Creating a greater understanding of Coaching
For a coach in the GAA, there is no right or wrong way of coaching, but there are ways to improve Coaching. A quote from the recent Marvel Blockbuster “Black Panther”, that stuck with me straight away and will forever be one of my mottos in life was: “Just because something works, does not mean it cannot be improved”. It was a simple line in a movie, but the essence of what it means should ring true for every person in every walk of life, but from a Coaching perspective, it is very apt.
For a lot of coaches in the GAA, their understanding of what they are doing and why they are doing it depends hugely from person to person. Some coaches are dragged inside the wire when they arrive with their child at 6 years of age and are told, “you’ll look after this group”. Support structures within GAA Clubs and Counties vary hugely but as a coach, you will only be as good as you are willing to be. Learning about Coaching Formally through Coach Education Workshops, informally through sporadic chats and Non-formally through your own willingness to read up on Best Practice and experiment new ideas, will set the value of your coaching experience.
If a coach wants to be better and is willing to commit time and effort into doing so, the benefits to the coach as a learner and the players that are coached are huge. Some clubs have an inbuilt Culture of Coach Development and assistance to ensure each coach has every possible support they need, other clubs don’t. This gap between clubs and counties is one of the biggest challenges facing the GAA now and will continue to do so into the future.
A simple practice for all coaches is to start self-questioning your own Coaching. What I mean by this is, can you ask yourself questions which will lead to you having a greater understanding of what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you do this, you should become a more conscious coach and more willing to do exercises and Games in your coaching sessions that are more beneficial to the development of the player in the match environment.
Some Coaches have a complete misunderstanding of why we train. A simple example is this: Coach noticed that in the last match, the team were poor at Jab Lifting the ball. So, to assist this, he sets up a Jab lifting drill in training such as 3 players on Cone 1 and 3 players on Cone 2 which is 20m away, with a ball in the middle of the two cones. On the whistle, player from Cone 1 sprints out, jab lifts the ball into his hand, drops the ball and sprints to the Cone 2. As soon as he is finished, the player at Cone 2 goes the opposite direction, then next player at Cone 1 goes etc etc. We are all familiar with the exercise. Coach shouts at them to get faster, which they do and then he moves the 2 cones in closer and they get even more pick ups in the close space. The Coach stands back, watches this working well and is happy with his coaching, all is solved. But not quite.
Unfortunately, what the coach doesn’t realise is that the skill they just practiced in isolation is in no way comparable to the skill of Jab Lifting in a match. Lets just go through some of the things that happen in a match and see how this “Drill” helps the execution of this in a match situation.
- The player needs to beat his opponent and every other player to the ball.
- The player needs to anticipate where the ball will break/go/deflect to to execute the jab lift.
- The player is being tackled by an opponent, so needs to protect the ball when he gets to it.
- The player needs to gain possession of the ball into his hand whilst being tackled by at least 1 opponent.
- The player gains possession and needs to decide to pass the ball, carry it or attempt a score without being dispossessed.
These are just a few things that will happen in a match which might affect the ability of the player to execute the Jab lift, but unless the coach understands, that doing a skill in isolation any other factors, the value of the Drill is limited.
By altering this activity to something like this, might lead to greater skill development.
Coach throws the ball up between 2 players who are on the 20m line. The players must break the ball to the ground, then gain possession via jab lift and then strike the ball over the bar. Alternatively, make it 2 vs 2, where the player must make at least 1 pass and they can go for a goal. Whilst the players might not execute as many Jab Lifts in these exercises, the value of the skill in this environment is much more aligned to what happens in the match.
Not just for Jab Lifting, but every other skill there is so many factors involved in executing them in the match situation. To get to the ball first, you do not need to be the fastest (it does help) but you need to be able to understand body positioning, anticipation, speed of thought and ability to process the information for your surroundings. If you can do that and get to the ball first, then you need to be able to execute the skill of getting the Jab Lift and catching the ball whilst being tackled. The ability to manoeuvre your body to protect the ball, getting the ball from ground to hand quickly without opponent flicking it away are all key steps. And finally, when in possession, what to do next. Do I pass, solo, shoot for a score and how do I achieve any of those when I’m faced with at least 1 person trying to stop me. These are the things that happen in matches.
The ability to do all that needs to be practiced. Players need to be put in the situation in training where they are forced to make those decisions and execute skills in a pressured situation. If coaches continue to do skills in isolation without any thinking involved, players will only be able to function in those conditions. Coaches need to create scenarios in training sessions that enable players to be challenged and to grow and improve through those challenges. When this happens, only then are players really being Coached.
A few questions you should ask yourself when setting up any exercise, activity, drill or Game:
- What is the purpose of this exercise?
- Why are we doing it?
- Is the player faced with a real match situation, or a variation of?
- Is the player forced to make decisions based on varying circumstances?
- Could this exercise finish with a score?
- Will this improve their ability to be a better Hurling/Football player?
You don’t have to answer each question, but they might help you understand better why you are doing it.
Coaching in GAA should simply be used to improve the players ability to be a better Hurling and Football players. By gearing the sessions towards this, you should greatly enhance the enjoyment and development of all your players. A criss-crossing hand pass drill might look good when a team does it, but what is the benefit of such a drill when playing a match? Coach the Game and Let Them Play
Disclaimer: At times, you will need to break down the skill and go back to basics of the Key points of a skill e.g. High Catch and protecting their hand in Hurling, you might need to break down the skill for some players and give them more attention on the basics before re introducing in the game environment. But as soon as they are competent at the skill, start increasing the pressure little by little.