Does your club have a “Coaches Plan”

Does your club have a “Coaches Plan”?
Not a ‘Coaching plan’ but a Coaches Plan!

Ever self respecting club would have some version of a Player Pathway or Coaching plan in some guise. These plans are invaluable for coaches to stick to a structure and assist less experienced coaches in formulating a plan of what to do, when to do it and sometimes, how to do it.

But what clubs often neglect is the coaches. Does your club have a plan for enhancing and up-skilling the coaches in the club to ensure they have a rewarding experience as a coach in our club? 

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”. Sometimes, handing a coach a Player Pathway/Coaching Plan and sending him/her on their merry way can feel like that saying. 

A Player Pathway/Coaching Plan will make an incompetent coach competent. It might help a coach be maybe 60% of what they possibly could be. 

How do we get that other 40%?

Clubs can startlooking to support coaches to be the best they can be by:
•Providing regular up-skilling opportunities. Some coaches through their personal or professional background are highly skilled in numerous areas, but others may not be. Can we provide opportunities for coaches to improve their communication skills, further evolve their coaching skills, develop into confident coaches, enhance their knowledge of the game and many other areas. 
•Starting a community of practice among current and former coaches. Can we put the u8 and u9 coach together to discuss potential pitfalls that the U9 coach encountered? Can we get them sharing resources the may have? Can we get them to challenge each other on methods and structures? Develop coaches for the whole club, not just one individual team group. 
•Mentoring program. Can we support our coaches by providing a more experienced mentor to work with them on a temporary or permanent basis? Can someone monitor a training session and provide opportunities for reflection and feedback? 
•Carry out a Needs Analysis on current or former coaches. Talk to them, identify areas of weakness that they feel they may have? Coaching committee to monitor groups and provide assistance whenever they can. 
•Reflective Practice. Educate the coaches in how to reflect and improve their coaching, in the training and match day environment. What is reflective practice? What methods are there?
•Progression. A lot of times, the main coaches of juvenile and youth teams are parents. What is the plan once their group progresses beyond minor? Are these coaches just lost to the club or are we continuing their coaching journey? Do they progress to the adult section or do we re-purpose them as expert juvenile coaches, as mentors to novice coaches or as community of practice leaders? If a coach has 10+ years of learnings and experiences, we really should try to utilise their learnings to continue involvement in some capacity. 

I’m sure, with a small bit of discussion in your club, you will identify numerous other areas that can be targeted. 

Remember, we can give the coach all the books and resources in the world but if they don’t acquire the soft skills (empathy, communication, caring etc) in some capacity, we are doing them and the children they coach, a disservice. 

Planning in GAA (Part 4)

In yesterdays post, i spoke about Short Term Planning and about designing appropriate content for particular times of the year. You can find the post here:

In todays final section, i will discuss planning for the here and now, the next session/s. For juvenile teams who only get together once a week, it is about designing a single session, whilst for older teams who may train 2/3 times a week, there are a few more things to consider.

I will use an U10 Hurling session as the sample for explain. Taking into account the plans that are gone before us, it is very easy to plan for an individual session. If there is no Long, Medium or Short term plan, planning a training session can become a little haphazard. If following the plan below for an U10 team, i will explain how you may go about planning each session.

If we were to take a session in the first week in May, we have 4 skills to prioritise in the session. Strike from Hand under Pressure, Breaking Ball, Solo and Tackling. Thankfully, some of these skills are related. With one player soloing, an opponent can tackle, so we can technically work on both skills in one activity.

So, imagine we have a 1 hour session with 16 players, this is how i might plan it.

As noted from our Short term plan, the priority for the session was 1.) Striking on the Run, 2.) Tackling, 3.) Soloing and 4.) Breaking Ball.

With each activity, i ensured that at least one of those skills was going to be practiced. The warm up focused on striking the ball on the run. As previously stated, in GAA for every action there is an opposite reaction. So if a player hits the ball on the run from one side of the goals, the player on the other side will use one of these skills: 1.) Over Head Bat, 2.) High Catch, 3.) Chest/Low Catch, 4.) Ball Control/First Touch, 5.) Stopping a moving Ball, 6.) Jab/Roll Lift and will also probably improve their anticipation of a breaking ball (if someone else gets first contact when it comes over to their side), will learn about judging the flight of the ball, will improve awareness and peripheral vision etc. The benefits of using a game here instead of a straight line drill is, it allows the coach to see every player executing the skill and the coach can assist the kids who need help without interfering with everyone else playing. It also allows kids to have multiple ball contacts throughout the activity as opposed to sharing one ball between 4 or 5 players. So, as you can see, by executing and focusing on one skill, lots of other supplementary skills will also improve.

For Game 1, the main focus is soloing the ball initially and also every player will eventually become a tackler. Same as above, lots of other supplementary and associate skills will also be improved. The reason for using the coach for the start of this activity is to ensure every player gets a chance. Usually, the weakest players will be eliminated first, which in turn will mean that the players who need the most practice, end up getting the least amount. The coach could allow 4 or 5 runs over and back before anyone loses their ball, ensuring every child practices the skill under a little pressure initially to build confidence.

Game 2 is again a game that focuses on multiple of the skills needed. By the coach throwing up the ball, the first 2 players will try to win it or make a positive contact on the ball. The other 2 players will then engage in trying to win the breaking ball, if it is not won clean. The player who gains possession must then try to run as far as the cone before striking on the run towards the goal. By having a coach with each group or between every two groups, the coach can ask questions of the players e.g. “John, where should you be trying to stand in relation to your opponent”, you would hope that a question like that may trigger some thoughts with the players on where they need to position their bodies etc.

Game 3 works again on numerous factors. First, from the throw in, there will more than likely be a breaking ball. The player in possession will more than likely have to solo the ball to get into striking range, so the opponent will be working on their tackling. The player in possession will probably have to strike the ball on the run also. By making it 1 vs 1, there is maximum game movements involved. Each player when outfield is constantly engaged in the game. By putting the scorer into goals, it ensures the strong player doesn’t dominate the activity and gives every player a chance outside on a regular occasion.

Game 4 is a mini blitz where they play 4 vs 4 on a small pitch. Coach can set constraints such as when you have the ball, you have to try to solo past your opponent, which will increase the number of solos and also increase the number of tackles in the game. This may be the condition for only 1 of the 3 games though andthe coach may change conditions for each game. These small sided games will also allow children learn about team play and also about positions etc. Regular rotation of positions and roles will allow the players to gain a greater understanding of the importance of each other on the pitch to help develop team work.

A fun cool down activity such as cross bar challenge or penalties etc is always a nice way to finish the session.

I hope that you can see, how having a Long, Medium and Short term plan makes your life very easy as a coach to make individual session plans. When you have identified the skills to focus on, it is very easy to work in 3-4 activities that focus on them. But as spoken about in previous posts, start building the house, here:

Build step by step challenging the players to keep progressing onto the next level. If you have not seen Part 3 of the planning, i would advise to watch the link to Dr Stephen Behans presentation about Zone of Proximal Development.

For younger teams in the nursery, Physical Literacy skills may take up one or more of the activities, where as for older teams, depending on the time of year, one of the activities could be based around creating scoring opportunities or set plays. Each age group in unique and each team is unique, so it is important that coaches plan for THEIR team and to benefit their strengths and weaknesses.

I have a number of session plans available on dropbox for various levels and ages, feel free to check them out for yourself, they are at the bottom of the link here:

Thanks for taking your time to read through the last few posts and i hope that they will help you with your coaching going forward.

Planning in GAA (Part 3)

In yesterdays post, I spoke about the Medium Term Plan and about designating different weights to the different sections. You can find yesterdays blog post here:

Today, like yesterday, we are going to break down the the previous plan into another plan which contains more details specific to the individual age group. Today we will focus on what happens in the various blocks of a given year. In yesterdays post, i gave an example of how a coaching plan for an U10 team and an adult team may differ, with more emphasis on skill development with the younger age group compared to a more holistic approach with the older group. These examples may help guide you with drawing up your own plan.

Here is a simple Yearly Coaching plan for an U10 team. Using the Long and Medium term plan, it dictates what skills we should be prioritising for the season. As referenced already, if following the plan outlined in yesterdays post, all skills in Hurling will be introduced by the time they get to U10, so we essentially are starting the next phase of their development.

Taking on board the Medium Term Plan, we have identified a number of priority skills for this age group. The Core skill as explained above is to be advanced every year. From my own basic template, an U10 player has been introduced to all skills already in the previous 5 years. At the U10 year, it is about advancing those skills. As you can see, we have identified 3 additional skills to focus on each month e.g. For February we have the High Catch, Jab Lift and Hook as additional skills to the Core skill. For the 4 weeks of training, we want to ensure that each of those skills is given some priority time. Thankfully, in Hurling and Football, for every skill there is an equal and opposite skill e.g. if i strike the ball to my partner and it is not high enough for a high catch, he may have to utilize the low catch or ball control instead. So, just because we are prioritizing a skill, we are not totally neglecting all others, they will naturally occur in the training and matches regardless. Again, each coach needs to know his/her group and their abilities to maximise the value of planning.

Juvenile teams a lot of the time are reactive in their coaching sessions. A defeat in the match last weekend will direct areas that the coach thinks needs to improve. For instance, if an opposition team win a number of puck outs by using the over head catch, the coach will try to focus on countering this activity in the next session. What you will find is that maybe one or two opposition players were very skilled against their direct opponent and the whole team then works on that activity, when only maybe 2 or 3 players need to focus on that skill as part of their “Skill Box” training. (Skill Box is a small area set up beside the training and 1-4 players may be brought in there to work on a specific skill, whilst a game or some other activity is ongoing for all other players)

As teams get older, they may use a template such as this. It caters for a number of different factors.

Some age groups will obviously have to put a greater emphasis on matches and peaking at different times of the year but for juvenile teams from U13 down, every game is as important or as not important as each other. For these groups it is easier to plan a whole campaign.

Within each teams yearly program, there are a number of separate pockets, which will allow varying development. If a team from February to April is in an indoor facility, it may limit the opportunities to develop certain aspects. Similarly, if numbers in the summer are down a high number, the plan may have to take this into account.

In every program, skill development needs to be considered, right from U5 to Adult. With this in mind, it is good to focus on particular skills in blocks of 4 weeks, especially when introducing a new skill. Coaches have a tendency to try to do a little bit of everything in training and try to cover all areas of the game. But if planned correctly, coaches would be able to put an emphasis on a particular skill at a particular time, ensuring that they get a good chance to really progress the skill. Remember, you have 10+ years of developing a player, you don’t need to have everything done in a few weeks, months or even years.

So, if using the example above for the U10 age group in February, as well as working on the core skill of striking from the hand, we want to ensure every child also gets a chance to execute the high catch to a high standard, as well as the Jab Lift and the Hook. By committing at least 5 minutes to each of those focused skills, it should allow the player to see massive improvement over a 4 week period. If on week 1, we may be working a high catch using a Bean bag playing piggy in the middle for 5 minutes. (Good line of communication with parents to make them aware of the focused skill, may also help children to practice at home between sessions). Week 2, we may progress this to using a sliotar in Piggy in the Middle. Week 3 may be playing No Mans Land using a tennis ball but players have to hit the ball high into the opponents side. This should give players the opportunity to catch lots of balls, either directly, or after 1 bounce. The tennis ball will be softer on the hand, so will encourage children to try to catch directly. Week 4 may be progressing onto using the Quick Touch sliotar which is what all U10s should be using in matches.

The benefits of using these games is that it allows one on one coaching to a large degree e.g. if playing Piggy in the middle and there are 2 weak players, the coach can be the piggy. The coach will know how much pressure to put on to allow those players execute the skill. He may also be able to coach the players and correct any technical errors in the game. As you progress to games like No Mans Land, the coach may speak to different players of different abilities. You may ask the stronger players to try to get 10 clean catches, while you may speak to the weaker player and target 3 catches after 1 bounce. Utilising your assistant coaches in areas like this is very important.

Dr Stephen Behan spoke in a Webinar last night about Zone of Proximal Development. Watch this clip from 19.45 to 24.47 (Watch it all if you can as it is very beneficial for every coach). He explains it much better than i ever will be able to, but setting an achievable challenge for skill development is very important.

For every coach, having a basic understanding of what Stephen is speaking about is crucial for skill development to ensure every child progresses at a rate that suits their abilities.

Lastly, when compiling year on year info, it is really important that the previous mentors at that age group are utilised to assist. To use their unique experience, is crucial to ensuring a smooth year. Speaking to a person today about this he said “The U16 coach who has worked his way up with this team is completely unaware of the potential issues and roadblocks he will meet at U16, such as Junior Cert, Gaeltacht, etc. If the last five U16 mentors were able to each give 3 or 4 bits of advice and that advice was subsequently passed onto the incoming U16 mentor, how much easier will his role be, as well as all future U16 Coaches?

So with that in mind, all the stakeholders need to have a part to play in designing these plans and utilising their experiences and knowledge.

Join us tomorrow for Part 4, where we will discuss Designing individual session plans.

Thanks for taking the time to read these posts and i hope they are proving somewhat beneficial.

Planning in GAA (Part 2)

Medium Term Plan

In yesterdays blog, we spoke about Long Term Planning which would involve a Club Coaching Plan. It can be found here:

Today we will speak about individual plans, which will form sub sections of the Club Coaching Plan.

I have identified 5 distinct groupings within the club, each of which has its own unique features. These are 1. Nursery (5-8 year olds) 2. Child (9-12 year olds) 3. Youth (13-17 year olds) 4. Young Adult (17-20 year olds) and 5. Adult (21 years+). Most of you will be familiar with this diagram from the Foundation Course, where you had to designate which activity is most appropriate to each age group.

While some items listed will apply to each group, they may hold a different weighting e.g. Tactical Awareness will have a greater weighting as you progress from Nursery to Adult, with each section placing a little more importance on it than the last.

Brian Cuthbert recently spoke on a webinar ( ) and Podcast ( ) with us and he highlighted 3 distinct areas that need to be considered in player development.

I think, if anyone is designing a new plan, these 3 areas would be a really good starting point. By incorporating and acknowledging all these aspects in the plan, it should lead to a very cooperative, player and coach friendly environment.

Along with this, it is also necessary to highlight the age appropriate skills for the younger age groups to ensure they are advancing through the ages. Here is a very simple age appropriate skills for the Nursery level.

If a coach was to introduce 3 new skills, along with the Core skill each year, by the age of 10 a child would of been given an introduction to each skill needed to play Hurling and Football. It is also important to set a level of appropriate physical development program, be that Fundamental movement with the Nursery group or introduction to body weight exercises for older players, progressing onto weights further on.

Once a child has mastered the basic introduction to the skills as mentioned by the age of 10, it is important that clubs and mentors have a plan in place for further advancing the ttechnical and tactical side as they progress. For instance, we may put a focus on first touch and gaining possession at U13, whilst also introducing aspects of creating and compressing space. At U14 we might progress to an emphasis on aerial ability and progressing that skill set, whilst also working on Maximising the use of possession.

Each individual age group within the sections also needs to plan accordingly. In a recent webinar on planning for a season (video below) I highlighted all the areas that may need to be taken into account for a given year. These will change from age to age and the weighting of certain aspects, as mentioned already, will vary significantly as age groups progress . In designing a Player Development plan for Cork GAA a number of years ago, we set in age specific content which can be found in this file.

From the video, a plan for an U10 season may look something like this.

A simple template for an underage team may look something like the above, while an adult Hurling team may look like this below.

Realistically, you can go into as much or as little detail as you may need.

For Youth and Adult teams, i would definitely suggest checking out Deely Sport Science for season plans. Ciaran and his team have developed an unbelievable archive of information on this area, which should definitely be checked out by coaches working in the Young Adult and Adult sections. Website link here:

In tomorrows post, i will discuss the short term blocks and designing a plan for them. Each age group has differing needs, so be conscious of your own groups needs when putting plans in place. Tomorrows Short Term plan should fit into todays Medium term plan which fits into yesterdays Long Term Plan.

Planning in GAA (Part 1)

Long Term Plan

In the last post, we spoke about 4 different types of plans needed for a GAA club Coaching structure. The first step in building a Coaching plan for a group or section is to have an overall Club Coaching plan. If your club does not have one, now is a great time to start planning for get one.

What is a Coaching Plan?

A coaching plan in the past has simply been; what skills do we teach and when? But as the GAA has evolved, people are much more conscious that the GAA is not just what happens between the white lines out on the pitch. The GAA is a much more community orientated set up, with the likes of the Healthy Clubs program, Alcohol and Substance Abuse program etc. But for this aspect, we will discuss the Coaching as it refers to the coach of the team and the players within. What skills are we teaching them, not just for the sport, but also for life.

The most important thing with a Club Coaching plan is that it is a “Club” plan and not one persons plan. To get a buy in, to anything in life, people need to feel that they have a vested interest in it. Having every coach, parent and stakeholder involved in the development of a plan is crucial. John the U10 coach having an input into the plan is much better than walking down to U10 training and handing a plan to John and saying “this is how we want you to do it from now on”. John may or may not be insulted, depending on the type of person he is but if John had an input into the plan, he is much more likely to agree with the plan and follow it through.

Ideally, every club would have a Coaching Officer whose remit is to ensure Best Practice coaching structures within the club. The Coaching Officer may be the person who is tasked with designing the Coaching plan, but it would be unwise to try to do it all on their own. What i found works best is having a working group or Coaching Committee who are behind the designing and implementation of the plan, upon receiving guidance from the stakeholders in the club.

The best way to get all the stakeholders to have an input is to ask them. Ideally this would be done via an open invitation workshop or forum, where people are given the opportunity to give their opinions and thoughts. Whilst this is not possible during the pandemic, it is possible to use multiple formats of gaining opinions. This could be a webinar call, a survey, a simple questionnaire etc.

But lets presume we can get everyone who wants to have an input into the same room, what questions do we need to ask?

Essentially, it is up to each club to find their own unique values by setting their own questions. There is no right or wrong question but some areas relate differently for different clubs. By asking a question like: “What does a good club look like?” Answers might be “player retention”, “Treat players fairly”, “All kids get fair game time”, “Top class coaching”, etc. You can write down a few things yourself that you feel should be on that list.

Once you have identified what a good club looks like, you can start analysing your own club on where they are. “Are we good at retaining players? Well, the U14s only have 12 players now after having 22 at U10.” Being able to question why there was such a drop off, will allow the club and personnel involved to question how things were done with that group. Is there things they could do differently? Is there areas that the club could provide more support?

What this will enable is for Core Values to be drawn up for the club and subsequently for each section. For instance, what are our 5-7 core values for the Nursery group? What are our 5-7 core values for each of the other groups? They will differ slightly from section to section but there will be a natural progression as we move through each section. But there should be an overall theme between all the sections

I would advise to do a small bit of research on Club Coaching Plans that are available already. A lot of clubs have their Club Coaching plan freely available on their websites. Each club differs in some capacity, so it is important to design a plan unique for your own club. Identify aspects that you like from one clubs plan and merge it with aspects you like from other plans. Leinster GAA have an excellent TURAS program which should be able to guide you along also. You may just take their format and differentiate the age groups differently. TURAS has age 6 strands between 4 and 17, while i have listed 5 between 4 and 34, so each club will have a different slant. Here are my 5 and why i have them categorized as such.

1.) Nursery for 4-7 year olds: Coaching at this age group is really about ensuring that each child has a positive and fun introduction to Gaelic Games. There is minimal external games played and most of the development is done internally in the club, in the primary school and at home with family. Fundamental movements form a huge part of the development to ensure players have a solid base for years to come.

2.) Child for 8-12 year olds: Coaching at this age group is about introducing the concept of playing Matches and using the skills learned in a game environment. A maximum of 2:1 ratio of trainings to games should be used here. Same as above, the club, school and family are crucial to the childs development at these ages.

3.) Youth for 13-17 year olds: Coaching at this age is advancing to more team play and tactical awareness. Club, Post Primary Schools and peer led informal practice are important aspects here. Development Squads will come into play for some players. Being conscious of the divergence of opportunities should also be noted by coaches as Player A might be on Development Squad, School team and playing an age up in the club while Player B might only be playing his own age group, so adequate game time is even more important for these players.

4.) Young Adult for 18-20 year olds: These players are in a really vulnerable age regarding GAA. Other factors external to the GAA start to become a priority for some. Exams, College, transition from youth to adult games all can cause major shock to some players and being able to tackle these issues in a player friendly environment is proving more and more difficult for clubs and coaches. Having a plan to ensure a player finishing underage and progressing to adult games is accommodated in some team, a transition group could be put in place to ensure every player is accounted for in the transition

5.) Adult for ages 21+: Planning for adult teams can be very difficult due to each mentors own personal preferences regarding preparation etc. However, some things are within the control of the club. Ensuring adequate training and games provisions for all willing players. Integration of players to juvenile coaching etc can be discussed and planned for.

By identifying each section separately, it allows us to be more specific on certain things at certain times. For instance, Tactical prowess will have minimal importance in the Nursery section but have a huge importance in the adult section.

In tomorrows post, we will discuss the Medium Term Planning which will encompass each section outlined above and prioritising the needs for each individual age group.