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.

Parents role in Player Development

An interesting question posed recently to me was “How important is your 1 hour training session to a child’s actual development?”. And it got me thinking.
Let’s just use Joe Canning as an example and make a few presumptions on his actual make up as a player.
Environments that influence his development:
– Home: Time spent playing in his free time with siblings, parents and friends.
– Primary School: Time spent playing hurling in PE, lunch breaks, before/after School.
– Post Primary School: Time spent playing and training on school teams, puckinh around with friends.
– College: Training and playing at a high level.
– Club: Weekly/Biweekly from 5 onwards.
– Representative level: Playing on county teams and squads.

It is clearly evident that there are 4 key environments where a person will develop as a player, the Home, Educational setting, the club and for some the county set up. But, depending on where a person is born a few of these settings are down to luck. Out of the 4 listed, theoretically all of them are beyond the control of the individual.
For instance, if Joe Canning was born in West Galway, would we have ever heard of him as a Hurler? Would he have received the same opportunities in the education settings to develop as a hurler, would his club have been able to offer him the culture and expertise in Hurling coaching, would he of been afforded opportunities to be on development squads?? So, it was a bit of luck he was born where he was? Or would it matter?
The first environment listed is probably the least prioritised by coaches and the GAA, the Home. You do hear coaches encouraging kids to practice at home “Hurley, a ball and a wall” and encouragement of parents to practice with their sons and daughters. But is there any way we could actually give parents adequate support to do this?
Children could, in a very lucky environment play 2-3 hours of organised hurling or football on a weekly basis between Primary school and the Club, if they are lucky. Is 2-3 hours of organised practice each week going to be enough to develop a player, if they do nothing else? Probably not. Johan Cruyff said “I trained 3-4 hours a week at Ajax when I was small, I played 3-4 hours a day on the street. So where do you think I learnt to play football?”. So, with this in mind, how important is it that children do actually spend their spare time playing hurling or football or whatever other code it is they wish to play?
Parents who encourage and provide an environment for children to play, is probably more important than the training they do in the educational setting and in the club setting. Or is that an incorrect hypothesis?

So with this in mind, is it possible for you, the coach, to engage more with the parents, give them a sense of belonging and responsibility to the child’s development, upskill them to be able to play with their child and correct technical aspects, encourage more play time at home, get them to take an actual interest in the training and skill development aspects. If you think this is possible, then what are we going to do to make this happen?

Whilst it may not be the role of the team coach to execute such ideals for our utopian view, maybe clubs could take an active role in putting in place steps to embrace parents more into each child’s development. If your child spent an hour a day playing any sport or activity with friends and family, that would go a large part to ensuring they get a chance to develop fully in all sports. Is 7 hours a week of encouraging your child to play, have fun, try something new going to hurt, I don’t think so. If your child doesn’t have siblings to play with or friends close by, you will have to be that person to play with. You never know, you might enjoy it.

What standards do you set for yourself?

Recently, i had the pleasure to spend a few evenings monitoring different training sessions with 3 different club teams. In nearly each training session, Coaches demanded excellence from their players in every facet of the training session and also away from training. “Make sure you eat right”, “Drink plenty of water over the next few days”, “Get out and get 20 minutes of kicking done every night” etc.

As i debriefed with one coach after the training, we started discussing the expectations on players from the coach and subsequently from the club. We quickly came to the conclusion that we held the players to an extremely high standard both on and off the pitch. This got me thinking, do we hold ourselves (the Coach) to the same high standards. Does the club hold up its end of the bargain and demand excellence of itself in providing resources and facilities as needed.

As a coach, do you prepare as diligently when you are on the pitch and off the pitch to be as good as you can be. Do you challenge yourself to be a better coach every week/month /year? Do you set targets for yourself as a coach? At the start of every year, why not sit down with your Management team and discuss how the management group can improve. Can you up-skill every year so that over the course of 4/5 years, you are a much more focused Coach than before. Can you put in place a long term, medium term and short term plans for the team. Can your training be focused holistically so as to improve all facets throughout the year, as opposed to reactionary to the last match.

If the Coach spends as much time off the field planning and learning, as the players are expected to, How much of an improvement in standards will that bring? If the sessions become much more engaging and challenging to the needs of the player, what kind of response will that get from the players. Will that again force the players to up their standards further. Are we then at a stage where the Coach is challenging the Players and in turn the Players are challenging the Coach to be better on a daily basis. What kind of culture will that set within a group.

A few simple tips to challenge yourself to be a better coach:

Short Term

  1. Plan: Spend a bit of time planning what you want to achieve out of the upcoming training session/s e.g. Tackling, Striking, Support Play. Then use Games Based Exercises to develop these facets in the training.
  2. Engage: Talk and Listen to the players as to what they feel is needed to improve. After all, they are the ones inside the white line seeing and feeling whats happening.
  3. Watch: Don’t be afraid to step back in the training session and just observe whats happening. You don’t always need to be in the centre of the group giving instructions. Allow the players be uncomfortable in situations and also allow them to correct their errors.

Long Term

  1. Plan: Have a yearly plan of what you want to achieve with the team. What areas will you focus on at different stages of the year.
  2. Read: Don’t be afraid to read articles, blogs, books, coaching resources from within the GAA and other sports. Broaden your mind to other ideas and see if you can marry these into your philosophy.
  3. Learn: Go to workshops, visit other training sessions, increase your understanding of areas that you may not be strong in e.g. Age Appropriate physical development.

Dealing with Disruptive Children in your training sessions

A Frequently asked question of me and every other coach who has ever done a workshop is “What should we do with kids who mess in training?”. The “Bold Child Syndrome” is something that happens only when kids come training. For 23 hours of the day, a child is relatively well behaved but for that 1 hour they come down to training, they cause more mayhem than can ever be imagined from a person so small. What is it that drags out this inherent need for a child to be as disruptive as possible for this 1 hour period? Trying to impress their peers? Trying to drive the coach to stress levels not known since the last time he/she moved house? Whoever does proper research on this topic and finds an answer, should become a multi-millionaire for providing the answer to this seemingly unanswerable question. Whoever comes up with the definitive answer should be put on the pedestal alongside Superman, Batman and all other comic book heroes.

Children do not get up in the morning with the sole ambition of making life difficult for their coach that evening. Children by their very nature are nice people. The problems of the world have yet to drag down their temperament. They want to play, to be challenged, to be acknowledged and they want to have FUN.

Where children generally become disruptive is when they are bored. Why do children get bored? Simply put, they get bored when they are doing nothing. Standing in line, listening to adults for too long, watching someone else having fun. This is when a child begins to get disruptive. They want to be engaged. If they are the 7th person in a line waiting for a chance to play, they will do something to entertain themselves in the meantime. Look at it from this perspective, if you are waiting in a Que 8 people deep, do you just stand there waiting patiently to get served, are you cursing the time you must spend in the line or do you take out your phone to entertain yourself? Phone usually for me, I’m not standing in a line doing nothing like a psycho. If you go into the Bank and there are 2 Cashiers open and behind Cashier 1 is a line of 6 people and behind Cashier 2 is only 1 person, which line will you join? It might seem like a stupid question but what do we do with kids in training sessions? We put them into lines, waiting for their turn.

How about we take an interest in the needs of a child when we are coaching them. Instead of putting them in lines, we give them all a ball. Instead of getting them to do drills, we play games with a challenge. If you have your session well planned and child focused, there will be no messing in the training. Children are not “Bold” on purpose, they are just bored. Who is responsible for keeping them engaged? You are. The coach must ensure children are challenged and engaged in the sessions. Personally, I love the challenge of being asked to do a training session and being told that they are a “Hyper Bunch” and “those 3 are big messers, any hassle and send them out”. Being able to do a session which caters for the children’s needs without any messing occurring does give an amazing sense of satisfaction.

Lastly, don’t separate friends when they are young. Some boys and girls come training just because their friend goes. If you separate them every week, that’s a sure way to lose one, if not both. Every child does not have the ambition to play intercounty, they just want to spend time with their friends. Be conscious of these children as well.

A few tips for you to help have a more engaging session:

  • Plan the skills you want to achieve in advance and develop games for them
  • A ball per player.
  • Pick teams as children arrive and put bibs on them, to save time during the session
  • No lining up. Eliminate Ques from the session plan.
  • Games, Games and more Games.
  • Reward the group with “Free Time” (They can do whatever they want) if they do something well.
  • Have a Fun Warm up.
  • At least one game that ensures they get a lot of scores in an actual goal.
  • Start with a match
  • Finish with a fun game e.g. Penalty shoot out, free competition, crossbar challenge etc
  • Use positive words and phrases.