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.

Creating a greater understanding of Coaching

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.