ONE of the main findings of the Talent Academy and Player Development Review was that there is too much of a ‘win at all costs’ approach at underage.
This is taking away from player enjoyment of Gaelic Games, leading to drop-out and unfulfilled potential. This mindset has been widespread for many years.
Irrespective of age, you would expect that a player should always do their best. Obviously, young players will make mistakes; that’s the learning process. Seeing some mentors or parents in action, you would imagine no-one is allowed make a mistake.
How many underage players quit because of elitism or poor experiences? In some clubs with bigger numbers, there would seem to be a large drop-off as players progress through to the late stages of youth and into adult level.
Recently, I had a discussion with an underage mentor who was involved with a big panel of players. Rather than provide all players with game time in a particular code, the mentor suggested that all the strongest players play one code, and the weaker players the other code.
The focus was, incorrectly, on just winning and providing game time to the stronger players. When a young boy is not getting an opportunity to play the game he enjoys, the management is forgetting that this player could still have potential, even to be one of the better players.
It’s easy to just criticise the mentors, but the club coaching officer also has an impact.
Are the underage mentors getting guidance on player development and creating the right environment for players to flourish and for long-term development?
People still don’t understand how a young person’s growth and maturation can have a great impact at underage level on their ability to play Gaelic football or hurling.
The development of each player is an individual journey, which must be appreciated.
I have seen it myself in development squads, where a physically smaller player struggles to make an impact. Straight away, it is often decided that this player is not good enough. The criteria for selection can be misplaced, with too much emphasis on physical qualities.
The Talent Academy Review also highlighted the importance of education and governance. I couldn’t agree more. If the best environment possible is to be provided for our players, then this starts with education.
No doubt, the coaching and playing structures for underage GAA clubs are much improved from when I started playing. There is still a long way to go, as many coaches are still working in isolation within clubs.
There is no definitive link between, for example, U12s, U14s, and U16s. Everyone is just following their own plan and doing whatever they think is right for their team.
Ideally, in every club, there would be a clear strategy as regards not only retaining players, but also the type of players they want playing at adult level in the future.
Players should have high skill levels, along with the appropriate levels of physical development, resiliency, and tactical awareness.
This could be broken down further into positional abilities. Some players get pigeon-holed into certain positions at a young age. Instead, players should be used in different positions to develop overall ability.
The review highlighted that only 1% of players make it to the highest level and that the focus should be the club. Certainly, some players’ standards and attitude can change once they make an academy squad.
This is not necessarily just their fault, as it can be the parent who is now thinking it is all about the county and then forget about the club. Some start lining out for their club wearing club socks, but county shorts.
In contrast, players who just miss out on Cork selection or underperform at minor level are also catered for. Many young players aspire to wear the red jersey at minor. It can become an obsession and symbol of status.
If selection or performance doesn’t go well, then a player can sometimes struggle to reintegrate back properly with his or her club. A player can lose confidence and become more conservative in their play. Their motivation or focus may not quite be at previous levels.
Player education is important here to, firstly, make sure those types of players still play Gaelic games, but, also, to get the player to learn from the negative experiences and move forward. Conversations should be more open and more frequent.
In sport and competition, there will always be losing and sometimes failure.
This must be dealt with appropriately with young players. Learning is non-linear and there will always be struggles, so things must be kept in perspective.
The area of player development will continue to evolve over the coming years. It will be interesting to see how things do progress and, certainly, things can improve for the better. Like talent development, this will just take time.
Contact: @paudiekissane or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.