ADULT CLUB COACHING SESSIONS – PART 1

Coaching GAA is infinite learning process. Be it hurling, football or Camogie, like the top players, the top coaches or managers are always striving for perfection. Having coached and managed in all codes, club and county at all levels over the years, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that things are entirely different now to be successful as compared to even a decade ago. Everyone is looking for that little edge. That slight advantage that will tilt the balance of success in favour of their team. In this first GAA coaching blog, I open up for discussion what has evolved over the last four decades in club coaching with a key focus on what I believe in principle are the ingredients of a good adult club “training” session.

Back In the seventies, a typical club training session consisted of lads hitting the ball (often just A ball) to each other until everyone was ready. Then two lads would pick teams for a match or something unscientific like throw the hurl’s in and randomly divide, often ending up with two crazy uneven teams. Play continued until lads got tired of it and then headed to the pub if it was open.  If fitness was required, a few laps of the field. The more fitness needed, the more laps. It was rare that science was used. Over the years the concept of drills, drills with cones, drills with more cones, warm ups and warm downs, stretching exercises, core stability building and nutrition added to the evolving science of the club training session. Science and now mental preparation are the main advantages pursued.  The better you are at these the better your chances of success.

Now the majority of club players who are serious about their sport put in the time and they have to if they want to be part of a successful team. Each individual is an important cog in a team and indeed a squad as the more lads pushing hard in the squad, the greater the encouragement from within. They practice the skills on their own. They go to the gym or do their own fitness training. They take care of their own nutrition.  The top players even at club level are way more educated on what is required than their predecessors.  Therefore, as a coach or manager you have to decide how best to make use of the short time you have with the players. And it is short. At best you will do two training sessions a week of about 90 minutes. When you take out the mandatory warm up and cool down, that leaves at best, 2 hours per week or 1% of the week to work with the players themselves as a group. Very little when you consider it is a team sport. So as coach/manager you have to use that time efficiently for the greatest gain of the team in a competitive sport.  That means trusting your players to do the individual work themselves. That is the culture than underpins success.

The themes of Team, Enjoyment and Competitive are key. Those 2 hours must be about the team, must be competitive and must be enjoyable. It is their hobby too. Therefore, there is little or no room for the circus act of cone to cone drills in group sessions for adults. Anyone could take part in these, even me!  They are adults and need to be treated as such.  Surely they all know how to rise the ball, catch it and strike it, etc. at this stage.  If you are still teaching adults the basics, you are in real big trouble. The level of how good depends on their own commitment to their own practice and each will be different so a general drill rarely helps the majority of players. You would be lucky if 2 or 3 gain from any single general drill.

The focus of the group session must be about how the team works together, the game plans (note plural), understanding what their team mate can do. Becoming aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their team mates so that together they can perform to the optimum level.  There must be enjoyment and people play the sport which they enjoy and GAA sport is in the form of team matches.  So matches must play a huge part in the group session.  Those matches should be competitive. There must be a score, a result and an aim to win. There must be an incentive to win for the individual match and for the overall. This is where Training Leagues play their part.

These are the components that make the session competitive. That’s what makes your team competitive. That’s what will bring the intensity to your training session which becomes the sandbox for your match day performances.

As an example, your 90 minute session for hurling could be something like this.

  • 20 minute warm up incorporating all the main ball skills and dynamic stretching.
  • 20 minute team play development (tactics) which covers things such as puck out strategy and includes physical replication.
  • 40 minute match – Vary teams, score matters, league points allocated.
  • 10 Minute cool down

That’s an example in its simplicity though each component does require a level of detail and planning and should not be over repetitive. The challenge is to make sure the match incorporates the team play development in practical terms. Even adults look forward to the training match. Imagine the enthusiasm of the players to turn up if they knew every session would have 50% match and that match would be competitive and matter.

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Babe Ruth

In general what you are doing is combining the individual skills learned by each player in their juvenile development years into more powerful concoction as a group. Putting the pieces of the jigsaw in the right places and making them perform together and better. Together Everyone Achieves More! This is just an overview at a high level but hopefully, you get the gist and understand the concept. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or just to make a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

ENDS AFTER SWEET SIXTEEN

Juvenile GAA ended for the three lads (Jennifer, Jamie & Lisa) on Sunday (13th January 2019) at John Locke Park when Lisa played in the2018 Minor Roinn A Camogie Final against Young Irelands of Gowran. It ended 16 years of juvenile GAA for our family which started when Jennifer attended her first club coaching session on Wednesday 5th February 2003 in Piltown, indoor hurling. It was a disappointing end with Piltown going down to Young Irelands but having said that there have been so many good and even great days for us as a family. Ending with a Roinn A final is more than fitting to sixteen brilliant years of sport, recreation and enjoyment.

It was 16 years of huge enjoyment for all of us. For the lads the GAA team sports allowed them the opportunity to meet friends for life and to develop positively as people. It allowed them to develop their physical skills and gave them regular participation in healthy exercise. It developed their confidence and taught them leadership skills and how to work well with others in a team scenario. It made them better communicators and taught them the importance of respect and discipline. It also helped them understand organisation and time management. So many of life skills harvested in a mostly enjoyable atmosphere. All this before I mention the huge enjoyment of the successes they have achieved in the games at club, school and county level. In fact, the Norris “children” have more winners’ medals in Piltown across All the Juvenile GAA codes than other family in Piltown (Listed at the end of this blog, just the winners and excluding tournaments). In summary, 5 All-Irelands, 6 Leinster, 7 Munster, 14 Kilkenny Championships, 3 Kilkenny Leagues, 2 Kilkenny Shields and 1 Tipperary Championship! In 2016, all three captained victorious teams across three different codes. I say this with huge pride in what they have achieved.

For Sheila and me, it has brought huge enjoyment and pride to us both. For us, it gave us a social life, gave us plenty of friends around the county and far beyond. By actively being involved ourselves in coaching and administration including setting up the first Ladies Gaelic Football club in Piltown, it gave us plenty of challenges but we felt part of something really special. Sheila has gone all the way to being the top Camogie administrator in Kilkenny by taking the role of County Chairperson. I believe she is one of the best GAA administrators in the country let alone the county. I have coached across all codes at both club and county level and notched a couple of All-Irelands along the way as well as getting to work with some of the legends of GAA. I believe my coaching and management ability has grown significantly over the years and has been helped no end by having first hand interaction with the lads in the challenges and opportunities they faced along the rocky road. Both Sheila and I have had success in our own right and that is important for us as people.

We always loved the GAA, but knew very early that we could not force our interests on the three lads. They had to grow to love and enjoy the games in their way. We did take the approach of strong encouragement, even when things go against you. However, the best encouragement was to lead by example and take on the roles that we have done with enthusiasm, vigour and originality. That way, we could be part of their social recreation and they ours. It didn’t mean that we always had to train them, but it did mean we always had to support them. But like every parent we were the initial coaches, something we both did in our own way and using our own skills, physical and mental. I’d like to say they got their GAA skills from me, but the truth is they all worked hard to develop their own skills which far outweighed that which I achieved as a player. However, I do think I have influenced their thinking and mental approach. We do take huge pride in their achievements to date. We do hope they continue to play for many more years and when the playing stops that they consider options in coaching, administration or officiating. Jennifer has already become the National Secretary of the CCAO (the body responsible for 3rd Level Camogie including the Ashbourne Cup). I believe there is so much more enjoyment for us as a family to have.

I hope this blog may be inspiration for other parents who might have dreams and ambitions for their kids but like us wanted the kids to develop their own dreams and ambitions and are worried how to achieve and encourage it. Yes, it does involve hard work, lots of time, but the rewards and enjoyment are fantastic and limitless. The proof is in the pudding after a sweet sixteen years.

LIST OF HONOURS WON BY JJL

CAMOGIE
All-Ireland Minor Championship (Kilkenny 2013)
All-Ireland Under-14 Community Games Bronze (Piltown 2009)
Leinster Minor Championship (Kilkenny 2012)
Leinster Under-14 Community Games (Piltown 2009)
Munster Senior Colleges C League (Scoil Mhuire 2013)
Kilkenny Minor Roinn B Championship (Piltown 2012)
Kilkenny Minor Roinn C Championship (Piltown 2011)
Kilkenny Minor Roinn A League (Piltown 2015/2018)
Kilkenny Under-16 Roinn B Championship (Piltown 2011)
Kilkenny Under-16 Roinn A League (Piltown 2013)
Kilkenny Under-14 Féile Na nGael (Piltown 2012)
Kilkenny Under-14 Roinn B Championship (Piltown 2009)
Kilkenny Under-14 Roinn A Shield (Piltown 2013)
Kilkenny Under-14 Community Games (Piltown 2009)
Kilkenny Primary Schools Roinn A (Piltown 2010)

HURLING
All-Ireland Under-17 (Eugene Carey) Plate (Kilkenny 2015)
Leinster Under-15 Shield (Kilkenny 2013)
Munster Senior Colleges D Championship (Carrick CBS 2013)
Kilkenny Under-16 Roinn B Championship (Piltown 2013)
Kilkenny South Under-13 Championship Roinn B (Piltown 2011)
Tipperary Post Primary Schools Under-17 “B” (Carrick CBS 2015)

GAELIC FOOTBALL
Kilkenny Under-16 Roinn B Championship (Piltown 2012)
Kilkenny Under-14 Roinn B Championship (Piltown 2012)
Kilkenny Under-14 Roinn C Championship (Piltown 2010)

LADIES GAELIC FOOTBALL
All-Ireland Senior Colleges Roinn A (Scoil Mhuire 2016)
All-Ireland Junior Colleges Roinn C (Scoil Mhuire 2014)
Leinster Under-16 Roinn C (Kilkenny 2011)
Leinster Under-16 Roinn C Shield (Kilkenny 2010)
Leinster Under-14 Blitz Division 3 (Kilkenny 2009)
Munster Senior Colleges Roinn A (Scoil Mhuire 2016)
Munster Senior Colleges Roinn B (Scoil Mhuire 2014)
Munster Senior Colleges Roinn C (Scoil Mhuire 2013)
Munster Junior Colleges Roinn C (Scoil Mhuire 2014)
Munster Junior Colleges Roinn D (Scoil Mhuire 2012)
Kilkenny Under-16 Blitz Shield (Piltown 2010)
Kilkenny Primary Schools Roinn B (Piltown 2008)
Kilkenny Under-16 Roinn B (Piltown 2016)
Kilkenny Under-14 Roinn B (Piltown 2014)

LEADERSHIP SEEDS

Last month, I wrote about how I became a writer. This month I will tell you how I got into coaching and team management. It started accidentally rather than by design. As a child, I loved team ball games, be it a sliotar (that is a hurling ball for visitors who don’t know), a Gaelic Football or a soccer ball. I just love the physical activity of striking a ball combined with the camaraderie of doing it with a group of friends or teammates.  I loved the competitive aspect of team games and the aim to be the best you can, though in hindsight, I never really fulfilled my potential as a player in any sport, but that is a story for another day.

When I went to Carrick-On-Suir Vocational School (the Tech), there was always an annual soccer league usually run by the teachers.  By the time I got to sixth year, as said last month, the number of boys was low. I was the only sixth year boy and there was one fifth year boy, Wayne McNamara, the school caretaker’s son who had very little interest in soccer or in any sport.  However, we became good friends that year and I grew his knowledge and ability in sport. None of the teachers took on the organising of the soccer league, so in a crazy moment, I volunteered to organise the soccer league, thus began my organising career, a trait which I now know to be essential for good team management.

I got together a number of lads who would be team captains. The better players from the older classes. Together we used consensus to grade all the players. Then one by one the captains would pick a player from the seedings with the sequence being alternated so everyone got a chance to pick the best player in the seeding group. It was like a modern-day World Cup draw. Interestingly, half my team ended up being first years. The other captains thought I had been over hard on myself to ensure the integrity of the team selections. Integrity is huge for me in sport. I on the other hand saw the positives of everyone I picked and knew it was my job as player manager to cover up any weaknesses they had and exploit their strengths.  For example, Wayne McNamara was on my team. Even though he was a fifth year, everyone knew he wasn’t into soccer. However, I knew he would never stop trying and he would keep getting in the way.  I encouraged him to get in everyone’s way and it turned out to be a good defensive ploy because I made sure my skilful lads who were first years kept out of his way.   A defender has to get in the way and a lot of his job is done. And I loved work rate. Still do. Getting in the way doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Anyway, we went unbeaten in this six-a-side league all the way to the final where we were to meet the “favourites”, although in my mind we were the favourites. Belief was and is a huge part of my managerial philosophy.  The final took place at the pitch at the back of The Tech on 4th June 1980. It was a tight tense game and it was nil all with 2 minutes to go.  Our young first years were finding it hard to break down the opposition due to their physical limitations. However, we were solid at the back. I was defending and Wayne was doing what I asked. If the ball did get past us, our goalie, Noel Mackey was a safe pair of hands. The three first years David Tobin, John Connolly and John “Speedy” Kavanagh worked hard. “Speedy” was the class player, while the other two were work horses and I loved that trait.  With that 2 minutes left, I wanted to win the game, so both myself and Wayne pushed forward. I took a shot, their goalie saved, the ball pretty much hit off Wayne on the rebound. 1-Nil to us!  Wayne was my first lesson in there can be a place for everyone in the team jigsaw, if your open your eyes and mind and find it. A minute later, with their defence opened up, “Speedy” added a second and sealed the school league.  His son Daryl Kavanagh went on the play League of Ireland. I like to think “Speedy” learned something from me that he passed on to Daryl.  It may have just been a mini school soccer league, but the thrill of outwitting the opposition was like a drug.  I had been a very shy child (A lot of people who only know me in adult life, may not believe that, but it is true). Sport had changed that. Sport gave me confidence and the chance of leadership and the mini league had boosted my confidence no end.

A few months later, a similar opportunity arose in GAA.  Windgap’s Minor Gaelic Footballers were invited to take part in one off 7-A-Side football match against Callan’s footballers as part of the Coolagh Pattern. Windgap’s footballers at that time were known as Lamogue which was my townland. The Callan footballers were known as Coolagh. We were obviously invited not just because we were neighbours but because Coolagh felt they could beat us at their Pattern which is really a Field Day. Who would blame them? Unfortunately, nobody in Windgap wanted to manage us. Who wants a minor football team that never trained? The subsequent events inspired my play “Rathmore” later.  Together with Paddy Walsh (he was later to win a National Hurling league medal with Kilkenny and an Under-21 All-Ireland and also play in the 1987 Senior Hurling Final against Galway), we set about getting 7 lads to play. We were like “The Magnificent Seven”, the odds were stacked against us. We got seven aces, lads we grew up with. We were ready, kind of. We had no ball of our own for the warm up. No water, no first aid and barely got the jerseys. I think only some of our parents supported us in Coolagh.  The seven were Sean Kelly, Eamonn Murray, Jimmy Purcell, Denis Foley, Simon Brophy, Paddy and myself who were joint Player Managers. I was also Captain and although Paddy was joint manager, I was effectively the leader. Paddy and myself were really like Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen! I arrived in Coolagh on the back of Paddy’s Honda 50, barely room for the plastic gear bag. Some team bus all the same. I cannot recollect how the other five lads got there.

Again, I looked at our strengths and although I didn’t get it fully right starting off, I was prepared to switch lads around to get the best from the team. We trailed 1-1 to a goal at half time. Simon Brophy got our goal. The partisan crowd were delighted to be leading at the break. We even heard men from Callan laughing that we had nobody managing us except ourselves. I had started myself as a forward, but I was not making any impression. I knew Paddy who had started at midfield was sharper in front of the goal whereas I could and would run forever at midfield. We switched.

Coolagh got another early goal at the start of the second half. I still believed we could win and the partisan crowd even more excited. As Seamus the player, I worked harder. As Seamus, the Manager and Captain, I shouted louder. There was nothing in mind and body that I was going to leave on that pitch. The move of Paddy to the forwards was beginning to tell, he was in outstanding form. He set up Simon Brophy for a second goal. We were a point down. With a minute to go I won a “dirty” ball at midfield, played a quick accurate pass to Paddy. He burst through the Coolagh cover and drilled the ball to that back of the net. The partisan crowd were stunned. Lamogue won 3-0 to 2-1. It was unbelievable, but true. I have the medal to this day and it is one of my most prized medals.  The addiction to team management and leadership was going from strength to strength. That was the 14th September 1980. In 1991, that became my wedding anniversary. Two great reasons to remember the past.

In 1982 and 1983, Myself and Paddy joined up with Eamonn “Grimes” Cronin to manage the Windgap Under-16 and Minor hurling teams to a period of success, although maybe slightly under achieving too. I was learning all the time about players and their strengths and how to utilise them as best we could. We lost the South Roinn C Minor final to Carrickshock in 1982 and then Kilmacow in 1983.  In between in 1983, we beat Conahy Shamrocks in the Minor Roinn C League Final 0-11 to 1-5.  It was Windgap’s first ever minor county title. Another historic victory.  Twenty-one and I had led a team to county success.

My peers recognised my leadership qualities, though others saw them as a threat. Club politics soon saw my management roles end for a number of years. From a playing point of view, it was a blessing in disguise and club politics is also a story for another day.  However, the shoots were growing and I was now a junkie who thrived on organising and leadership, A humble plaque from a mini school soccer league and a humble medal from a once off 7-a-Side Gaelic Football match had laid the foundation for later successes such as All-Ireland success with Kilkenny Under-14 hurlers in both the Tony Forristal and Sonny Walsh tournaments.  I have managed in Hurling, Gaelic Football and Ladies Football at inter county level, the only Kilkenny person to manage in three of the four team codes for Kilkenny. I have also managed in all plus Camogie at club level.

I love the challenge of outwitting the manager of the opposition. I love the challenge of getting all the pieces of the jigsaw in the right place. I love the mental analysis of my team’s performance versus that of the opposition. I love getting to know what makes a player tick, finding their strengths and their weaknesses, looking for opportunities and reducing the threats. I love the planning and organising. I love the fruits of success. In the words of John Quincy Adams” If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”. The last chapter is not written in this story yet, by a long shot.