Eamon O'Shea: There are 50 ways to hit the ball - learn them all

Eamon O’Shea: There are 50 ways to hit the ball – learn them all

PROPER reflection when practicing hurling, camogie, or soccer is easier said than done. You rarely have time for navel gazing when you’re in the thick of things. However, reflection is necessary if you want to be an effective and successful coach.

This brief reflection focuses on the why, what and how of coaching. Let’s start with why coach. Most people answer this question by saying that they want to contribute to the development of others by expanding the player’s/athlete’s skills and thereby helping them to achieve sporting goals in an individual or team context.

But do we always live up to this ideal of putting the player first? Sometimes the coach is too much of a focus and gives answers to the player or athlete too quickly. The best way to ensure coaching is more player/athlete focused is to listen more and talk less. I’ve certainly been guilty, especially in the early stages of my coaching life, of talking too much and being overly prescriptive. Over time I learned to listen more and consequently had more influence on performance. Listen carefully to what your players are saying – especially in regards to their self-limiting beliefs and biases. This is the first step in helping them become better players, individually and collectively. So many players never reach their potential because they lack real confidence.

Some people answer the why question by saying they train to win. But very few coaches are serial winners. Most coaches lose as many games as they win. You will regularly be disappointed if you only train to win. Coaching brings intrinsic rewards that have nothing to do with winning, even if the latter keeps you longer in a given job.

Winning is always more likely when you have very good players to train with, but such teams are hard to find. So don’t let defeats discourage you from coaching or dampen your enthusiasm to improve players and teams. “Fail better” is an essential part of life, so collect yourself and move on if the results aren’t what you want. The advice of the late Brian Mullins really should form the preamble of every coaching manual in any sport: Hold on, don’t give up, keep going.

Ethical coaching does not deny the joy that winning brings, but neither does it promote winning at all costs over equity and inclusion, particularly among the younger age groups. Of course, ethical coaching isn’t easy – am I willing to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term life lessons? Even the holiest of us know how difficult it is to use a substitute that you know will hamper on-pitch ability and potentially contribute to losing the game.

But maybe your team will play better in the long run for a coach who doesn’t have a win-at-all-costs mentality. Perhaps belonging, fairness and participation are more important than we realize. The campfires rarely burn for ethical decisions, but such decisions can burn brighter longer and transform people’s lives.

The second question focuses on the What Word. What is coaching about? What should my focus be?

When it comes to slingshot, my main focus is to improve the player, improve the team, and teach the grammar of the game. Grammar is essential as it allows players to understand the game and provides a vocabulary for self-expression. It speaks to the essence of the game and comes before any thought about structure or formations. To be effective as a coach, you need to understand the motor and cognitive demands of the game so you can technically prepare players to demonstrate ability under pressure.

In hurling and camogie, the connection between the hurley and the ball is most important, making hitting the most important challenge. A golfer has one set of clubs but the pitcher only has one hurley, so teach him/her to hit the right shot at the right time when the pressure is greatest.

As Paul Simon might not have said, there are 50 ways to hit the ball – get to know them all. Building faith and trust in your players is an important part of this technical learning process. Individual practice through repetition is most important to developing multi-faceted hitting. But this needs to be complemented by real game exposure in collaborative sessions. You can do this by making sure your training sessions consist of different types of games (short, long, compressed, extended, unequal, unfair, directed, undirected) where repartee can be tested and performed under extreme pressure.

Coaching is also about building relationships and connections on the field. Regardless of what tactical formations you prefer, the distances between players on the pitch are very important. You can’t support a teammate if you’re too far away; too close and you clog the pitch and the game. Teaching connections requires an understanding of geography and geometry so you can attack by developing breadth and identifying pockets of space. When defending, you do the opposite – reduce the playing field.

The game of hurling is now played in different zones of the court and the coaching requirements are very different for each of these zones. This is exactly why elite teams today need more than one coach at their sessions. Most teams don’t have the luxury of multiple coaches, but that doesn’t mean space and geometry issues can be ignored.

The decisions a player makes off the ball are the calculus of the game – opening space and closing space – and make the difference in how balls are delivered and received. Your brain gives you the first mover advantage – not your feet. I’m always fascinated, especially watching underage games, as I see mentors following the ball up and down without worrying about what’s being left behind or where the ball is most likely to land.

Hurling is a game of chess, albeit a little more physical. Limerick has recognized this and is therefore currently the grandmaster of the game.

Finally, that how question needs to be resolved. Pedagogy is crucial for good coaching. Messages to gamers need to be delivered in different ways because people learn differently and at different speeds. Some players respond to verbal prompts, others respond better to visual presentations, but all require an individual connection between coach and player for messages to stick. I like teaching slingshots through the senses because the game has clearly recognizable patterns and sounds that resonate with the players – but you have to find your own teaching style.

Regardless of your approach, helping players find their own solutions to game form and structure is liberating and creates a sustainable platform for achievement. If the player becomes too dependent on the coach, then the coach is not doing his job properly. Success is when players and team are no longer dependent on the coach. Ultimately, the coach must let go of the player, just as good parents let the child grow into an independent adult.

Let the player play with both the freedom to fail and the freedom to succeed – instinct and intuition are important, especially with children and younger players. Competition and fun are strong allies. So are structure and chaos. Structure is good for technical and tactical development. Chaos is essential for decision making, leadership and innovation. Players find flow through the intoxicating mix of risk and creativity, and the bliss is when the coaching session borders on high skill and high challenge.

Finding this point isn’t easy, and even when found, it doesn’t last long (trust me), but this is the ultimate coaching experience, regardless of the age or level of players at your disposal . Keeping things simple can help this process. Less is more and complexity should be avoided whenever possible. And contrary to popular belief, heuristics can sometimes be the best answer in a complex environment, so don’t routinely disregard rules of thumb and intuition in the sea of ​​data now available to coaches, including at club level.

Finally and most importantly, slow down, listen, observe and learn as a coach all the time. As Cavafy concludes in his Homeric-inspired poem Ithaca: Don’t rush the journey at all – better it takes years for you to be old when you reach the island – rich with everything you’ve gained along the way – don’t expect that Ithaca makes you rich. Ithaca gave you the wonderful journey – without it you would not have started – it has nothing more to give you now.

*Eamon O’Shea is a professor at the University of Galway and a former manager and coach of Tipperary.

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