Coaching tip Number 41 - FITNESS TESTING.

Before the new season, think about the types of fitness tests you use for your players. Remember, our games are 'multisprint'; therefore they call upon the anaerobic energy system more than on the aerobic system.

Put simply, this means they are not filled with long runs lasting several minutes; rather they are punctuated by runs of up to 20 seconds, short breaks [walking etc] and quick bursts of less than 6 seconds duration.

However, before you dispense with the longer runs, remember that they do have a role. The aerobic energy system [heart and lungs - using oxygen] is vital for recovery between these short bursts on the pitch - so it must be well developed.

The more developed and efficient the aerobic system is, the shorter a player's recovery time will be between bouts of hard work on the pitch.

So, do not dismiss the longer runs pre-season. Make sure they are done on grass [not on roads!], use a proper test to check fitness levels and tailor your training to suit the results.


Coaching tip Number 42 - POOR SHOOTING - A MATTER OF ANGLES AND PASSES

How many times have you watched a player run towards goal with the ball and, without pressure from an opponent, make the shooting angle narrower and narrower as he gets closer? {I have deliberately omitted ´she´ as girls tend not to make this mistake}.

The bad habit is borne out of the desire to clip the ball off the instep and curl it over the bar. It does work at times but, more often than not, such a kick ends up as a wide or a ball dropped into the goalkeeper’s hands.

Give footballs to players before a coaching session or a match and you’ll see plenty of these clipped, curling shots sail over the bar from different angles. So why the difference during the game proper?

Well, add pace and the pressure of time on the ball and the execution of this type of shot changes dramatically. Few players can maintain the necessary balance when in full flight, so very
often the result is a horrible slice or a skied shot that drops into the hands of the goalie.

Now for a possible solution to the problem; a solution that must be embedded in our youngest players, for trying to get senior footballers to change is like attempting to turn back time.

I mentioned earlier that girls tend not to make this mistake. So, what does a female footballer do rather than narrow the angle for shooting? She turns towards goal while still in possession {and breaks a tackle if necessary}, then she PASSES the ball over the bar. Quite literally, she will strike the ball off the laces while on the run; more often than not the ´pass will become a point.

The message is, then, if you want to increase your players shooting success, you must make sure your youngest footballers take a leaf out of the female book; and, during the exercise, as a sop to their masculinity, throw in a few tackle bags.


Coaching tip Number 43 - NO STRAIGHT BALL!

Try this game with your teams.

Only play it for about 10 minutes at a time and point out beforehand that your intention is to force players on the ball to look left and right for a pass and to encourage those who want the ball to move left and right to receive.

The ball must not be passed into the corners of the pitch [dead space] but players may make decoy runs into these areas.

So, a player in possession may not play the ball straight up or straight down the pitch. Every pass must be diagonal or lateral: All support runs likewise.

Played at its best, this game will lead to the ball ending up in front of goal, with players constantly running to support or to draw opponents away from the action.

It may be used with teams as young as your top U10s or as experienced as your seniors.


Coaching tip Number 44 - MAKE ROOM - MOVE THE BALL!

The 'average' player is identified by a number of traits; not least among these is his/her tendency to 'take too much out of the ball'.

Take a few minutes to watch the better footballers on your team [or on the opposition team]. They will often win the ball, make room and move it on.

Such players looked so composed, they exude confidence and yet they are often missed in favour of the mazy solo runner who contributes little to teamplay. This is especially prevalent at underage.

Work your players at each level to ensure they can use a variety of ways to make room [e.g. one sidestep, one feint, one swerve, one checked run, one break of a tackle etc.].

Bring the practice into games and reward those players who work hard to learn the skill of making room and then moving the ball on [be it as a pass or as a shot].. and say goodbye to the mazy solo artist!


Coaching tip Number 45 - STRIKING A BALANCE

Take time to watch some footballers as they strike the ball for a point. Those who score more often than miss from different positions are a rarity. What sets them apart from the rest? One of the secrets of success is balance. Each of these players is as balanced after the kick as before.

Rugby coaches always emphasise the need for good balance while kicking the ball. It should be the same for us in Gaelic football. Those who take 'frees' from the hand and have a poor scoring rate might want to follow one of the most successful tips from rugby:

" Before striking the ball imagine that after you have taken the kick, you must finish squarely on a gymnast's balance beam. The beam is only four inches across - just wide enough for your boot. This will keep your upper body from swaying or tilting and you will be less inclined to look up too soon. Your kicking contact and accuracy will improve with practice."

Go on, try it!


Coaching tip Number 46 - PROGRESS OR REGRESS

For those of you who coach our youngest players, think carefully before you break for the winter. For those playing a winter season calling time at the end of September and resuming again in March will mean for some, little or no activity for up to five months.

Granted, quite a few will fill the gap with other sports and activities, but few will hone their gaelic football or hurling skills during the close season.

If you're lucky enough to have access to a hall or gym or leisure centre, why not devise a weekly programme for players based on developing both sides?

There is no better way to work on left and right sides than to use a rebound wall in a hall. Coaches can spend time in a confined area and with smaller numbers, checking technique through the 'Head, Hands, Feet' method and preparing children for the forthcoming outdoor season.
The secret is to identify groups of no more than 20 and to ensure that the coach to player ratio is at no more than 1:5. And remember - it's a coaching group, not a crèche!


Coaching tip Number 47 - THE TWO T's OF POSSESSION.

At any one time in a gaelic football match, there is only one member of a team in possession of the ball. That player may have lots to focus on and little time to do so.

The onus is on the ball player to maintain good technique - catching, soloing, kick passing, fist passing, shooting etc.

Of course, the same player must develop good decision-making, but the best decisions are often the result of sharp thinking by his/her teammates. Each player 'off' the ball should be thinking and working on things like - Am I in the best place for a pass? How can I give my teammate an option? Can I create space for others? Am I calling for a 50/50 ball?

So, if you intend improving teamplay...push the two Ts at your players.... Technique ON the ball...Thinking OFF the ball.

Once players get the message and put it into practice, teamwork will be the winner!


Coaching tip Number 48 - ARE WE SELLING OUR U12 FOOTBALLERS SHORT?

As AGM time beckons, we have a unique opportunity to put structures in place that will take player development to new heights.

Such a move will demand bravery and farsightedness from committees and clubs, but the dividends for Club football are real.

Please consider the following questions before deciding upon structures for your next season:


Coaching tip Number 49 - ROAD RUNNER - WATCH OUT!

A couple of months ago a top athlete was sent by a television company to buy pairs of trainers from a variety of outlets.

The consumer protection angle was simply to find out if shops would give conflicting advice when the athlete asked for a shoe suited to running on roads in order to improve aerobic fitness.

The results were startling and must serve as a warning to all GAA coaches who insist their players train pre-season by running on roads.

Of the 19 pairs sold to him, leading orthopaedic consultants stated only 3 afforded suitable protection for ankles and knees, given the constant pounding as feet hit tarmac.

Furthermore, these only worked if the athlete had been properly trained up on running techniques that reduced the foot to ground impact.

If you coach, get them to run on grass. If not, why not?


Coaching tip Number 50 - KICKING THROUGH THE TACKLE

Next time you go to a club game, be it at youth or adult level, look out for the player who seems to carry the ball up to an opponent and rather than break through the tackle, tries to kick through it. His/her thought process is simple; the space was there to carry the ball and the player fully intended to move the ball on when they had made some ground; however, their opponent had closed the gap quicker than anticipated and the carrier, having earlier made up their mind to pass, went ahead with the kick and was easily blocked down; spectators can't believe he/she didn't see the tackler coming and that's where they're wrong - they did, but their mind was already made up and they couldn't change it.

Coaches must make players aware that this can happen in a match and set up drills or exercises to put players in this very situation; allow a solo run, demand a pass at some point along that run and let an opponent close the carrier down. The carrier learns to decide on an earlier pass or, more often than not, learns to hold tight, break the tackle and deliver a pass from a much better position.

Remember, telling him/her will not work - practise is vital.