 athletes and their coaches descending on Limerick from all over Ireland for the opening ceremony this evening.
One member of the Galway contingent who leaves for Limerick today from Ceannt Station is 19-year-old NUI Galway student Patric Evason, one of the youngest Irish coaches in the history of the games.
Evason is the assistant coach of the Connacht men’s senior A football team that will be competing at the games this weekend, under the guidance of head coach and fellow Galway man Sean Fidley.
An avid football fan, Evason describes football as one of his passions in life. He has represented the Athenry FC Senior A team for many years, and was a member of the senior NUIG team that made it to the final of the Harding Cup this year. Having just completed the first year of his accountancy degree at the university, the Ballinasloe native is ready to focus all of his attentions on the upcoming games.
Transition year volunteer
Evason’s journey to the national games began three years ago in secondary school as a part of the volunteering aspect of the Transition Year programme. “My involvement began in Transition Year. I was always interested in volunteering and I saw other students getting involved with organisations, and I thought what could I do that would be a bit different.”
From there, he started his volunteering experience with the Loughrea Training Centre Special Olympics Club. “From my experience there I was very impressed with the work ethic of the volunteers and the level of participation that the athletes put into their chosen sports. I saw that there was a soccer team there and the head coach Terence Flynn asked me to come to some training sessions.”
After working with Mr Flynn, a special needs instructor and FAI qualified coach who has many years’ experience working at the Loughrea Training Centre and with Special Olympics Ireland, a young Evason was hooked and took on the role as his assistant coach.
Motivation is key
Three years later, at the age of 19, Patric Evason has already completed FAI foundation training courses in small-sided games and strength and conditioning, as well as the Kickstart 1 and Kickstart 2 courses, and the disability inclusion programme, which are essential qualifications in order to coach at the Special Olympics.
As part of his position as assistant coach to the Connacht A team, Evason is responsible for many duties. “The motivation of the athletes is very important as well as helping the head coach, giving advice and assisting him whenever he may need it from training to tactics,” he explained. “One of the most important duties is keeping an eye on the safety and wellbeing of the athletes at all times. This is a duty of all Special Olympics volunteers.”
The Connacht A team has been working hard in the run up to the games. Apart from the four intensive sessions undertaken as a team this year, the individual players train on a weekly basis at clubs around Galway including Salthill Devon, Creagh Training Centre, and Evason’s Loughrea Training Centre.
Over the years he has met many amazing people who are involved in the games, from athletes and coaches to fundraisers and organisers, and is proud of the fact that more than 25,000 volunteers devote their time and efforts to the Special Olympics, making it one of the most well-supported sporting organisations in Ireland. Most of all, he has gained invaluable experience as a coach, which he believes has been a worthwhile experience and a refreshing change of perspective. “I have spent so long as a player it is great to see the coach’s perspective, and to see how the players react to you. It gives you a better understanding of where you stand as a coach.”
By next year, the young coach is hoping to complete his FAI Youth Certificate, which will give him coaching entitlements for athletes aged 16 and above. Once this is completed he will look into other areas of the games, such as the emerging ‘Blind Football’ for athletes who have visual impairments. The next step for Evason, though, is to coach at the Special Olympics World Games taking place in Los Angeles, US, next year. “It is an ambition of mine and is the next natural step for me as a coach. There are so many other coaches involved throughout Ireland so it will be a difficult task, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to get there.”