Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher – January madness for our young players

ONE of the biggest problems in our games are staring us straight in the face and very little is being done to combat it.

The GAA fixtures calendar is a huge problem. For example, the pinnacle game of a club player’s career being squeezed in at the worst weather of the year, the congestion between u-20, Sigerson Cup and MacRory Cup, the lack of regular competitive fixtures for club players, the gap between championship games for inter-county players to name just a few.

A major, major concern for me is the age group between 18 and 21 and the real contentious issue of player burn-out.

On Monday Night Football on Sky Sports a few years back, Chris Coleman, the former Wales national team soccer manager, felt that the most concerning years for a professional footballer lay between the ages of 16 and 21,

Very interesting in a professional sport where the players’ physical and mental well-being is being consistently monitored, and many of us would feel those years are pivotal in our own games.

The GAA have recently announced an u-20 League in January. Consider this madness for a split second. Take Joe, the exceptional 19-year-old who could be training with his university, training with his county u-20 squad and has now become an important figure for his county senior team, all whose competitions start in January.

This is only one small example and not an unrealistic one, and it is certainly not uncommon in many counties across our province for this situation to occur. At u-20 level in professional sport the team is seen as a development squad towards senior level, but in GAA it becomes solely about winning over development. Whether we like it or not, that’s the case.

I know a few years back, one county u-21 football team trained approximately over 90 times and played two competitive games, losing both. That’s approximately 16 or 17 weeks’ training, three times a week, to play in two competitive games. What other sport would you hear this happen in?

Therein lies a major problem, a ridiculously unbalanced proportion of training to games and at an age level where burn-out and player welfare is probably at its highest risk and a far too greater emphasis placed on winning over development.

Only a thought, but why not banish u-20 competitions and play them as development games on the same day as National League games?

If the league could start in the second or third weekend in February and be played off over seven consecutive weekends you will have every squad in Ireland playing seven games, allowing for progress and development. Exceptional u-20 players can move into senior matchday panels and at least the emphasis is on development and bridging the gap to senior level and it won’t have an adverse effect on the Sigerson Cup competition, which needs respect too.

No matter what way we look at this, with all due respect you cannot blame the management teams of any county for the lack of structure surrounding competitive fixtures at u-20 level, or the ever-increasing volume of needless training at that particular age group.

It’s a national problem and one that needs urgently addressed by Croke Park or the situation will get worse and I think you will find there will be utter chaos amongst squads this January.

We have a serious issue in our games, particularly with the mentioned age group of players, but I think we have a serious issue across the board with our coaching and training of teams.

Right from underage level up to senior level, the volume of training has got to absurd levels. Ok, having no competitive games to taper your training around presents a real challenge for a coach, as many will fear losing the benefits of early conditioning work and challenge games don’t really carry the same intensity or edge. However we need to be careful.

Do these young lads need as much training? Unfortunately there is a culture that still exists in our games, that during training we should drain the life out of players for 90-plus minutes a session, three times a week.

Should this culture exist at all? I personally feel at u-20 and u-17 level – and also at senior level – it should not exist. Do we actually need to train these types of lads for longer than an hour? Some coaches may argue for and against, I’ve always insisted there are no experts in the coaching field but just differing coaching opinions.

Recently some interesting statistical information has appeared in our own games and others which could help and guide us as coaches to how we plan and tailor our training in the future.

If we consider that the ball is in play for approximately 50 percent of game time, then in a normal 60-minute club game the stats will read approximately 30 minutes in play, in two halves of football.

If we include a 15-20 minute dynamic warm-up in there and a 10-minute cool down, in my opinion is there much need to train a lot longer than approximately an hour?

This, of course, is on the one condition that despite the lower volume levels in your training, the intensity levels remain extremely high to replicate the game environment.

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