If a squad of U10s made up of players from Primary 4, 5, 6 and 7 can master the principle of play that is 'width', then there's hope for Gaelic Football.
To introduce any principle of play you may have to create a false situation on the pitch - one which the purists [or is it the dinosaurs?] will trash as soon as they hear of it.
Next time you pace up and down the sideline, calling for players to stay wide, think about the next coaching session when you'll force the issue with the use of a couple of lines of multimarkers [flexi markers].
Before a practice game, run two lines of markers along the length of the pitch, each line creating a five metre wide zone between it and the sideline. Pick your teams [Greens and Reds] and take one player from each to act as a 'LINK PLAYER' running inside these zones. The green player works in one zone, the red player works in the other.
The rules of the game are simple. Play a normal match, but insist on the following: if a team takes possession of the ball it must use its link player at least once during the move towards the opposition goal. At no stage may the link player be tackled and at no stage may he move outside his/her zone.
The Link Player may only move to receive a pass and play the ball within the count of '3' back into the game proper. This offers a great opportunity to practise diagonal passing and support running.
It also shows players the value of width and allows them to practise it without direct opposition, until the notion of how to play 'link' beds in.
Teaching your players to think about how a direct opponent plays the game is a worthwhile thing to do, but a difficult one to practise. Here's one approach that helps players get used to reading other players. Who knows what advantages it may bring in a competitive match?
Pick two teams for a practice game during training. Before the throw-in, call aside one or two players who have been matched against good opponents. Ask each player to work out some things
about how his/her opponent likes to play the game.
Ask the players to focus only on one or two aspects e.g.
Does your opponent usually fist pass or kick pass the ball?
Does your opponent kick with his/her left foot, right foot or both feet?
Does your opponent usually pass the ball immediately, take a bounce or toe-tap before deciding or does he/she usually run with it?
As the game develops make a note of what your own answers are to these questions. Stop the game after 10 minutes and call both players over to check their answers. See if they match yours.
Now ask them to concentrate on one aspect of the opponent's game and do something to counter it.
Make no mistake, this is a long-term coaching strategy. Players will find it tough, but it will make them better footballers.
Watch out for the danger of burnout for certain players. These players are often the better ones and, as a result, they are pulled every way by club, other sports and school demands. What goes unnoticed is the amount of work demanded of these players.
Take the case of a 17 year-old who plays Gaelic Football, Australian Rules, Soccer and Cricket. Which of his four coaches will be the first to contact the others to plan a common approach to training? Which coach will recognise that the player's health is at risk if he must play a full part in all training?
I suggest that all four will acknowledge the risk but few will be prepared to do anything about it!
The same experienced coaches are, no doubt, fully aware of the importance of WORK:REST RATIOS when running a coaching session. These same coaches know that if they work on stamina, they usually afford players a ratio of 1:1 [e.g. work for a minute, rest for a minute] to allow for proper recovery. Similarly, they know that if they work on speed, the ratio has to change to as much as 1:5 [e.g. work for 5 seconds, rest for 25 seconds].
So, how about planning for recovery in the 'bigger picture'? It's time coaches got together to find out what demands are being made of the top young players, made decisions for the players' good and reaped the benefits as a result.
Whatever age group you coach, whatever standard your players have reached, I'll guess that you've seen many of them bear down on goal, reach 20m out and still screw the ball wide.
Let them practise at a coaching session and, odds are, many will continue to kick the ball wide from this position.
Shooting technique is vital for increasing a player's scoring average. The answer to this particular problem is quite simple - but it isn't stylish, so players don't like it.
Players love to get into this '20m from goal' position and do one of two things - play it off the instep [a la soccer free kick] or strike across the ball with the outside of the boot. Both look good, both make the ball swerve, both will get scores, but neither will ever beat "TOE DOWN, HEAD DOWN - OFF THE LACES!"
To practise this technique set out three or four lines of flexi markers that bear down on goal from different angles. Each line should be 10-15m long and finish approx. 20m from goal, pointing right at the centre spot on the bar.
Ask a player to run tight to a line and shoot "toe down, head down - off the laces" when he/she reaches the end. Make no mistake - if you start this with seniors, it will take them ages to change - but they can do, if they really want to. Start with U8s and U10s and you'll really reap the benefits.
For all those players who win the ball in the midfield area and look up before delivering a telling pass, I have a message.... corners don't count and crosses don't work! Next time you see that forward scurrying towards the corner of the pitch, screaming at the top of their voice for a pass, ignore them.
Let them run...the team may need their run to take an opponent away and open up the opposition defence...but the team certainly doesn't need the ball to follow him/her. Should the passer give the ball into the corner, it usually takes at least two passes to get it out of there and into a scoring position. The time taken allows opponents to filter back and defend en masse.
Sometimes the player in the corner is bottled up and tries to manufacture a cross [get to the by-line and cross it!] which stuns everyone in the square, ends up missing them all and rolls harmlessly over the far touchline. The most successful attacks are still those where the ball is worked into the area between the stop-nets as quickly and accurately as possible. Play it wide, of course, but switch it back inside before the 20m line to increase your team's chances of scoring.
How do you work this into your drills and games at training?
How many times have you heard someone say of a player.....They’re fit, but not match fit.?
What does it mean? How can we be sure that a player is match fit? What can we do to get players match fit?
Match fitness can only come through playing games. Unfortunately, some have taken this to mean that a player needs to wait for a competitive game against another team before he can work on his match fitness. This is not true.
As has been said already, the only way to get match fit is to play games. If the right game is played in training then the coach can not only bring a player up to speed in terms of match fitness but can also set the limits for all players.
You see, match fitness is about how quickly a player can make a decision, how well he can react to a situation, how aware he is of the play around him. It has to be founded on physical fitness [particularly sharpness] but it is a 'brain' thing more than anything else.
When you hear people say that a player can't cope with the speed of the game, it doesn't mean that he cannot run as fast as the other players. It means his/her thinking, his/her reactions and his/her awareness are not as sharp as they should be.
So.... what can coaches do?
The best games are based on the clock. Try playing a game, with normal rules except for the condition which allows each player a maximum of 3 seconds on the ball. Just count 1,2,3 when a player is in possession. This is better than calling for one toe-tap and/or one bounce. The best way to play this is to use one coach to referee and another to run the 3 second rule and blow only when this is broken.
If players really respond, cut it to 2 seconds. You will really only be able to do this after a number of weeks working on the former.
Another way to use the clock is to decide on a certain number of seconds during which a team may score. Imagine the keeper kicks the ball out and a player gathers the ball at midfield. The coach/referee calls out a countdown......10, 9, 8, 7 etc. The team must shoot for a score before 0 is reached. If the opposition wins the ball, the coach decides on the number from which to start the countdown [e.g. the opposition wins the ball only 45m from the goal. The coach needs to speed up their play, so he begins the countdown from 5.]
There are many modifications to such games...all based on working towards match fitness at speeds where opponents cannot hope to compete.
What are you doing to improve your forwards' concentration and ability to switch roles quickly and win the ball back when the ball is lost to the opposition?
Here's one to try. Imagine the situation in a game where forwards have been in possession and in
attack mode. Each forward is looking for space and trying to get away from defenders. Suddenly the ball is lost near the opposition goal and their backs can counter. Why are these backs usually able to build reasonably easily as they move out of defence? Answer - because the forwards find themselves in no man's land, are slow to react and tend to watch the ball.
Choose one half of the pitch. Set out 6-8 multimarkers, as if they were forwards in various attacking positions. Pair off defenders and attackers and ask each pair to stand at a marker. Then tell the defenders to take three big steps away from the multimarkers. Leave the forwards where they are. You now have a FREEZE-FRAME situation, a moment captured in time.
Start the ball in the goalkeeper's arms. To begin the play, let the goalkeeper throw the ball in the air and catch it. The game is now on.
Forwards must work out how best to close down defenders and win the ball back before the backs work it out and over the halfway line. Forwards must learn to switch from attacking mode to defending mode faster and faster until it becomes instinct. In other words, these mini-game situations will only work if you, the coach, are prepared to run twenty of them rather than just one or two.
Players can take up positions again in a few seconds and the exercise can be run again and again. Practice makes permanent.
It sounds like the title of a weird Hollywood movie, but it's just another problem we have to address in coaching.
We've all seen them. The players who run to the point where the ball will drop from the sky, get there a second early, stand with both feet on the ground and jump straight up to make the catch.
Now let's get something clear. These players do catch the ball at times. However, they generally jump about six inches off the ground instead of sixteen inches and they make a vertical leap rather than one that takes them along a path to meet the ball in flight.
So...problem spotted..how can we fix it?
Here's one tried and tested way. If a player was faced with a leap across a stream or river, he/she would never run to the edge of the bank, stop briefly and take off two-footed. The jump is led by one leg, and the leap is not only across but also up, to gain extra distance.
Apply the same process to the high catch at midfield and you have the template. Set up the river, using two lines of multimarkers. Decide on a realistic width for the river [test the jump without the ball first].
Coach stands midstream and either holds the ball above head height [for younger children] or lobs the ball [for older players]. As the players get used to the exercise, the idea should be to widen the river and work on technique through HEAD, HANDS and FEET positions.
Head - Watching the flight of the ball
Hands - Reach long with the arms, W shape with hands to catch
Feet - Plant one foot and drive the opposite knee up to give the lift [a natural jumping action to cross a stream]. Land running with the ball.
And when players need reminding during games, tell them to 'JUMP THE RIVER'.
A foul, I hear you say...and indeed a foot block or a sliding tackle or a foot in when someone is lifting the ball is a foul.
But we're looking at how few players use their feet properly to get in position for a successful tackle and dispossession.
You must have seen the player who makes ground to catch an opponent, only to lean forward from the waist [while still running] to reach for the ball.
You must also have witnessed the player who stands flat-footed in front of an oncoming opponent, only to be knocked off-balance at the first contact.
And finally...what about the player who rushes in to the tackle and is easily rounded by a deft side step or feint?
To remedy these situations a coach must look first at the footwork of the players who tackle poorly. Run tackle drills of course, but ask players to focus on staying balanced and flexible, to concentrate on good footwork to get them in position to win the ball back. What takes a boxer into position to throw a punch or to evade a punch...sharp footwork.
The four Ds in tackling.....DELAY [the player], DENY [him/her space], DISPOSSESS [him/her of the ball] and DEVELOP [the next move]. To do the first two, think FEET! They'll take you where you want to go.
Dave Alred is Johnny Wilkinson's Kicking Coach. The following are his thoughts directed at 'free' takers, be they from rugby or from Gaelic football.
He suggested that many players swing their kicking foot around in an arc after they have stuck the ball; or at least they think they do it AFTER they have kicked. In actual fact, the arc has started BEFORE the ball is struck and it can cause problems with the direction and flight of the ball.
Imagine a left-footer who has this problem. He will trace the letter C in the air with his foot. The bottom of the C is where the swing starts; the middle of the C is where contact is made and the top of the C is where his foot ends up; quite a definite arc.
Alred suggested that the best swing would trace the letter J in the air. Now for a left-footer you must imagine the J to be back to front. The swing starts at the hook of the J; contact is made as the J straightens and the foot ends up at the top of the J. This gives the kick a correct follow-through.
So, if you're a 'free' taker...try kicking the J rather than the C.