Coaching Tips 2

Philip Kerr

Coaching tip Number 31 

The Lazy Ball

Into modern Gaelic football has come the scourge that is called the low ball. Don't get me wrong, now. I'm not advocating a return to the sky-high balloon kick that gives those at ground level ample opportunity to have a picnic before the ball re-enters the atmosphere.I'm complaining about the grubber-style pass along the ground that a player uses to thread the ball through to a forward who has made a break towards him. The player who bursts out like a train [with defender in tow] is given a pass that is well-nigh impossible to gather cleanly. It may have been tucked neatly under an opponent's block, but the receiver has to change pace, direction, stance and even his mind to collect such a pass.This type of pass comes originally from rugby, where it is used to slip the ball between defenders for a team-mate to run onto and score - and there lies the difference. The receiver in Rugby is moving with the ball player. Our forward is coming to meet the pass. Enough of the complaining - what about a solution?  I call this pass 'The Lazy Ball', because the kicker is doing the minimum to evade his opponent and make space for a pass. Players must work hard on evasion skills that throw an opponent off balance enough to be able to get a good pass away to the runner.If coaches made these demands and sought to cut out this lazy ball, we might get more fluid attacks and fewer blasts on the whistle. Watch for the lazy ball in the next game and think about changing it!  

Coaching tip Number 32

Kick for Position

Here is a small-sided game to try. It is simple to set up, easy to run and with one slight modification, it can help young players [or older ones] learn the value of forwards playing deep and leaving space to run onto a pass from midfield or defence.

Choose two teams [6 players in each].
Each team will have 1 goalkeeper, 2 backs, 1 midfielder and 2 forwards.

Set out a pitch area to suit age/skill level [e.g. U12s might play on a pitch 60m x 30m whereas seniors might need an 80m x 45m one].

Use cones or poles for goals at either end.
The only scores that count are shots that beat the 'keeper when hit along or close to the ground.

Divide the pitch into two halves, using a line of fleximarkers.
During the game backs and forwards may not cross this line. Only midfielders may cross [this helps them work on supporting runs].

Add one more rule before you start the game.
All passes across the line of markers must be PROPER KICK PASSES.

Coaches must insist that players do not simply work the ball close to the line and tap a five metre kick across the line].

How does this help? Forwards will no longer hug the halfway line waiting for backs to work the ball out and offer a short fist pass. Each team has only two forwards. Running from deep allows the midfielder to get up in support. The game also forces forwards to make lateral and diagonal runs, watch the play closely and change pace to win the ball.

Without the line and the kicking rule, the players will bunch, forwards will run away from the pass [like wide receivers in American Football] and midfielders will not work as hard to support.

Try it, stick with it and rotate the positions to let everyone experience playing different roles.

Coaching tip Number 33

Hit the Crossbar!

If you coach our youngest Gaels, those who play with a size 3 or size 4 football, you may have noticed that many tend to kick pass the ball anywhere between ground level and 10 metres high. Coaches will always try to reduce the number of low daisy-cutters or vertical bombs that these young players kick. We all want to see the perfect kick that is played over 20-30m, reaches no more than 3m at its highest point and can be caught by the receiver, either on the full or after one bounce.

But how can a coach get through to players who can't quite grasp the idea of 'head down, toe down' and can't execute or even begin to imagine that perfect kick pass?

One way that clicks with some of them is the idea of 'hit the crossbar'. Take aside a few players that are having difficulty and run a short, fun competition from the 13m line. Each should try to hit the crossbar of the main goals as many times as possible. Now remember, few will hit the bar more than once, but most will eventually strike a ball or two that gets close.

When these players return to drill work or even games, remind them that a good kick pass is like hitting the crossbar. The same technique that they use in the competition will enable them to hit better kick passes. All they have to do is be brave enough to try.

Coaching tip Number 34

Opportunities v Time

A top coach who guided his club team to an All-Ireland championship in the early nineties, regularly switched or even substituted players during the early stages of games. When asked why he didn't let players have more time to settle before he acted, the coach answered: 'Time has little to do with it. I only count opportunities, not time.'His idea was simple yet brilliant. If a player had four chances to win the ball and lost out on three, then he had to be changed before his confidence was shattered altogether. It didn't matter if these opportunities came in the first five minutes or over the period of one half of the game. The same coach maintained that it was vital all players were aware of this practice. They had to know that a switch was not a way to say 'You're not good enough' , but a chance to remind them that 'this is not your day in that spot...let's start again somewhere else'. So, if you are a coach who prefers to make changes based on 'time', think about looking for 'missed opportunities' instead. Remember to make sure your players know and understand the idea and see if your tactical work on the line improves. 

Coaching tip Number 35

Switch the Play

A game that only takes effect for one team when in the opposition half [or for forwards in a backs v forwards situation].

Set out two lines of fleximarkers [not domes] running from the half-way line to the end line. Both should be approx. 20m in from each touchline. The lines create 3 channels [wide channels of 20m each and a centre channel of 35-40m on normal pitch].The rules are simple. Should the attacking team have possession in any of the two 'wide' channels, the player on the ball must switch play into the middle channel rather than give a pass down the wing.The game is designed to ensure that any attack does not end up in the corners and that the main thrust is through the centre. This does not mean that players should pack the centre channel. Players may move freely between channels to create space, but the ball should be played from wide to centre as much as possible.Coaches should only inform the attacking team of the ploy so that defenders have to work it out and counter it. Coaches must also convince players of the need to make decoy runs into these wide channels in order to draw defenders out of the scoring zone. 

Coaching tip Number 36

Three to Score

One piece of Gaelic game analysis suggests that winning teams keep up an average of at least one score for every three times they take possession of the ball in the opposition half of the pitch. Anything less often spells defeat.
This game is designed to simulate such conditions and force players to work to keep up the scoring rate.
Set up a pitch to suit numbers on each team, and then run a line of fleximarkers along the halfway line.
Play with normal rules.Point out that each team STARTS with a score of 3. For each time that a team attacks [i.e. takes possession in the opposition half] and does not score, 1 is taken off the starting score of 3.The first team to have its score reduced to 0 loses that game [usually one of a series of games set by the coach].If a team scores before the 3 becomes 0, the rate is maintained and a new ‘3’ is awarded.e.g.
Team A misses with its first shot and has its score reduced to ‘2’.
The next attack from Team A is turned over and the score is cut to ‘1’.
Team A now has one last chance to score.
Team A scores on the next attack. The team’s score is set at ‘3’ again and the game goes on.
So, each time a team scores, the score is reset at ‘3’.
Try this game and see how it focuses players. At first you may find it leads to a lot of tight fist passing as players attempt to keep possession. However, they should learn quickly that such a method of play will allow the opposition to regroup and spoil attacks more easily. Soon they’ll find that a more direct style of play [with quick support to front players] is best. 

Coaching tip Number 37

Wipeout Game

A game to try as part of a series:Choose two teams [e.g. 7v7 up to 15v15], bib them and adapt the size of the pitch to suit.The game is normal Gaelic football with one twist. To win the game, a team must score 3 times consecutively [without their scores being interrupted by an opposition score]. Should the opposition score before 3 consecutive scores are taken, any scores earned are wiped out and the opposition are now deemed to be winning 1-0.e.g. Team A scores a point and then a goal. They are now winning 2-0 in scores taken. Team B scores a point. Team A’s two scores are wiped out and Team B leads 1-0.The first team to reach score consecutive times wins the game and goes 1-0 up in the series. Run the series to suit [e.g. series is over when one team wins five games].A modification of this involves delaying the ‘wipeout’ element until a certain number of scores has been reached.e.g. Teams play first to get five scores on the board, but ‘wipeout’ rules only apply after 4 scores. So, both teams keep playing and scoring as normal until one reaches four scores. Should this team manage a fifth without the opposition scoring first, it wins the game. However, should the opposition score, the four scores are wiped out.Why bother play this game? It focuses players much more and leads to a higher degree of intensity. Players are keener to defend, to find space, to shoot sooner and to turn the ball over.  

Coaching tip Number 38

Scores V Turnovers

Here’s a game to focus players on working harder to turnover the ball during play. It is particularly useful for coaches who are keen to improve forwards’ work rate when the opposition has the ball.Play normal Gaelic rules. Set up a pitch to suit the number of players. Run a line of fleximarkers across the halfway line.To win one game in a mini-series [e.g. best of five] a team may either score four times or turn the ball over twice inside the opposition half. A ‘turnover’ is only awarded for an interception during play, a tackle that wins possession or a block that leads to possession. If a team manages to turn the ball over, play does not stop; rather it continues until the next break in the game [e.g. score, wide, free, sideline]So, a team that finds itself 3-0 down in scores and with 1 turnover earned, may still win the game if one of its players forces one more turnover in the opposition half of the pitch.Such a situation will also highlight the need for defenders to make sure the ball is not lost inside the defending half of the pitch. If players respond by working a tight fist-passing game, they may find that this leads to even more opportunities for the opposition to turn the ball over. If they decide to simply kick the ball into the other half to avoid the turnover, it invites another attack from the opposition team.The right balance must be found between keeping possession and delivering a telling pass into the other half for a teammate.To those who complain that the scoring team is being unduly punished, remember…the game is deliberately designed to force a higher work rate from attackers when opposing defenders have the ball. Forwards are being given an incentive to win the ball back.Coaches are free to change the ratio of scores to turnovers [e.g. to win, a team needs 3 scores or 2 turnovers]. 

Coaching tip Number 39

What can you add?

When a manager or coach has to leave players out of a team and resign them to a spell on the bench, he often finds it difficult to explain why they haven't made the team. Those players rarely find themselves in the mood to listen anyway, for most believe they should start.Come the time for a substitution, a coach calls for the sub to warm up; then he generally gives a few instructions before the player takes the field.Should the change be one that is tactical rather than as the result of injury, the substitute might well be asked "What can you add to this team, that the first-choice player could not?" Such a question may not lend itself to an immediate answer, but it does focus the new player and remind him that he must not simply replace someone, but must work to retain his place by 'adding something to the team'.Perhaps this little reminder will serve to motivate those who can't wait to get off the bench and onto the field. 

Coaching tip Number 40

Don’t do drills, teach situations.

I picked this up from an Aussie Rules website - we can use it too.
Never underestimate the ability of young players to learn, especially if you as the coach have been able to convince them why this is the best choice. Don’t just tell them that they must make a specific choice because you as coach said so. Explain to them why it is best to make a certain choice. You as coach must be able to back it up with evidence.This doesn’t imply that we complicate the game for young players. We set the range of options relevant to their age and technique level. We can stimulate and challenge young players especially those that have flaws in their technique that often detract from their enjoyment in performance. Decision-making means relating to team mates, that is one of the primary reasons why we play a team sport like Gaelic Football.

Coaching tip Number 41

Fitness Testing.

Before the new season, think about the types of fitness tests you use for your players.  Remember, our games are 'multisprint'; therefore they call upon the anaerobic energy system more than on the aerobic system.

Put simply, this means they are not filled with long runs lasting several minutes; rather they are punctuated by runs of up to 20 seconds, short breaks [walking etc] and quick bursts of less than 6 seconds duration.

However, before you dispense with the longer runs, remember that they do have a role. The aerobic energy system [heart and lungs - using oxygen] is vital for recovery between these short bursts on the pitch - so it must be well developed.

The more developed and efficient the aerobic system is, the shorter a player's recovery time will be between bouts of hard work on the pitch.

So, do not dismiss the longer runs pre-season. Make sure they are done on grass [not on roads!], use a proper test to check fitness levels and tailor your training to suit the results [.e. what will you do with a player who scores 3000m+ in the Cooper Test as opposed to a player who scores 1900m?

Now you can check the internet for the protocols associated with the Cooper Test.

Coaching tip Number 42

Poor Shooting - A Matter of Angles and Passes

How many times have you watched a player run towards goal with the ball and,  without pressure from an opponent, make the shooting angle narrower and narrower as he gets closer? {I have deliberately omitted ´she´as girls tend not to make this mistake}.

The bad habit is borne out of the desire to clip the ball off the instep and curl it over the bar. It does work at times but, more often than not, such a kick ends up as a wide or a ball dropped into the goalkeeper´s hands.

Give footballs to players before a coaching session or a match and you´ll see plenty of these clipped, curling shots sail over the bar from different angles. So why the difference during the game proper?

Well, add pace and the pressure of time on the ball and the execution of this type of shot changes dramatically. Few players can maintain the necessary balance when in full flight, so very
often the result is a horrible slice or a skied shot that drops into the hands of the goalie.

Now for a possible solution to the problem; a solution that must be embedded in our youngest players, for trying to get senior footballers to change is like attempting to turn back time.

I mentioned earlier that girls tend not to make this mistake. So, what does a female footballer do rather than narrow the angle for shooting? She turns towards goal while still in possession {and breaks a tackle if necessary}, then she PASSES the ball over the bar. Quite literally, she will strike the ball off the laces while on the run; more often than not the ´pass´will become a point.

The message is, then, if you want to increase your players´shooting success, you must make sure your youngest footballers take a leaf out of the female book; and, during the exercise, as a sop to their masculinity, throw in a few tackle bags.

Coaching tip Number 43

No Straight Ball!

Try this game with your teams.

Only play it for about 10 minutes at a time and point out beforehand that  your intention is to force players on the ball to look left and right for a pass and to encourage those who want the ball to move left and right to receive.

The ball must not be passed into the corners of the pitch [dead space] but players may make decoy runs into these areas.

So, a player in possession may not play the ball straight up or straight down the pitch. Every pass must be diagonal or lateral: All support runs likewise.

Played at its best, this game will lead to the ball ending up in front of goal, with players constantly running to support or to draw opponents away from the action.

It may be used with teams as young as your top U10s or as experienced as your seniors.

Coaching tip Number 44

Make Room - Move the Ball!

The 'average' player is identified by a number of traits; not least among these is his/her tendency to 'take too much out of the ball'.

Take a few minutes to watch the better footballers on your team [or on the opposition team]. They will often win the ball, make room and move it on.

Such players looked so composed, they exude confidence and yet they are often missed in favour of the mazy solo runner who contributes little to teamplay. This is especially prevalent at underage.

Work your players at each level to ensure they can use a variety of ways to make room [e.g. one sidestep, one feint, one swerve, one checked run, one break of a tackle etc.].
Bring  the practice into games and reward those players who work hard to learn the skill of making room and then moving the ball on [be it as a pass or as a shot].. and say goodbye to the mazy solo artist!

Coaching tip Number 45

Striking A Balance

Take time to watch some footballers as they strike the ball for a point. Those who score more often than miss from different positions are a rarity.What sets them apartfrom the rest? One of the secrets of success is balance. Each of these players is as balanced after the kick as before.

Rugby coaches always emphasise the need for good balance while kicking the ball. It should be the same for us in Gaelic football.  Those who take 'frees' from the hand and have a poor scoring rate might want to follow one of the most successful tips from rugby:

" Before striking the ball imagine that after you have taken the kick, you must finish squarely on a gymnast's balance beam. The beam is only four inches across - just wide enough for your boot. This will keep your upper body from swaying or tilting and you will be less inclined to look up too soon. Your kicking contact and accuracy will improve with practice."

As I've written in many other coaching tips - go on, try it!

Coaching tip Number 46

Progress or Regress

For those of you who coach our youngest gaels, think carefully before you break for the winter. Calling time at the end of September and resuming again in March, will mean for some, little or no activity for up to five months.

Granted, quite a few will fill the gap with other sports and activities, but few will hone their Gaelic football or hurling or camogie skills during the close season.

If you're lucky enough to have access to a hall or gym or leisure centre, why not devise a weekly programme for players based on developing both sides?

There is no better way to work on left and right sides than to use a rebound wall in a hall. Coaches can spend time in a confined area and with smaller numbers, checking technique through the 'Head, Hands, Feet' method and preparing children for the forthcoming outdoor season.
The secret is to identify groups of no more than 20 and to ensure that the coach to player ratio is at no more than 1:5. And remember - it's a coaching group, not a creche!

Coaching tip Number 47

The Two Ts of Possession

At any one time in a Gaelic football match, there is only one member of a team in possession of the ball. That player may have lots to focus on and little time to do so.
The onus is on the ball player to maintain good technique - catching, soloing, kick passing, fist passing, shooting etc.

Of course, the same player must develop good decision-making, but the best decisions are often the result of sharp thinking by his/her team-mates.  Each player 'off' the ball should be thinking and working on things like - Am I in the best place for a pass? How can I give my teammate an option? Can I create space for others? Am I calling for a 50/50 ball?

So, if you intend improving teamplay...push the two Ts at your players.... Technique ON the ball...Thinking OFF the ball.

Once players get the message and put it into practice, teamwork will be the

Coaching tip Number 48

Are we selling our U12 footballers short?

As AGM time beckons, we have a unique opportunity to put structures in place that will take player development to new heights.

Such a move will demand bravery and farsightedness from committees and clubs, but the dividends for Derry football are real.

Please consider the following questions before deciding upon structures for 2006:

" If our U10 format affords all children the chance to play meaningful games at suitable levels, can we justify continuing with the current U12 format?

" Are children being developed at U10 level, only to be ignored at U12 level?

Here is the current situation:

U10 Football U12 Football U14 Football U16 Football
3 Pitches 1 Pitch 1 Pitch 1 Pitch
7-9 per team 15 per team 15 per team 15 per team
No substitutes Up to 10 substitutes Up to 10 substitutes Up to 10 substitutes
ABC Team A Team only A Team only A Team only
2 Touch Full Rules Full rules Full rules

The GAA has now launched the 'Go Games', one of which is aimed at football at U12 level. Schools will promote the games; it is imperative that boards and clubs support them too.

A change would read as follows:

Current U12 Format Proposed U12 Format
1 pitch 2 pitches
15 per team 11 per team
Full rules Two Touch
A team A & B teams

" Is it also time to move age limits for U10, U12, U14 and U16 to match those operating in schools and colleges?

" Are there advantages? [e.g. fewer, if any, examples of cheating]

" Are there disadvantages? [e.g. current age limits for Feile]

Coaching tip Number 49

Road Runner - Watch out!

A couple of months ago a top athlete was sent by a television company to buy pairs of trainers from a variety of outlets.

The consumer protection angle was simply to find out if shops would give conflicting advice when the athlete asked for a shoe suited to running on roads in order to improve aerobic fitness.

The results were startling and must serve as a warning to all GAA coaches who insist their players train pre-season by running on roads.

Of the 19 pairs sold to him, leading orthopaedic consultants stated only 3 afforded suitable protection for ankles and knees, given the constant pounding as feet hit tarmac.

Furthermore, these only worked if the athlete had been properly trained up on running techniques that reduced the foot to ground impact.

If you coach, get them to run on grass. If not, why not?

Coaching tip Number 50

Kicking Through the Tackle

Next time you go to a club game, be it at youth or adult level, look out for the player who seems to carry the ball up to an opponent and, rather than break through the tackle, tries to kick through it. His thought process is simple; the space was there to carry the ball and the player fully intended to move the ball on when he had made some ground; however, his opponent had closed the gap quicker than anticipated and the carrier, having earlier made up his mind to pass, went ahead with the kick and was
easily blocked down; spectators can't believe he didn't see the tackler coming and that's where they're wrong - he did, but his mind was already made up and he couldn't change it.

Coaches must make players aware that this can happen in a match and set up drills or exercises to put players in this very situation; allow a solo run, demand a pass at some point along that run and let an opponent close the carrier down. The carrier learns to decide on an earlier pass or, more often than not, learns to hold tight, break the tackle and deliver a pass from a much better position.

Remember, telling him will not work - practice is vital.

Coaching tip Number 51

Speed Shooting

Take a look at some of the shooting drills you run. Many are probably unopposed and are designed to allow players to develop better technical skills.

However, one of the characteristics of unopposed shooting is 1/2 pace or 3/4 pace running that does not reflect match situations. No matter how many times a coach asks players to work at full pace, most will not because there is nothing physical to force them to do so.

To solve the problem, use runners to work alongside the ball carrier/shooter. The runner is really more of a pace-setter rather than a shadow runner and may even be the person who delivers a fist pass and then tries to chase the carrier or even beat the carrier in a short race to the point where the shot is taken.

Demand honesty from the pace-setters by convincing them of the importance of their task - they are helping prepare a team-mate for a similar situation in a real game.

So, cut down the unopposed drills, think of different ways to use pace-setters and help your shot takers to work at match speed!

Good luck.

Coaching tip Number 52

Fuel Up

Would you plan a long journey in your car without putting fuel in it?  If you did you would not get very far.  You always hear coaches say ‘empty the tank’ to get their players to give their all?  How do we ‘fill the tank’ in the first place? 

Gaelic players, like all athletes must hydrate themselves on a regular basis.  It is important to drink enough of the right type of fluid at the pre match/session meal. One of the main problems that dehydration causes players is a loss of concentration and that’s what can cause basic errors in performance.

Often games are won and lost in the closing stages, with the opposition dropping the ball or making a sloppy pass.  Proper hydration can help to eliminate these problems. In conjunction with a balanced healthy diet, all players should be taking the proper fluids. 

This can be in the form of water, dilute squash or sports drink.

Most players will require between 2 and 3 litres a day, which does not include the fluid lost as sweat during exercise. Remember to take you water bottle to all coaching sessions and games. 

At the break in play or a change in training activity, you should drink as much as possible. 

Remember thirst is a late sign of de-hydration, so get into the habit of taking fluid even if not thirsty. Within 20 minutes of the session, the bottle should be refilled with water and consumed along with a light snack. 

Also, remember to get fluid on board 1-2 hours before the game/session along with the pre activity meal.  You can sip fluid at regular intervals until exercise begins.

Coaching tip Number 53

Are We Restrictive?

Your team is two points behind, time is almost up.  You are looking around for that spark that cannot be found.  All the players are cancelling each other out and there isn’t a match winner to be found.   

Since all our coaches are following the same steps, preaching the same things it is very often the team with the talented performer that comes though.  We call him the match winner.  One example was in a 2001 game in Thurles.  Kerry trailed by a point, Maurice Fitzgerald lined up a sideline kick from distance and curled it over with the outside of the boot.

Coaches up and down the country were tearing their hair out.  They are preaching that players punt every ball and don't encourage what Maurice Fitz done.  Are we wrong? 

Our goal in coaching is that we will develop players who will play on our club senior teams and maybe go on to play for the county.  We want them to be able to be fit enough to last the game, we want them to take the ball first time and break a tackle.  They will also be taught about diet and preventing injury. 

Why not dedicate some time in your coaching sessions for players to express themselves.  In the dying moment of a championship game you may want your wing forward to drive forward evading opponents and kick over the bar, so we need to give them a chance to practice. 

It is very important that we promote team play but there will always be the day when a bit of individual brilliance will be required.

Coaching tip Number 54

Back To Basics

In the past children played in the playground at school.  They played, tag, hide ‘n’ seek etc and got all the exercise they needed.  Times have changed.  To compensate for this, the GAA Coaching Hierarchy began to put a huge emphasis on ABC’s at primary school level.  Agility, Balance and Coordination. 

So in an era where the internet, TV and video games are highly accessible, youth officers and coaches have rolled out a very well structured coaching scheme to teach kids basic movement and exercise skills.

However there is another worrying trend creeping into our game.  How many players can kick a long pass accurately?  How many players can catch a high ball in a ruck of players?  Can they put the ball over the bar on a regular basis?

Kerry’s decision to put Kieran Donaghy into full forward transformed their 2006 season.  It was back to the era of Bomber Liston, Jimmy Keaveney etc.  However, for this to happen you need two things…..a strong target man who can win his own ball and players who can direct a good pass into the full forward line.

In your club U14 team do you have players who can pass the ball accurately?  How many forwards in your U16 team can score regularly from play?  Can your midfielders, full back and full forward win a high ball against their opponent?

There are so many other things creeping into our game.  Third midfielder, two man full forward line, blanket defence, breaking ball and turnovers.  The list could go on. 

These can all be very useful additions to a teams armoury if they are looking for success or trying to play against a difficult opponent.  But are we neglecting the basic skills of our game? 

Consider the advantages of improving your long kicking, can your passes unlock a defence? 

Consider the advantages of increasing your scoring rate, can you be another source of scores for your team? 

Consider improving your overhead catch.  Can you win more kickouts or make a match winning catch at the edge of the square?

Just something for us to think about.