Paudie Kissane on why young GAA players need a balanced approach to development

'Educating both players and coaches will make it easier to progress athletic development year-round'
Paudie Kissane on why young GAA players need a balanced approach to development

Ben Cunningham winning possession in the air against Cathal Cormack, Blackrock, in St Finbarr's hurling victory last weekend. Picture: Larry Cummins

DEVELOPING teenage players can be tricky with so many involved with multiple teams and sports. 

Research has shown a variety of activities at a young age is good for overall development. Specific training and matches though can be the only focus with physical development often neglected.

Once players and mentors have had some break, the winter period should be used to create a base of athletic development. It is the one time of year when it can be prioritised as the on-field action is over. Educating both players and coaches which will then make it easier to progress athletic development year-round. 

If a ‘little and often approach’ was applied, then progress can still be made during the year. That's easier to understand if it is about long-term development and not just short-term success.

I have highlighted here previously the importance of speed in Gaelic games. Like many field sports with the advancement of strength and conditioning and coaching, the games are getting faster with many moments in games performed at very high intensity.

When thinking of speed we think of players running in straight lines, which is required but they also need to decelerate, change direction, roll or sidestep an opponent and even perform the basic skill of jumping and landing safely. 

Reducing the risk of injury alongside performance enhancement is what should underpin every strength and conditioning program.


Watching the county finals play out over these few weeks, you will notice many game-winning moments by players accelerating into space, suddenly changing direction and deceiving an opponent. Or by explosively jumping into the air to gain possession. Not forgetting that tactics and specific skill levels will dictate whether the ball actually goes over the bar!

Some players naturally will be better but it is about giving everyone the chance to improve. In a young group of athletes, it is easy to identify the players who have been exposed to athletics at a young age. Good rhythm, balance, and coordination all contribute to better athleticism on the field. Many adult players, in fact, can still get better in these areas but why wait until adult level to undo bad habits?

 Jack Cahalane is a gifted dual star, hurling for the Barrs and football for Castlehaven. Picture: Larry Cummins
Jack Cahalane is a gifted dual star, hurling for the Barrs and football for Castlehaven. Picture: Larry Cummins

We can all relate to the big player underage who uses his physicality to gain the upper hand in contact. Once other players have passed peak growth and maturation, they sometimes now stand out for the wrong reasons. Without that size advantage, they can repeatedly make poor decisions, lose possession in contact and be unable to link up with teammates.

Education is important as players move through underage to create awareness of their overall development. Spending time getting stronger, improving hip mobility, running mechanics, or jumping ability can be boring. Many skills can be taken for granted or underappreciated. To excel players need to realise how limitations in athleticism may negatively affect their sports performance. Develop physical ability to help take football or hurling ability to a higher level.

One example of this would be in tackling. A skill many we argue is not probably defined! 

Nonetheless, physical limitations can contribute to poor individual performance. Sometimes just because a player is playing at a high level it can be incorrectly assumed that they know what to do, meaning 'mark your opponent tighter'. Then you have players who know what to do but are unable to execute these skills at a good enough level. The challenge for a coach is knowing whether the deficiency is due to a coaching error, decision-making, physical limitation, or possibly a combination of all.

Decision-making must be involved to ensure transfer from the training ground to match day. Can a player select the right movement solution depending on the positioning of themselves and their direct opponent? This scenario is continually changing in a game, which is what makes it challenging. 

This is where conditioned games or scenarios have their value rather than the majority of training involving isolated drills.

Take joy in helping young players be the best they can be.


Meanwhile, the 2023 championship draws took on greater significance this week with new championship structures next year. 

Reaching the provincial final will ensure qualification for the new round-robin stages of the All-Ireland series, avoiding the Tailteann Cup.

Having Kerry on the opposite side of the draw is an obvious plus for Cork but a quarter-final away to Clare in Ennis will still be very tough. It is 2015 since Cork last played Clare in championship but in regular league meetings, there is never much between the sides.

Clare manager Colm Collins will certainly have been happy to have avoided Kerry and will relish the opportunity of hosting Cork. Given their recent history, with Cork, Clare have nothing to fear. It will interesting how both sides develop in the early part of the league.

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