Kicking Out: Clubs entitled to expect better from coaching circuit
WHEN the McCann boys were being reared at home in Toome, their father Peter used to have them competing against each other in soloing battles around the house.
Left foot, right foot. Round and round the house, hand-toeing the ball for days, hours, weeks, months on end. They were lucky had that grounding from a former championship winner with Cargin.
When you see Michael McCann taking that pass into the corner on Sunday at a crucial time against Lámh Dhearg, throwing a dummy off his natural right and stroking the ball over from a tight angle off his unnatural left, you see the cash out on years of work.
The finish off the left was effortless, the technique flawless, but it was a learned skill. No matter how talented you might be naturally, everything in Gaelic football is taught, right from your first time getting the toe under the ball.
The basics of football are being taught to players better now than ever before. They're being taught younger, with clubs taking on boys and girls from almost the day and hour they're fit to stand up.
If you look at the standard of underage football now to what it was even 15, 20 years ago, there simply is no comparison.
The basic skills will always stand to you. You can never practice them enough. In terms of taking underage teams, their importance cannot be overstated.
But watching a lot of adult club football, the question has to now be posed: How basic is too basic?
The coaching requirements for a 20-year-old differ greatly from the requirements for a 10-year-old or a 15-year-old.
The skills never change, but the environment in which they're being executed does.
And no matter how good a player might be at 18 or 19 years of age, be it physically or technically, you can be absolutely sure he has weaknesses. Even the best coached squad of lads coming up through could find another big developmental leap in their early 20s with the right guidance.
My question is whether there's enough specific, one-to-one, individual and game based coaching that fulfil the most crucial function of coaching itself, in that it improves the player as an individual.
There'll always be wides kicked and balls fumbled and goals missed and all the rest. That happens. But when you look and see the same players and the same teams making the same mistakes, then you can only be led to assess that the quality of coaching they're receiving is either poor or lazy, if not both.
Coaching is not an easy thing to do, but those who are in it for the right reasons will educate and empower themselves, and pass what they learn on to their players.
As one coach said: ‘There's a lot of training being done, but not a lot of coaching'.
The more cones, the more elaborate the drill can be made look, the less likely it is that the players will think their coach is a bluffer. But in all the elaboration, what part of a game situation has it actually prepared the player for?
In running the three-man weave over and over and over for years, when did it actually ever come into a game? Is it not better to abandon the weaving element of it and play a simple 3v2 in on goal, and let the players find the best route for themselves, and give them pointers if it breaks down?
Because good coaching is giving players the tools to make their own decision in any scenario in a game, and that their decision will be the right one more often than not.
And it's very hard to improve the individual if the whole focus is on the collective.
Take shooting drills. For 20 minutes everyone has a great time. But who's noticing the young lad leaning back as he kicks the ball, taking him out and showing him the mechanical fault that's causing him to miss?
Most of them, they just run on back to their station. They might score 1/10, they might get 5/10, they might score 7/10. Nobody keeps track.
The reason players keep missing isn't because they don't shoot often enough. It's because so many coaches aren't correcting what it is that's causing them to miss.
There are some excellent coaches out there. But for every brilliant coach, there's a bluffer. The club circuit is absolutely awash with them.
The GAA's move towards more professional coaching practices at the top level has trickled down into the clubs and alienated some who can't or won't commit, but it's also attractive to many of the younger generation.
All the conditioning work that improves their body image, all their growing knowledge of the game fed by the wider platform given to coaching, a lot of it through analysis on TV.
Knowledge is power, and that has created an expectancy level that can make players hard to control.
The tolerance for managerial bluffers is at a very low point. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
Is enough being done to coach the coaches? A lot of them wouldn't go to be coached.
Some of that is arrogance, but some of it is justified. Is the person who's running the coaching course qualified, not in the educational sense but in the practical sense, in that they've coached at the highest level themselves?
It's hard to convince men to come and be educated about football when they're more educated than the man at the pulpit.
Clubs are parting with a lot of money for managers and a big percentage of it is just going around in a circle, through the same sets of hands.
It's time to regulate and control management at club level. Have proper coaching badges where the courses allow coaches to fulfil the criteria required to manage at adult level.
A lot of the current approach to adult coaching is like running on the spot. You're working, you're seen to be working, but you're going nowhere.
And if a man's taking money out of the club for the job of coaching a senior team, the players are entitled to feel short changed if they're not all better footballers by the time he leaves.