Developing players, Step by Step

Arsene Wenger once used building a house as a similar method of player development. He said “The basement, you know, the basis of a player, is the technique. You get that between seven and 14 years of age. If you have no technical skill at 14, you can forget it. The first floor is the physical aspect of the player. Unfortunately, that is decided between 14 and 17, when you see, he will be quick enough, strong enough. The second floor is the tactical aspect; does he understand the game?” He then concluded that “the final part is decided at 18, 19 years of age, is ‘how much do I want to be successful?”
While he is speaking about the higher end talents, where small differences can be the difference between playing non-league or playing in the premiership, the analogy can be similarly attributed to skill development in GAA at club level.
Foundations: Laying the Foundations of a skill are as important as the Foundations in a house, without them the house falls and the same with Skill Development. The Foundations for a skill are being able to execute the skill competently under little or no pressure e.g. Kicking a Ball from a standing position. Once we have this done to a competent level, we need to start building.
Ground Floor: Executing the skill in a game under very little pressure is the next step. This could be something like 3 vs 1 kicking game, where the player in possession is executing the skill under little pressure but now must start making decisions on when to kick, where to kick, how high/low to kick etc.
First Floor: Progressing this to the next level is executing the skill under full pressure such as 3 vs 3 possession game with 3 passes allowing a team to kick for a score. The player needs to make runs to gain possession, needs to evade in order to release possession and needs to contest possession when the ball is passed to him. Verbal and non-verbal communication with teammates will improve in these types of games and activities.
Roof: This is executing the skill under pressure in a game situation. This is knowing when to pass, who to pass to, what type of pass to give etc. Examples of activities in training are simple 7 vs 7 matches on an 70m long pitch where players are only allowed kick-pass the ball.
With GAA, a lot of coaches tend to stay at the Foundation or Ground Floor level, doing uncontested drills. There seems to be a focus on the individual Skill development, to the detriment of the other facets which are necessary in matches. The player in possession needs to decide on a number of factors such as “Where to kick to”, “When to Kick”, “Who to kick to”, Which type of kick to give”, “How high or low should I kick it”, “Do I need to kick from my left or right”, “How hard should I kick it”, “How do I make sure I don’t get blocked down”, “How do I ensure it doesn’t get intercepted”. Only be replicating this scenario in training, will players be able to re-enact them in matches. We have all heard of the skilful players in training, but it doesn’t happen for them in matches. Are you as a coach giving that player a chance to progress? Are you moving to the first floor and finishing off the roof with the training content? Are you challenging them to get better?
To develop better players, we need to become better coaches. Challenging yourself as a coach to improve and become better will lead to a much better Coaching environment for you and for the players, where they can develop with each session.

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