Steven Poacher

STEVEN POACHER: Take players out of their comfort zone

LAST Sunday was the showpiece day in hurling, the All-Ireland final between three-in-a-row chasing Limerick and the old dog for the hard road in Brian Cody and Kilkenny.

I was absolutely glued to the game. I will be the first to admit I am not a huge hurling fan, but I couldn’t help but sit and admire the magnificent levels of game sense that the Limerick players demonstrated the whole way through the game, but in particular in the ‘TCUP’ (Thinking Clearly Under Pressure) moments late in the game.

They are the one and only hurling team I have seen play the game in this unique way, their warm-up was even very football orientated with lots of handling drills and things like that incorporated into it.

They seem to play hurling through every line of the team, starting from full-back with an emphasis on keeping possession, creating space, and exploiting space. Coupled with wonderfully superb conditioning levels, it is the perfect storm.

Obviously, people will point to the financial backing they of course have through JP McManus’ sponsorship, but it is their high level of coaching and conditioning that has really caught the eye.

It comes as no surprise to me how effective and attractive a brand of hurling Limerick play and how they have recently become the three in-a-row champions.

By now it’s well documented that they are coached by Paul Kinnerk who is taking a lot of credit for their recent phenomenal success.

For any readers who don’t know Paul, he is a former Limerick senior footballer and a fully qualified PE teacher.

A few years ago he took a break from teaching to complete a PHD at the University of Limerick in the area of Pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) in Sport. He completed a study with 12 senior inter-county coaches in 2018 to analyse their approach to coaching. I was fortunate to be one of those 12 and met Paul for a couple of hours in Carlow one afternoon before training.

I could have spent a couple of months chatting to him about coaching. Despite coming from a football background, his passion is coaching and as he has said himself in a previous interview, “I first went into hurling with Sixmilebridge and from there Clare minors, u-21s and seniors before Limerick. I suppose my passion would be in coaching full stop.”

Paul’s degree in Physical Education has obviously helped him but his reluctance to never stop learning is what I admire about

His openness and willingness to learn from other sports can only help.

Paul has beliefs on how the game should be coached, he believes there shouldn’t be a separation between the tactical side and the skills side, he believes in putting players into situations in training where they are posed with tactical problems where skills and tactics are developed together.

He calls it ‘Game Sense’, where players have to react and solve tactical problems for themselves and whatever is placed in front of them during the game, they have the capabilities to adapt and understand aided by the fact they will have experienced and discussed these wide range of scenarios on the training field.

I have been a huge advocator of learning and growing from watching other sports and other coaches, Paul is no different, “I think the day we stop learning as coaches is probably the day you’re finished.

You should be looking at different things, for example Aussie Rules, basketball, soccer, see their approach to training, or their patterns of play, anything that is of interest to us.”

I agree wholeheartedly with him. Take rugby for example, one of the best teams in the world are clearly the All Blacks. Back in 2003 when England and Australia contested the Rugby World Cup final, the All Blacks looked at their inability to make correct decisions on the field at critical moments, they agreed they were over coaching players and felt they had to empower the players to the point in training that they ran the game and not the coach.

For approximately the last ten years the All Blacks have been using this ‘Game Sense’ approach to training and coaching and it is clear to see the results on the field.

When taking your next session why not take a risk, try a ‘Game Sense’ approach. Post warm-up, design a game that simulates or resembles a game-related situation, let the players explore it, question and challenge the players, modify or if you have to even simplify the game and look to solve the problems identified.

Progress the game, challenge the players even further and finish with a full game if you can facilitate it. Coaching is an art form not a science and I remember reading a quote about good coaching that said, “Good coaching is taking players out of their comfort zone without taking them out of their depth.”

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