At 17 years of age Katelynn Phelan is already well on her way to emulating her two great sporting heroes: her brother Allan and Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor.
After winning a bronze medal at the World Youth Boxing Championships in November, the Kildare welterweight is already delivering on the promise displayed when she first started with St Brigid’s club in Kildare town as a six-year-old.
Phelan beat US fighter Aidyl Cardenas on a split decision in India to win bronze, an achievement that hardly seemed possible even a year ago.
At that time, wracked with nerves and struggling to convert her training form into meaningful international results, she turned to renowned mental toughness expert Alan Heary for help and assistance.
Phelan credits Heary for helping to realise her potential after she followed the methods espoused in his popular Going in the Zone programme. The transformation was a great relief to Phelan whose international odyssey began in a positive manner but deteriorated as outside influences made an impact.
“I used to get really bad butterflies before fights, but I’ve learned how to deal with them and make them work and flow the way I want them to, to try and… get control of myself.”
It was all a far cry from the carefree days of 2015 when Phelan breezed to a bronze medal in the European Youth Championships on her first international expedition.
Then it was all a new and exciting world of possibilities but very quickly the extra burden of expectation began to inhibit her performances. Having reigned the Irish youth scene with serene aplomb – Phelan has won seven consecutive national titles – suddenly the elevated standard and her response to others began to sully the experience.
“In 2015 that would have been my first major trip away with team Ireland internationally. And I got a bronze medal then. I was confident in myself because I was more excited than anything, because I was never away on a trip, and then I got picked for Team Ireland.
“You get that bit of confidence [but] I always had those people that try and put you down and give you those negative talks, and unfortunately they were getting in at me.
“And then we found Alan Heary and he helped me to stop that negative people talk, and helped me to just change them around in a positive way. That’s what helped me with these trips that are coming up recently,” says Phelan, who is back in training for her next bout.
Katelynn didn’t feel that Heary’s methods bore instant fruit but those around her spotted an immediate change in her mood.
“Everyone else had seen it round me at the start, but I just took a little bit longer for myself to notice it. Because I had to just keep working over and over again on the different things he was teaching me, and that’s the major part of it.”
The upshot was that she began to enjoy her boxing again and looked forward to her quarter-final bout with Cardenas where once she would have feared it.
“I felt so confident. I was excited to get into the ring. I just could not wait to just get in and just fight, that’s all I wanted to do.
The quarter-final was against the American girl. She was a very good strong girl. She kept coming, she kept looking for it, and I beat her on a split decision. It was amazing. I boxed her. I was using my brain more. I was thinking of different ways to box, and different skills to use.”
She also emerged from her semi-final, which she lost to Russia’s Ekaterina Dynnik, with a positive outlook. “Unfortunately she was just a better boxer on the day. It was still a very close fight and I’m proud of myself for getting in. So, I’m just so happy with it.”
While Katie Taylor is an obvious role model, she looks closer to home for real influence. Phelan is quick to acknowledge the support around her in the form of her father Paddy and her brother Allan, whose resilience in the face of recurring shoulder injuries has been inspirational.
“Well, Katie’s my female hero. My main, overall hero would be my brother. I just look up to him so much for everything that he’s been through. “It’s hard at times but if I need something or if I’m struggling with something, I know I can depend on them to help me because they know what it feels like, to go through it.”
Phelan’s next big appointment is the Under 18 National Championships in January after which, if successful, she will focus on the European Championships, the World Championships and the European Youth Olympics at the end of the year.
Given her progress to date, and the right mental focus, the Kildarewoman seems destined for further glory.
ABOUT ALAN HEARY
Alan Heary is recognised as one of Ireland’s top mental fitness and performance coaches.
His individual sports clients include world record holders, professional athletes, world champions, Olympians, professional golfers and inter-county GAA teams.
His clients in boxing have included former world champion Steve Collins and currently number many top professional fighters in Ireland, Britain and on the world scene.
He is currently working with the FAI as a performance coach to the Irish Amputee Football team and is a coach tutor with Cycling Ireland for their coaches. At Roscommon GAA he has implemented his High Performance Team Development Programme for their coaches and teams.