The Paudie Kissane column: Talented players in all sports need to be constantly challenged

The Paudie Kissane column: Talented players in all sports need to be constantly challenged
If you're good enough, you're old enough... the likes of Cork dual player Seán Gillane and Aaron Gillane of Limerick are in demand from many teams. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

BEING heavily involved in Gaelic games means you are continually reflecting on different methods, games, players, exercises and how we can make the player better long term.

This is not just dealing with recent trends but also comparing the changes in the development of the player from 20 or 30 years ago to the present day. There has never been more access to different training methods and drills whether you might be a coach or player with sports science and athlete development very much in vogue. 

The game we have now is definitely faster and player’s higher levels of fitness but are the player’s better footballers or hurlers?

It’s a different world the player lives in now compared to when the seven- or eight-year-old was starting his GAA journey in the late 1980s. Presently there is a restriction on age grades a player can play for fear of burnout while also ensuring the weaker player gets an opportunity to play the game and develop. I agree the present approach regards player welfare and a player centered approach but we must question are some players being held back or in other cases are players doing enough?

It is still difficult not to put too much focus or praise on the physically dominant player at a young age. They are recognised as talented players due to a genetic advantage. They stand out at club, regional, and county level due to greater strength and size rather than technical ability. 

It can come too easy for them and can lead to some players becoming complacent and lazy and they feel they have made it. I have known development players who come back to the club and just go through the motions. These players need to be regularly reminded they are part of a process. A process to be the best they can be, this is a never ending journey and not an end in itself. These players need to be challenged more.

GAA teams start now at U6s with blitzes run many Saturday mornings all over the country. Twenty years ago there were no blitzs. You played hurling and football at home, at primary school and if you were good enough you started with the U12 team.

As a teenager, if talented, you could have played minor when 14, played U21 at 15 and slipped out to play with the club adult team at 16! I am not saying this is exactly the right way to do it but it probably did some players development no harm at all.

GIFTED: Stephen Cronin of Cork in action against Colm Boyle of Mayo. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
GIFTED: Stephen Cronin of Cork in action against Colm Boyle of Mayo. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The older players were bigger and faster, so to perform well you had to get your head up, avoid contact, look for space and make those movements or decisions quicker. 

All relevant skills for today’s game you would agree. How often do we see good players who seem to always have extra seconds on the ball, they have great awareness of their surroundings and sense danger in time to avoid it.

Competing against older players you were out of your comfort zone. Players were being regularly exposed to this challenging environment. Set backs or poor performances were inevitable also, as you were performing at a higher level. Fulfilling your potential is never a seamless transition. 

You could argue this was creating more resilient or robust players better able to deal with set backs that would naturally occur at county level, at minor and beyond. It would ensure the talented player would stick at it when the going gets tough. Yes, we have School Of Excellence and Development Academy but they can only be run intermittently with club activity dominating which is understandable.

Thriving juvenile sections in clubs were the exception rather than the norm back in the early ninety’s so there was more practice done at home or at friends house if looking to improve. Secondly back then there was a lot less sport on TV and a game console didn’t exist, therefore you were more likely to go outside and practice. 

If not practicing the game, you were climbing trees, playing chase, or replicating the Dublin Horse Show on the front garden! A lot more players cycled, walked or ran to get around. Without instruction in a competitive but enjoyable environment, agility, balance, co-ordination, jumping skills plus general fitness were been developed.

Extra practice at home was only of benefit. Much of this practice would revolve around games against the older brothers or neighbours. There was no manager or game plans, you just worked it out yourself. Depending on whose garden you were playing in, you had games of different sizes and dimensions.

Small-sided games, as they are known now, offered greater opportunities to develop players' decision-making skills. If a player made a wrong decision and for example lost possession, they worked it out themselves, instead of been provided with a solution there and then by some one else.

Decision-making will be key to any result whether it is the U8 blitz or a big game in Croke Park. We have to only think back to Cork v Mayo game last Sunday as a prime example. Young players today have more organised training and games but are they getting the right exposure as before or more opportunities to develop?

As coaches we reduce our effectiveness by thinking if I repeatedly tell them what to do, that the player should know what to do. The player does a training drill practicing their technique, is told before the game what they need to do and then during the game the player is instructed exactly what to do. 

Well then if the player makes the mistake in the game, it is his fault, as he was shown and told what to do! It doesn’t work like this as the game environment is forever changing, with players required to make instant decisions on and off the ball while considering the different movements and positioning of themselves, teammates, opponents and the ball.

Using games is not a new concept with the development of coaching science and skill acquisition theory, but surprisingly there is still an over emphasis on drills and instruction.

As coachs, we need to continually challenge our players and explain the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. I think players respond well to be challenged appropriately, given problems to solve, questions to answer. Plenty of mistakes at training sometimes can be a good thing.

Facilities, equipment, technology, organised training and games have progressed so much now but looking back are we missing something now to give players the chance to be the best they can be?

CONTACT: @paudiekissane or

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