Christy O'Connor: Top GAA coaches must keep their eyes on the future

Christy O'Connor: Top GAA coaches must keep their eyes on the future
Young Jack Long, son of Glen Rovers coach Daithí, gets in some shooting practice against Bride Rovers at the U16 hurling game at The Glen Field back in July. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN a Ted Talk earlier this year, Carol Dweck – the lead researcher in the area of mindset – gave a talk on the ‘power of yet’.

Dweck began her presentation by speaking about a high school in Chicago where the students had to pass a number of courses to graduate. But if they didn’t pass the course, they recieved the grade ‘Not Yet’.

Dweck was taken by the concept because she felt it placed those students on a learning curve by giving them a “path into the future”.

Dweck has championed the concepts of ‘Fixed’ and ‘Growth Mindset’.

Put simply, individuals with a ‘growth mindset’ have huge levels of ‘coachability’. They think talent can be developed through strategy, effort, feedback, perseverance and hard work. However, those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe ability is a fixed trait, thus avoiding challenges, and rendering themselves unable to learn and becoming ‘un-coachable’.

Dweck has repeatedly discovered that those with a fixed mindset are gripped in the tyranny of now, as opposed to “luxuriating in the power of yet”.

With so many kids now carrying the need for constant validation, where they are focused on getting the next A, having the fastest running time, being the best player on the U12 team, Dweck posed a question as to how we are raising our children. “Are we raising them for now, instead of yet?” 

So how can we build that bridge to yet? Using the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet’ may not be what kids want to hear but those messages can give kids greater confidence in the long run, mainly because, as Dweck says, it gives them a path into the future.

When educators or coaches create growth mindset environments that are steeped in ‘yet’, the potential is far greater than in an environment rooted in ‘now’.

In a recent video for ‘The 42’, filmed by Eoin Luc Ó Ceallaigh and Murray Kinsella, they interviewed Buck Anderson, New Zealand Rugby Union’s Youth Development Officer.

Titled ‘Facing History’, Anderson spoke of how kids in New Zealand are encouraged to love the game.

In their efforts to get as many kids as possible playing rugby, the NZRU spent considerable time talking to the kids, as opposed to asking adults, who have a totally different view of what the game is all about.

The findings were basic – fun and enjoyment. “When you talk to them, they’re not thinking they’re going to be All-Blacks,” said Anderson. “You constantly hear this thing about its kids dreams to be an All-Black. They might play (at a young age) at being an All-Black but the dream of being an All-Black is an adult’s view. The kids just want fun.” 

The NZRU have tried to drill down into that environment to see what the kids mean by fun; meaningful competitions, good skills development, good coaching structures, and not taking it too seriously. 

“The kids who have that, they’re happy,” said Anderson. “And if they’re happy, they’ll continue to enjoy it.” 

By trying to introduce more meaningful competition, Anderson said the NZRU are trying to look at more clubs, especially at the lower grades, to pick three even teams, as opposed to having A, B and C teams. 

That model is not universally accepted within the country but the NZRU are repeatedly trying to get that message out there, which ultimately aims to keep kids in the game longer.

Midleton's Leo Hennesy reaches out for the sliotar ahead of Sars' Jeremy Kingston and David Lynch in a recent P1 minor hurling match. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Midleton's Leo Hennesy reaches out for the sliotar ahead of Sars' Jeremy Kingston and David Lynch in a recent P1 minor hurling match. Picture: Howard Crowdy

That model is also highly applicable amongst elite underage players and Cork have certainly embraced that principle at developmental level.

Last year’s Arrabawn (Inter-county U15 tournament) was a prime example. Cork beat Galway in the final but Cork were the only county to enter two teams in the competition.

In the past, Cork would have entered an A and a B squad but management decided to split two even squads into Cork and Corcaigh panels.

Cork have to be commended to their approach to developing young players. That was also really evident last year when Cork choose not to enter teams in the Tony Forristal and Sonny Walsh (All-Ireland U14) competitions, opting instead to spread the net as wide as possible through their own regional hurling competition.

The eight teams involved were based on geographical regions, but all teams were more or less equal strength through a clever shifting system to balance the numbers. A similar system applied to the Cork U14 regional football tournament.

Retaining players is just as important as continually promoting the elite through the grades, which is what happened for years. That was, and still is, the model for many elite sports until, or unless, those sporting organisations address the issue with a more long-term perspective.

In that short film, Buck Anderson spoke about Luke Romano, the current All-Black lock, who could only make the third team in Christchurch Boys High. 

“Someone there kept him going,” said Anderson. “They gave him a love of the game and he carried on playing when he left school. He developed and now he’s been in the All-Blacks for several years.” 

Anderson spoke about having a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for all their coaches of teenage teams: how many kids come back to be coached by you next year, as opposed to how many championships you won? 

“The more kids you can retain, and if those kids believe you’ve made them better, and that you’ve provided them a great environment that’s given them a love of the game, and they come back, then you’ve done your job.” 

And kids will be even stronger and better again if they are immersed in an environment steeped in ‘yet’, rather than one rooted in ‘now’.

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