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Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher – Use your head in training, and use a ball

AFTER-SCHOOL football is well and truly back in full flow throughout the province of Ulster, with countless number of schools back training after getting the long-awaited green light with covid regulations.

School, in my opinion, is without doubt the bedrock for development of young players. Unfortunately there are horror stories in the past of youngsters being sick with the volume of running their being exposed to.

I’ve heard examples of children being asked to complete 8am training sessions before school even starts, some even doing double sessions, some are running up mountains, hills and around lakes.

The same questions keep popping into my head when I hear this; What is the point? Is it relevant to the game we play? Will it make the young player a better thinking footballer?

Before I go on I must stress that I am not disagreeing that a one-off mountain, hill or sand dune session won’t build camaraderie, team spirit and a mentalphysical toughness but that’s where it should end – a one-off!

Players, and particularly young players, have a reasonably good level of fitness and any physical fitness work should be done through small-sided games with the ball.

Nearly 20 years ago, when the now famous Jose Mourinho secured a coaching job at Portuguese side Leiria, he was surveying a location for pre season training with the president of the club.

The president gazed at the nearby hills and valleys and commented to Mourinho that they would be ideal for running and lots of it. Mourinho’s answer was, “Forget the scenery, my players will only work on the pitch with portable goals and small-sided games.”

At all the clubs Mourinho coached or managed, he worked closely on the training field with his fitness coach playing small-sided games such as double penalty box, wing men, give & go games, overload games.

These experiences would not only condition the players, but they would also learn from game-related situations. On regular occasions the fitness trainer would consult with Mourinho on when to extend the pitch, widen it, increase the intensity of a game, change the speed, and limit the touches or whatever.

With a bit of creative thinking, the same principles can be applied to coaching in Gaelic football. I firmly believe it can all be done with the ball.

Every coach now should have the knowledge of the type of demands associated with the game of Gaelic Football. Coaches should know players will be involved in multi-directional speed endurance running. They know players will tackle, roll, fall, jump, squat, lunge etc.

Knowledge of the demands means planning your session becomes easy. Don’t look for the easy option of lining players up on an end line and running them to standstill, it has no relevance to the requirements of the game. Ask yourself the question, will it help players develop their thinking and decision capabilities during a game?

Any coach who takes a Gaelic Football session in school cannot seriously consider doing anything without a ball. The majority of the session should also be based around small-sided games, these can be 3v3 to 7v7 depending on numbers and space.

When planning your session, pick a theme such as break ball – focus on break ball from your dynamic game-related warm-up to small-sided game relevant situations.

This way you will make players decide, solve problems, come out of their comfort zone and most of all allow them to enjoy their football by getting fit with the ball at the centre of everything they do.

We are very lucky here in St Joseph’s Newry that we have a number of teachers with GAA backgrounds who give up their time after school to help in the development of our youngsters.

We are also fortunate that we have 10 feeder clubs from Down and Armagh feeding into our school and just this week we got a photograph of all our U-14 and U-16 players with their club jerseys on to acknowledge the great work all our clubs and the volunteers do with our young players and we hope as the school year progresses we can help harness and build on that great work.

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DUNE RUNNING… Running around the dunes should be a once off according to Steven Poacher, most training should be small sided games

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