Coaching tip Number 31 - THE LAZY BALL

Into modern Gaelic football has come the scourge that is called the low ball. Don't get me wrong, now. I'm not advocating a return to the sky-high balloon kick that gives those at ground level ample opportunity to have a picnic before the ball re-enters the atmosphere.

I'm complaining about the grubber-style pass along the ground that a player uses to thread the ball through to a forward who has made a break towards him. The player who bursts out like a train [with defender in tow] is given a pass that is well nigh impossible to gather cleanly. It may have been tucked neatly under an opponent's block, but the receiver has to change pace, direction, stance and even his mind to collect such a pass.

This type of pass comes originally from rugby, where it is used to slip the ball between defenders for a teammate to run onto and score - and there lies the difference. The receiver in Rugby is moving with the ball player. Our forward is coming to meet the pass.

Enough of the complaining - what about a solution?

I call this pass 'The Lazy Ball', because the kicker is doing the minimum to evade his opponent and make space for a pass. Players must work hard on evasion skills that throw an opponent off balance enough to be able to get a good pass away to the runner.

If coaches made these demands and sought to cut out this lazy ball, we might get more fluid attacks and fewer blasts on the whistle.

Watch for the lazy ball in the next game and think about changing it!

Coaching tip Number 32 - KICK FOR POSITION

Here is a small-sided game to try. It is simple to set up, easy to run and with one slight modification, it can help young players [or older ones] learn the value of forwards playing deep and leaving space to run onto a pass from midfield or defence.

Choose two teams [6 players in each].
Each team will have 1 goalkeeper, 2 backs, 1 midfielder and 2 forwards.

Set out a pitch area to suit age/skill level [e.g. U12s might play on a pitch 60m x 30m whereas seniors might need an 80m x 45m one].

Use cones or poles for goals at either end.
The only scores that count are shots that beat the 'keeper when hit along or close to the ground.

Divide the pitch into two halves, using a line of flexi markers.
During the game backs and forwards may not cross this line. Only midfielders may cross [this helps them work on supporting runs].

Add one more rule before you start the game.
All passes across the line of markers must be PROPER KICK PASSES.

Coaches must insist that players do not simply work the ball close to the line and tap a five metre kick across the line].

How does this help? Forwards will no longer hug the halfway line waiting for backs to work the ball out and offer a short fist pass. Each team has only two forwards.
Running from deep allows the midfielder to get up in support. The game also forces forwards to make lateral and diagonal runs, watch the play closely and change pace to win the ball.

Without the line and the kicking rule, the players will bunch, forwards will run away from the pass [like wide receivers in American Football] and midfielders will not work as hard to support].

Try it, stick with it and rotate the positions to let everyone experience playing different roles.

Coaching tip Number 33 - HIT THE CROSSBAR!

If you coach our youngest players, those who play with a size 3 or size 4 football, you may have noticed that many tend to kick pass the ball anywhere between ground level and 10 metres high. Coaches will always try to reduce the number of low daisy-cutters or vertical bombs that these young players kick. We all want to see the perfect kick that is played over 20-30m, reaches no more than 3m at its highest point and can be caught by the receiver, either on the full or after one bounce.

But how can a coach get through to players who can't quite grasp the idea of 'head down, toe down' and can't execute or even begin to imagine that perfect kick pass?

One way that clicks with some of them is the idea of 'hit the crossbar'. Take aside a few players that are having difficulty and run a short, fun competition from the 13m line. Each should try to hit the crossbar of the main goals as many times as possible. Now remember, few will hit the bar more than once, but most will eventually strike a ball or two that gets close.

When these players return to drill work or even games, remind them that a good kick pass is like hitting the crossbar. The same technique that they use in the competition will enable them to hit better kick passes. All they have to do is be brave enough to try.

Coaching tip Number 34 - OPPORTUNITIES V TIME

A top coach who guided his club team to an All-Ireland championship in the early nineties, regularly switched or even substituted players during the early stages of games. When asked why he didn't let players have more time to settle before he acted, the coach answered: 'Time has little to do with it. I only count opportunities, not time.'

His idea was simple yet brilliant. If a player had four chances to win the ball and lost out on three, then he had to be changed before his confidence was shattered altogether. It didn't matter if these opportunities came in the first five minutes or over the period of one half of the game.

The same coach maintained that it was vital all players were aware of this practice. They had to know that a switch was not a way to say 'You're not good enough' , but a chance to remind them that 'this is not your day in that spot...let's start again somewhere else'.

So, if you are a coach who prefers to make changes based on 'time', think about looking for 'missed opportunities' instead. Remember to make sure your players know and understand the idea and see if your tactical work on the line improves.

Coaching tip Number 35 - SWITCH THE PLAY [GAME]

A game that only takes effect for one team when in the opposition half [or for forwards in a backs v forwards situation].

Set out two lines of flexi markers [not domes] running from the half-way line to the end line. Both should be approx. 20m in from each touchline

The lines create 3 channels [wide channels of 20m each and a centre channel of 35-40m on normal pitch].

The rules are simple. Should the attacking team have possession in any of the two 'wide' channels, the player on the ball must switch play into the middle channel rather than give a pass down the wing.

The game is designed to ensure that any attack does not end up in the corners and that the main thrust is through the centre. This does not mean that players should pack the centre channel. Players may move freely between channels to create space, but the ball should be played from wide to centre as much as possible.

Coaches should only inform the attacking team of the ploy so that defenders have to work it out and counter it. Coaches must also convince players of the need to make decoy runs into these wide channels in order to draw defenders out of the scoring zone.

Coaching tip Number 36 - THREE TO SCORE

One piece of Gaelic game analysis suggests that winning teams keep up an average of at least one score for every three times they take possession of the ball in the opposition half of the pitch. Anything less often spells defeat.

This game is designed to simulate such conditions and force players to work to keep up the scoring rate.

Set up a pitch to suit numbers on each team, and then run a line of flexi markers along the halfway line.

Play with normal rules.

Point out that each team STARTS with a score of 3.

For each time that a team attacks [i.e. takes possession in the opposition half] and does not score, 1 is taken off the starting score of 3.

The first team to have its score reduced to 0 loses that game [usually one of a series of games set by the coach].

If a team scores before the 3 becomes 0, the rate is maintained and a new ‘3’ is awarded.
e.g.Team A misses with its first shot and has its score reduced to ‘2’.
The next attack from Team A is turned over and the score is cut to ‘1’.
Team A now has one last chance to score.
Team A scores on the next attack. The team’s score is set at ‘3’ again and the game goes on.
So, each time a team scores, the score is reset at ‘3’.

Try this game and see how it focuses players. At first you may find it leads to a lot of tight fist passing as players attempt to keep possession. However, they should learn quickly that such a method of play will allow the opposition to regroup and spoil attacks more easily. Soon they’ll find that a more direct style of play [with quick support to front players] is best.

Coaching tip Number 37 - WIPEOUT GAME

A game to try as part of a series:

Choose two teams [e.g. 7v7 up to 15v15], bib them and adapt the size of the pitch to suit.
The game is normal Gaelic football with one twist. To win the game, a team must score 3 times consecutively [without their scores being interrupted by an opposition score]. Should the opposition score before 3 consecutive scores are taken, any scores earned are wiped out and the opposition are now deemed to be winning 1-0.
e.g. Team A scores a point and then a goal. They are now winning 2-0 in scores taken. Team B scores a point. Team A’s two scores are wiped out and Team B leads 1-0.

The first team to reach score consecutive times wins the game and goes 1-0 up in the series. Run the series to suit [e.g. series is over when one team wins five games].

A modification of this involves delaying the ‘wipeout’ element until a certain number of scores has been reached.
e.g. Teams play first to get five scores on the board, but ‘wipeout’ rules only apply after 4 scores.

So, both teams keep playing and scoring as normal until one reaches four scores. Should this team manage a fifth without the opposition scoring first, it wins the game. However, should the opposition score, the four scores are wiped out.

Why bother play this game? It focuses players much more and leads to a higher degree of intensity. Players are keener to defend, to find space, to shoot sooner and to turn the ball over.

Coaching tip Number 38 - SCORES AND TURNOVERS

Here’s a game to focus players on working harder to turnover the ball during play. It is particularly useful for coaches who are keen to improve forwards’ work rate when the opposition has the ball.
Play normal Gaelic rules. Set up a pitch to suit the number of players. Run a line of flexi markers across the halfway line.

To win one game in a mini-series [e.g. best of five] a team may either score four times or turn the ball over twice inside the opposition half.

A ‘turnover’ is only awarded for an interception during play, a tackle that wins possession or a block that leads to possession.

If a team manages to turn the ball over, play does not stop; rather it continues until the next break in the game [e.g. score, wide, free, sideline]

So, a team that finds itself 3-0 down in scores and with 1 turnover earned, may still win the game if one of its players forces one more turnover in the opposition half of the pitch.

Such a situation will also highlight the need for defenders to make sure the ball is not lost inside the defending half of the pitch.

If players respond by working a tight fist-passing game, they may find that this leads to even more opportunities for the opposition to turn the ball over.

If they decide to simply kick the ball into the other half to avoid the turnover, it invites another attack from the opposition team.

The right balance must be found between keeping possession and delivering a telling pass into the other half for a teammate.

To those who complain that the scoring team is being unduly punished, remember…the game is deliberately designed to force a higher work rate from attackers when opposing defenders have the ball. Forwards are being given an incentive to win the ball back.

Coaches are free to change the ratio of scores to turnovers [e.g. to win, a team needs 3 scores or 2 turnovers].

Coaching tip Number 39 - WHAT CAN YOU ADD?

When a manager or coach has to leave players out of a team and resign them to a spell on the bench, they often find it difficult to explain why they haven't made the team. Those players rarely find themselves in the mood to listen anyway, for most believe they should start.

Come the time for a substitution, a coach calls for the sub to warm up; then they generally give a few instructions before the player takes the field.

Should the change be one that is tactical rather than as the result of injury, the substitute might well be asked, "What can you add to this team, that the first-choice player could not?"
Such a question may not lend itself to an immediate answer, but it does focus the new player and remind him/her that they must not simply replace someone, but must work to retain their place by 'adding something to the team'.

Perhaps this little reminder will serve to motivate those who can't wait to get off the bench and onto the field.

Coaching tip Number 40 - DON’T DO DRILLS, TEACH SITUATIONS.

I picked this up from an Aussie Rules website - we can use it too.

Never underestimate the ability of young players to learn, especially if you as the coach have been able to convince them why this is the best choice. Don’t just tell them that they must make a specific choice because you as coach said so. Explain to them why it is best to make a certain choice. You as coach must be able to back it up with evidence.

This doesn’t imply that we complicate the game for young players. We set the range of options relevant to their age and technique level. We can stimulate and challenge young players especially those that have flaws in their technique that often detract from their enjoyment in performance.

Decision-making means relating to teammates, that is one of the primary reasons why we play a team sport like Gaelic Football.