We are in a very unique circumstance now as coaches, athletes and those who takes their health and fitness seriously.
However there are numerous ways of staying or even getting fitter. In fact i see this as an opportunity to become more athletic as we can do a broader range of exercises and challenge our energy systems in a different way that's not always possible. That is physiological side.
However what about our skills?
Our Sports Skills and out Mental Skills?
No they won't improve by hitting a ball off the wall. Or in the case of Mental skills by doing nothing. We can work on both, somewhat simultaneously.
If you are from Ireland you will understand what Hurling is, or maybe you do and you are not from here. Its an immensely skillful and aggressive game played 15v15 on a grass field. It is exceptionally skillful, and science would suggest there is so much going on its the most skillful sport in the world. Read Ed Coughlan (a Skill Acquisition expert here in Cork) on this subject.
Look at this video below and then tell me that hitting a ball off a wall supports hurling.
Watch the whole 2 minutes
Skill acquisition is seen as the development of a functional performer-environment relationship (Araújo & Davids, 2011; Zelaznik, 2014). The learner does not exist independently of a learning and performance context. (Chow; Davids, Button, Renshaw 2016)
If you look at the goal TJ is surrounded by players, players that weren't there hitting a ball against a wall. What he did have though was the feel of where he was, the distance from goal, the little bit of space if he doubled back that he knew from this range if it got through the scrum of bodies the only way it would be saved was if it hit the keeper. I believe it was a % shot and one done in a contextual situation where the time of the game mattered ( a miss would be no big deal), the corner back slipped and the opposition were caught cold after HT break.
This is not something created alone.
So hitting a ball off a wall unopposed does not improve you as a hurler in our opinion and is supported by a fair chunk of research, unless you are a complete novice. (Skill Acquisition in Sport, Hodges & Williams, 2020)
I would suggest that for a competent hurler or footballer if they decided to not do anything closed skill practice at all for a 4-6 week period like in this lock-down but just stayed reasonably fit, 15 mins into a training session they would be up to speed to where anyone else would be who may have hit 1000's of ball off a wall.
In fact what it is most likely to do is enhance poor movement patterns or bad habits. If there is not a real deliberate element to the practice then it could actually be decreasing ability on a pitch. Hurling off a wall - repetitive nature of it could actually lead to over use injuries.
These ideas are not simply of theoretical value since too much repetitive practice of multi-articular actions, especially in early specialization pathways, could lead to increased risk of overuse injuries in developing athletes undergoing rapid growth and maturation (Davids et al., 2013).
And the amount of time you spend at it, or indeed any development, may not matter either.
The nature and design of the practice activities undertaken by each developing athlete are far more important than calculating the time spent practicing, which seems to vary greatly (Hambrick, Oswald, et al., 2014; Hambrick, Altmann, et al., 2014.)
The same stands for pretty much all team field and court sports with the exception of close drills such as free throw shooting in Basketball, Free Taking in Hurling or Gaelic Football, Goal Kicking in Rugby and Aussie Rules and so on. However even those tasks lose the environmental factors that will test performance and may add anxiety to performing a closed skill, for example in front of 60,000+ people in games you trained 20 years for.
Back to Hurling. There are 2 walls people use - Hurling Alleys in clubs (now closed) and the gable end of your house.
So what can hurling off a wall actually do to be of benefit;
What it does not do;
*Coach note - Players after a growth spurt may face new challenges with their "new body". A young boy can grow 5 inches in a summer or winter break. His new limb lengths may interfere with his coordination and movement skills - be patient and supportive. Equipment like shoes, Hurley, helmets, rackets etc all may need to change. For a small period he/she may not be the same player you saw a few months ago.
Developing skill is about having an efficient Motor System, see this description of Motor Control
"Motor control can be defined as the study of how an individual can execute designated motor skills through the neuromuscular control process in response to external environmental demands (Haywood & Getchell, 2009; Latash & Lestienne, 2006)"
A major issue with traditional approaches is that they tend to promote a rather mechanistic view of human behaviour, failing to consider the wide array of constraints which impinge on an individual’s learning and performance including psychological, social and physical factors, (Chow; Davids, Button, Renshaw 2016)
When i have had these discussions in the past people come back with "Joe Canning said so, Pat Horgan said so, TJ Reid said so". Well i believe they may be wrong and either being paid to say it (good for them) or it is a bias of some description. Look at the names, look at their exceptional athletic ability first, then look at their clubs - Portumna, The Glen and Ballyhale. 3 of the most successful clubs in history of hurling with some of the greatest characters to grow up listening to and aspire to. Look at their names, surrounded by siblings and parents who had notable success. Nature + Nurture, environmental factors trump all. The Psycho-Social elements at play here are at the top end of the scale. Now if Sean Og O' Halpin said it was effective for him, its most likely it was significantly more so arguably than the other 3 - he arrived in Ireland at 11/12, at the tail end of the important sports skill development range between 9-12. Again though his athleticism and his support structure, his club were exceptional, the school attended and the fact they were strong at the time were all factors in carrying him along. Self determination aside, an obvious factor in all these cases.
But athletically these 4 men are extremely strong and mobile. The underpinning physical trait of modern hurling. That's the first thing that's gives them an advantage.
It is often thrown at S&C Coaches or indeed field or skills coaches that share or encourage their methods that "S&C never put the ball over the ball" or "those games are grand but we need to practice the SKILLS of the game". By practicing the skills of the game, they mean unopposed drills usually. However we believe that physical development actually supports skill development and unlocks potential. It allows more opportunities to put the ball over the bar. Skill isn't much use to you if you cannot win your own ball, find space, beat your man and physically compete. But these are actually skills as well, in fact some of the most skillful movements performed now are actually in ruck situations which are highly physical exchanges in attempts to gain possession. The clever flick and intelligent positive positioning (as in be in a place to attack the other goal) are a brilliant element of the modern game often lost by commentators.
Genetic abilities, limb length, muscle fibre content and other inherited attributes have limits. We can all improve our athleticism and even the content and speed of our muscles, but unfortunately there are limitations. We have ceilings to our abilities. Having read some papers (see below) on the physical abilities of club and county players, speed, power and the ability to reproduce high speed runs and explosive outputs is the most obvious difference physically.
Basically choose your parents well, and then get them to move to an area with a great tradition of hurling, or football or whatever you want to be great at.
According to an ecological dynamics rationale of skill acquisition, it is the information–movement relationship that transfers between the task constraints of a faithfully simulated practice task and a competitive performance environment (Pinder et al., 2011a)
"This compelling rationale indicates that the information present in a performance environment needs to be represented in a practice environment designed to simulate constraints in specific individual and team sports " (Chow; Davids, Button, Renshaw 2016)
Or - in lay mans language - How we practice is how we will play!!!
That said, we all want to get better and we all want to reach the highest level of skill we can.
So how can we do that in a quarantine state of lock-down?
Here are 3 we ways we suggest you can try;
The difference in levels from lower to middle range is general physical. You get a Junior team exceptionally fit you give yourself a great chance of success. However as you go up the grades the one standout trait above all is Mindset, awareness, focus, vision, scanning, anticipation and many more elements greatly controlled between the ears. We will try to help athletes and coaches just think about a small few of those elements in this series of blogs.
In part 2 we will start with our suggestions on Mindset discussing the areas of Self talk, Goal Setting, Focus & Mindfulness for sport, Imagery & Intensity, Routines & Motivation and offer some suggestions and solutions to help athletes improve in times of downtime or away from the pitch
I love the pressure. I just look forward to it. " Daly Thompson, Olympic decathlon gold medalist
A little extra reading on 2 studies found in Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction
Chow, Jia Yi; Davids, Keith; Button, Chris; Renshaw, Ian
1. Spring Board Diving Practice
This important idea was investigated in a study of traditional training practices in elite springboard diving. For example, Barris and colleagues (2014) studied preparation for take-off in an elite sample of Olympic-level springboard divers when diving into a pool and under the different task constraints of training in a dry-land facility comprising a foam pit. Elite divers tend to routinely practise in separate training environments (dry-land and pool), requiring differences in final performance outcomes, especially landing (feet first and head first, respectively). Divers seek to practise the same preparation phase, take-off and initial aerial rotation in both practice environments, although there is little empirical evidence to suggest that the tasks completed in the dry-land training environment are representative of those performed in the pool environment. The concept of conditioned coupling in ecological dynamics signifies that performance of different movement components would remain dependent on each other, and slight variations in task constraints could lead to different emergent coordination patterns (Davids et al., in press). In line with these theoretical predictions, it was expected that emergent self-organisation tendencies under the two distinct task constraints would lead to differences in preparation. Barris et al. (2014) observed similar global topological characteristics in all participants who used the same joint coordination patterns during dive take-offs completed in the dry-land and aquatic environments. However, as a group, participants showed statistically significant differences in performance at key events (second approach step, hurdle-step, hurdle jump height and board angles during the hurdle and at landing) during the preparation phase of dive take-offs completed in dry-land and aquatic training environments. For example, participants showed significantly less board angle depression at landing (from the hurdle jump) during take-offs completed in the dry-land area than during those completed in the pool.
2. Soccer Practice of Passing
These ideas on the relationship between carefully designing affordances in the constraints of practice tasks and the processes of transfer have also been confirmed in the context of team games. Travassos et al. (2012) examined practice task design in team sports, reporting data to show how enhancing representativeness of a practice simulation might increase opportunities for transfer in team games training. Travassos and colleagues (2012) studied futsal players during a ball-passing practice task and manipulated informational uncertainty (of passing direction) for practising players. Informational uncertainty during passing practice was increased under four distinct task constraints and compared with passing behaviours observed during a competitive match. They made the plausible assumption that greater similarity of behaviours observed during practice, compared with competitive performance, signalled the transfer of skill in passing. Intermediate-level football players were required to perform simple and complex passing drills (straight versus diagonal versus diagonal and lateral passing lanes with more than one ball in use). In their study, the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ were differentiated by the amount of variability designed into the practice task simulations. The simple passing drill took place in a single predetermined lane (including less environmental variability), whereas the complex passing drill involved multiple passing opportunities which were emergent (pass direction emerged depending on whether the receiver had a ball or not and therefore included more environmental variability). Speed and accuracy of passing performance in practice tasks were compared with observations during competitive performance. Results showed the greatest similarities in passing speed and accuracy between performance in the multiple passing lane condition and actual competitive performance. There was too much regularity in ball speed and accuracy in the passing task constraints with fewer options, compared to the level observed in task constraints with more options (predetermined versus emergent conditions). These measures showed how transfer of learning was predicated on action fidelity between skill performance in practice and competitive performance. According to Travassos et al. (2012, p. 5), ‘increasing the number of emergent passing actions offered in a practice task design was more representative of competitive performance’. These data show how the informational constraints of practice tasks should be designed to represent the informational constraints of a competitive performance environment in team sports. Data revealed that, for the skilled performers, predetermining limited passing options did not lead to similar levels of speed and accuracy as did creating emergent, multiple passing options and competitive performance. The findings suggested how transfer between practice task constraints and the performance environment can be achieved in team sports training. In order to understand how to ensure transfer of informational constraints of a competitive performance environment in a practice task simulation, an important concept to understand is representative design.
- Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction
Chow, Jia Yi; Davids, Keith; Button, Chris; Renshaw, Ian
- Skill Acquisition in Sport Research, Theory and Practice, Nicola J. Hodges and A. Mark Williams
- A Comparison of Anthropometric and Performance Profiles Between Elite and Sub-Elite Hurlers, (Keane 2019)
- An investigation into the variation that exists between the physical performance indicators of hurling players at different levels of participation
Murphy, Andrew https://ulir.ul.ie/bitstream/handle/10344/2832/Murphy_2012_investigation.pdf?sequence=5
- The positional technical and running performance of sub-elite Gaelic football , Mangan 2019 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24733938.2019.1679872
And something to read before Part 2 to help us along those lines
- Effects of a cognitive specific imagery intervention on the soccer skill performance of young athletes: Age group comparisons Krista J. Munroe-Chandler https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38138264_Does_Mental_Practice_Work_Like_Physical_Practice_without_Information_Feedback
- Using cognitive general imagery to improve soccer strategies Krista J. Munroe-Chandler