Gareth Fox

Gareth Fox – The balance between the programmed robot and the AI

SOMETIMES, not all the time, but sometimes GAA can look and feel a bit robotic. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing, who knows? But one thing is for certain, Autonomy plays a vital role in player improvement and enjoyment, so it’s important not to remove it completely. It’s finding the right balance between the programmed robot and the AI.

When we think of GAA, we think of teamwork, discipline, and hard work – autonomy is often overlooked. Autonomy, or the ability to make decisions and control one’s actions, is crucial for both players and coaches.

First and foremost, it allows players to take ownership of their performance. When players are given the freedom to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions, they are more likely to feel invested. This investment can lead to greater motivation and commitment, as well as a stronger sense of pride in their achievements.


But building autonomy for GAA athletes can be a challenging task – we seem to think there is a blueprint for success, and once one manager gets a sniff of what another manager has done in order to ‘win’ that blueprint will be all players see for the next few seasons.

Coaches become rigid and fixated on that blueprint, removing all trace of autonomy, when really it is essential to help athletes take ownership of their performance and contribute to the success of their team.

Here are five key steps to building autonomy for GAA athletes (regardless of that blueprint):


1.Set clear goals and expectations


To build autonomy, players need to know what is expected of them. Coaches should set clear goals and expectations for their athletes, both in terms of individual performance and team success.

These goals should be communicated clearly and regularly, and athletes should be given feedback on their progress towards achieving them. By setting clear goals and expectations, coaches can help athletes understand what they need to do to succeed and take ownership of their performance.

2) Encourage decision-making

Encouraging decision-making is a crucial step in building autonomy for GAA athletes. Coaches should give athletes the freedom to make decisions about their performance, such as their training routines and tactics on the field.

This can help athletes develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as take ownership of their performance.

However, coaches should also provide guidance and support to ensure that athletes are making decisions that align with the team’s goals and values.

3) Provide opportunities for learning and development

To build autonomy, athletes need opportunities to learn and develop their skills. Coaches should provide a variety of training and practice opportunities, such as skill drills, game simulations, and strength and conditioning programs.

Athletes should also be encouraged to seek out learning opportunities outside of formal training, such as watching game footage or attending workshops. By providing opportunities for learning and development, coaches can help athletes take ownership of their growth and development as athletes.


1.Foster communication and collaboration

Communication and collaboration are essential for building autonomy in GAA athletes. Coaches should encourage open communication between athletes, and between athletes and coaches. Athletes should be given opportunities to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns with the coach and the team.

Coaches should also foster a sense of collaboration by encouraging athletes to work together to solve problems and achieve goals. By fostering communication and collaboration, coaches can help athletes develop their teamwork skills and take ownership of their role in the team’s success.

5) Emphasise the importance of teamwork

Building autonomy for GAA athletes does not mean prioritising individual goals over the team’s goals. Coaches should emphasise the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and encourage athletes to make decisions that benefit the team as a whole.

Athletes should be reminded that their performance is not just about individual success, but about contributing to the success of the team. By emphasising the importance of teamwork, coaches can help athletes understand the role they play in the team’s success and take ownership of their performance in a way that benefits the team as a whole.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW