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Over the next few weeks I am going to do a series of posts on Off-Season Training for Gaelic Footballers, Hurlers and Camogie players. This is largely going to be the same for any field sports athlete really, but most other sports are winter sports and are in-season. My predominant experience is in GAA and have been coaching for 22 years in some capacity. I believe I have learned a lot about integration and where Physical Preparation sits for sports performance.
The truth is S&C has never been as central. Here is how we are going to process this.
The way coaching is improving, an integrative approach is required and physical preparation more than ever has to be as close as possible to the actual sport, underpinning skill development (and not competing with it).
It has become increasingly noticeable that the teams that are being successful are the best physically prepared. In fact, due to clever preparation many dual clubs are bucking the trends of previous 8-10 years where it seemed being dual was becoming a real burden. One would imagine consistency and an appreciation of game play skills would have to be central to these clubs’ success.
It has surprised me this adjustment, but having watched a fair bit of Cork teams Fermoy, Bandon, Kanturk, Valley Rovers and Newcestown in recent years it’s noticeable how well conditioned they are compared to other sides. Another apparent thing about these teams is late in-game skill levels and decision making.
On a national front we have Dublin, Mayo Footballers and Galway, Tipp and Waterford Hurlers as shining examples. Dublin are the standout. Every year they have layered on some more impressive athletic features. Having Bryan Cullen overseeing their S&C is critical for me and since he took the job I have noticed a sharp rise in the biomechanical qualities of the Dublin players.
Their running just gets smoother and smoother. It is helping to make them look even more skillful and composed. This doesn't happen overnight. And the lazy comments about money and freak bunch of players coming along together completely misses the point and the incredible work rate of both the players and support staff. I believe the "natural" ability of the Dublin players is completely over played.
What has brought Dublin here is both incredible consistency in preparation but also a layered-up approach. They are not trying to re-invent the wheel every year and are not ever trying to cram in anything into Pre-Season. In fact, with an educated guess I would suggest Dublin do not train that physically hard too often at all.
Biomechanics to a field coach seems like a big fancy word and many will stay clear. However, a good strength program to an inexperienced athlete will significantly improve that player’s biomechanics of movement and running in particular. In a basic sense it straightens you up for a start.
Another very simple method is using simple running technique drills in every warm up you do. 2 minutes 3 times a week will mount up over time and really help the athletes to move better. In my opinion this is why Dublin look so comfortable. It’s also a reasoning why Mayo, to me clearly less gifted than a few other teams, are at the top and there for so long.
It’s a simple concept, born from Skill Acquisition Forefather Nikolai Bernstein, "Movement before Skill". It is a particularly important concept for coaching kids. But it is also very important for adult athletes and it is something that can be significantly addressed every off-season, and then maintained throughout season. The basic idea of it, without getting too technical, is the better you move the easier you will pick up new skills or perform old skills.