Ball Wall and using the area

Note: This is a worksheet for a Hurling Ball Wall Workshop

The Hurling/Football wall is an excellent piece of infrastructure to assist clubs and mentors in essentially having the ability to train year round. Traditionally, the Hurling Wall has been used as a Drill heavy area where many repetitive exercises are done. There are lots of resources on Youtube and online where there is drill after drill of Ball Wall activities. I would ask that you utilise the Wall and the adjoining space differently, to engage the players mind, to challenge him or her in different areas of their game in a more holistic development, as opposed to isolated skill development. Here, I will outline how to mix in the traditional drills with more game based exercises that will develop a more rounded player.

I will use two distinct formats, the traditional “Off the Wall (OTW)” and a more games based “In the Area (ITA)”. I will move between both and show how the drill we used OTW can be then brought into a Games Based environment ITA.

  1. Handpassing
    • OTW: In groups of 3, the players line up 5m from the wall, one behind the other. Player 1 handpasses the ball off the wall and player 2 collects the ball, handpasses it off the wall and then player 3 collects and the group repeats.
    • ITA: Piggy in the middle, players keep the ball off the designated Piggy by handpassing only.
  2. Striking for a Catch
    • OTW: In groups of 3, same format as above but 10m from wall. Player 1 strikes the ball so that it bounces before the wall and then bounces up for player 2 to catch and repeat for player 3.
    • ITA: Piggy in the middle, players keep the ball off the designated piggy by Bounce passing (ball is struck into the ground before bouncing up to partners hand).
  3. Long Strike and collect
    • OTW: In groups of 3 with same format as above but 20m from wall. Player 1 strikes the ball low against the wall and runs into the ball to collect with first touch or catch if above knee. Handpass to player 2 who repeats.
    • ITA: Piggy in the middle, players keep the ball off the designated piggy by striking low and hard to partner, who is more than at least 10m away.
  4. High Catch
    • OTW: In groups of 3, player 1 throws the ball high against the wall, player 2 runs in and catches overhead. Player 2 then repeats for Player 3 and they repeat.
    • OTW: Same activity but this time the last player 3 will put on token pressure on player 2 while he is trying to catch the ball.
    • ITA: Player 1 hits the ball up between Players 2 and 3 who compete trying to win the high ball. The player who loses then becomes the passer and continue this.
  5. Side Step and Feint
    • OTW: In groups of 3 as above, player 1 starts on the 10m line. He passes the ball to player 2, standing on the 20m line, who must try to get past player 1 before striking the ball at the wall and collecting. He then passes to player 3. Player 2 is now the defender and player 3 is the attacker. Keep repeating. (Once the player in possession passes the 10m line, he wins, and the defender stops pressuring)
    • ITA: One player goes in goal and he hits the ball out between Player 2 & 3. Whichever player wins it must solo the ball past the 20m line before turning to try to go past his man and score a goal. Continue for 90 seconds, then rotate the goalkeeper.
  6. Jab Lift:
    • ITA: In groups of two. All the balls scattered around the area, player 1 is the designated picker whilst player 2 is the designated defender. Player 1 must try to jab lift as many balls in the 30 seconds as possible, whilst player 2 tries to stop him. Swap roles and repeat 2 times.
  7. Hooking:
    • OTW: In pairs, Player 1 runs out and jabs lifts a ball and tries to strike at the goals. Player two tries to hook. Player 1 continues running for 2 more balls and repeat. When this is done, players return to the start and swap roles.
  8. Games:
    • ITA: 3 vs 3 possession game. Whichever team has the ball after 1 min is the winner. Repeat vs different teams.
    • ITA: 2 vs 2 with 1 goalkeeper. Keeper pucks out the ball, whichever team wins the ball, they must try to score a goal after completing 2 passes. Whichever player scores goes in goals for the next possession and repeat. Players can only score by “Flicking” the ball into the goals
    • ITA: Criss Cross, make 4 teams with 2 pitches criss-crossing each other. Play for 3 minutes and whichever teams win, play each other and the losing teams play each other.
    • OTW: Players in one or two groups, depending on size of group. Each player starts with 3 lives. Player 1 hits the ball against the wall at a target (goal/between cones etc), next player has one touch, then a strike to do the same. If you miss, you lose a life. Last man standing is the winner.
    • OTW: Cross bar challenge as a fun game to finish up.

Coaching the Kick from the non dominant foot

One of the greatest challenges for club coaches is to coach the kick from the non dominant foot.
It is a skill that each player needs in their arsenal to ensure they can play to their full potential. Becoming a competent kicker from both feet will double a players options on the field of play. Instead of only being capable of kicking from one foot and limiting opportunities to one half of the pitch, we are now increasing these opportunities to the whole pitch and both sides equally.
Head, Hands, Feet is one of the most common coaching methods for executing a skill. So, for the kick with the non dominant leg, coaching tips would go along these lines:
Head: Scanning the pitch and where you want the ball to go whilst keeping your eye on the ball as you go to kick.
Hands: Ball is held in non dominant hand and is dropped to non dominant foot to kick the ball. Dominant hand is used to keep balance.
Feet: Step forward with dominant foot, kick the ball with the instep of the non dominant foot and follow through with the kick.

The only thing lacking from the above Head, Hands, Feet description is “Body Positioning”.
Body Positioning is as important as each of the other 3.
What you will notice once players become competent kicking the ball, is that players will start altering the way their body is positioned. For example, a child kicking with their dominant right leg, will start to angle their body slightly towards the right hand side. This can start with small angles before progressing to a full 90° angle for the “Hook Kick”. As children practice in a non controlled environment (in the garden, in school, before and after training etc) they will usually focus 90%+ on their dominant leg. They are developing muscle memory on their dominant side whilst doing this. When we then ask them to kick with their non dominant foot, their muscle memory kicks in and their body positioning reverts to what they do for their dominant foot.
As coaches, this is the important part that you need to be aware of. Kicking from the non dominant foot can actually become very easy for children, once they are shown the steps. They are essentially being asked to do the exact opposite of what they usually do.
So, for a dominant right sided player, the following changes are needed:
Instead of dropping the ball with their right hand, they are dropping it with their left hand.
Instead of body angled to the right, it is angled to the left.
Instead of stepping forward with the left leg, they are stepping forward with the right leg.
Instead of kicking with their right leg, they are kicking with their left leg.
Breaking down each of these parts is important for you and the player. If a child can do all of these correctly, then the opportunities to become truly 2 footed is there.
For future reference, instead of Head, Hands, Feet we will use “Body Position, Head, Hands, Feet”.

As the year ends, the learning continues

Coaching the GAAme firmly believe that learning and development as a coach is an on-going process and should never end, with opportunities for formal, non-formal and informal learning year round.

However, at the end of each season, Coaches are prone to putting all the gear and equipment into the shed and closing the book on another years coaching. Juvenile teams may do this after their end of year blitz, whilst teenage and adult teams shut up shop after their final knock out game of the season. Coaching and mentoring is then put to the back of the mind until January when everything kicks into gear again.

Are Coaches missing an opportunity to continue their learning and development through non formal and informal methods? This learning can begin with an end of year review. A meeting with fellow mentors can form one of these reviews. Finding out what went well, what didn’t go so well, areas to improve on and if you could go back 12 months, what would you have done differently? These form some of the questions that make up the discussion and feedback.

Depending on the age of the group (16+), a players meeting discussing similar topics and also finding out what areas they felt they could improve on, things they will do differently next year etc. And for younger groups (6-15 years) a joint parent/player review. This could be done in the form of a focus group with parents in small groups discussing topics and players doing similar. Just because the children are young, doesn’t mean they should not be listened to. They are the people that will eventually be voting with their feet, so it is important to know their thoughts and opinions.
Whilst, you may not agree or like everything that is said in the reviews, it is important to not view anything potentially negative as direct criticism but instead view it as an opportunity to become a better coach and learn from the feedback. On the flipside, if everything is largely positive, this does not mean you can sit back and relax, “Just because something works, does not mean it cannot be improved”.
The by product of doing reviews is that those who take part, will embrace the sense of ownership that is bestowed upon them. Rather than complain when things aren’t going well, they are now part of the solution. This type of parental/player involvement can be a very powerful ally.
As a mentor and coach, this is where the learning and development continues. Rather than starting from scratch next January with a blank page, you can start from an advanced position. Can you build on what you learnt and achieved this year and take all that on board for next year. Arsene Wenger used the analogy of how building a house is similar to building a player. You build layer after layer at different times of the players development. Coaching is the same. Last year, you put down the foundation, this year you are building the ground floor. Be proactive in your planning and build long term targets for long term gains.

The Club Nursery (4-7 year olds)

The Club Nursery, along with Primary School Coaching are the Foundation on which every GAA Club is built. The stronger and better those two are, then the stronger base the GAA Club will have.

Reasons for having a Club Nursery are many and we will outline a few here:

  1. A place where there is a Fun environment for children.
  2. A place where Fundamental Movements can be practiced.
  3. A place for the children to play in a structured and safe environment.
  4. A place for children to learn about playing in team games.
  5. A place where skills are introduced and developed at an age appropriate rate.
  6. A place for children to develop an identity with their local club.
  7. A place where families become ingrained in the culture of Gaelic Games.

These are just some of the benefits to having a Nursery in your club. With more clubs now aiding in their local Primary Schools, having a Club Nursery is an important side product of this. Primary School Coaching is very much about introducing Children to Gaelic Games and the Club is where the children continue their skill development.

An important factor of the Skill Development is to focus on making it as enjoyable as possible. If children enjoy it, they will want to do more of it. Children at this age are still experimenting and want to “Play”, so it is important that “Play” becomes a large part of the Nursery Program. Children want to have a ball at all times. They go to the Nursery to Play. They don’t go to the Nursery to wait in line while other kids play with the ball. Every child should have a ball or be playing a game in which, they are trying to get the ball.

Every skill needed that a 4-7 year old needs, can be learnt and developed in Fun Games. Games like “No Mans Land” will focus on Catching and Kicking the Ball. If a child needs further assistance in any of those skills, the coach can take the child to the side of the game for 1 on 1 coaching. You don’t need a drill for this. The Bounce and Pick up can be learnt in a game like “Rob The Nest”. Again, where a child is struggling, the coach can pull to the side and do 1 on 1 coaching whilst everyone else continues to play. In Hurling, stopping a moving ball and striking can be developed in a game like “No Mans Land”. Dribbling and eventually the Jab/Roll Lift can be developed in a game like “Rob The Nest”. Straight Line Drills are not needed. But what is needed is lots of Balls and Equipment. The Balls don’t have to be official GAA Balls, any type of ball will do. Sponge, plastic, leather etc, the kids don’t discriminate against balls.

The other side product of starting the kids young in the Nursery, is the opportunity of getting parent involvement and a greater chance to up skill the potential coaches over a longer period. Like a child starting at 4 vs a child starting at 8, it will take a while for the late starter to catch up. The same with coaches. A coach who gets a 4-year head start in coaching, has much greater time to be up skilled by the club and to also continue to up skill themselves outside of the club setting. Trial and error of things early in their coaching journey will be easily rectified.

The Clubs involvement in the Nursery is very important and the club should ensure that they have their best coaches and best Coach Educators spending quality time with this group. If Clubs can up skill their mentors and their players in the Nursery, it will lead to a fruitful harvest in the club for many years to come. It is an area often neglected by many clubs as there is no silverware won at these age groups, but the foundation of future enjoyment and maybe success can be started here.

For those interested in Coaching in Nursery or currently doing so, we have released a Pocket-Sized Nursery Coaching Manual which will help all coaches especially novice Coaches. There are several Games for Fundamental Movements, Hurling and Football. Everything is Games Based and from using these Games already it leads to far greater engagement and enjoyment for the children.

To purchase, visit:

Should you hand over control to the kids?


Control is defined as “the power to influence or direct people’s behaviour or the course of events”. In a coaching context, it is not uncommon to see Coaches “direct behaviour” as opposed to “influence behaviour”. Leaders influence, managers direct. Which one are you?

In today’s environment, we see kids playing hours and hours of computer games. They do this because this is probably the only place they are their own person. They can make their own decisions and face the consequences of those decisions. What they decide to do is 100% up to them. They have the freedom to execute their own thoughts and live with the consequences. Should this not enable our Coaching to adapt a bit to cater for these needs?

As Coaches, we are tasked with developing kids’ abilities as players and people for the little time we have with them every week. We set limits on their ability by the constraints we administer in each training session. If we practice Drill Based exercises for the full session, will they be challenged to evolve their game in any capacity? If we focus on isolated skill development, will this limit their potential as a player and hinder any possible development? Do we need to be 100% in control of what happens in every training session, or can we allow the kids to take control? Or, can we set the environment, set the tasks and then let them at it? When a child faces a problem, can he/she overcome it or find ways to get around it? When do we as coaches’ step in and offer advice to the kids?

As coaches, we sometimes try to take too much control of the outcomes and how they are achieved. We want to maintain control of proceedings, be seen to be in control. Parents and Club officials like when things “look” organised. What if I told you that giving up a bit of control and allowing players to take more control, will lead to more engaged and better players? You set the tasks, then allow the creativity and imagination of the players take over. You don’t need to control every situation, but you can create situations and scenarios by the content you provide. Set the task, then watch the players complete the task. They may fail, but they will get the opportunity to learn. Will you have to step in to assist from time to time? Yes, you will, but you must choose when and why.

Hurling and Football are complex games to coach due to the multitude of scenarios that could potentially arise in a match, it is nearly impossible to plan accordingly for every event. But on the other side of it, it is a simple concept. Get the ball and score. When the other team has the ball, get it back from them as soon as possible and try to score. How much of our training is geared towards getting possession from the opponents and trying to score from the resulting possession? Do we fixate with too much “other skills” that are not being portrayed in a way that benefits Game Play? Rather than being in control of isolated skill development drills, are you willing to let the kids take control of games? As a coach, you need to be in control of the situations you are creating, but you don’t need to be in control of the solutions. 3+2=5, but 4+1=5 also. There is not only one solution for scenarios, allow the children create their own solutions.