The innovation game: 17 hits and misses

The world of sport is forever caught in a cycle of sampling the latest that sport science has to offer to provide coaches and athletes with a competitive edge. 

Offaly players warm-up with medicine balls. Picture: Piaras O Midheach

The GAA is no different. In fact, where sport science is replaced by pseudoscience, empirical rationale is replaced by anecdote. What last year’s champions did is still the best reason most can offer for why they do what they do.

Unsurprisingly, administrators are not immune to sampling, either. Rules, by definition, are designed to protect the integrity of the game, yet some should never have seen the light of day.

Suffice to say, it’s not all bad; some shiny new things turn out to be an important addition to GAA life. The following list comprises some of those innovations that flattered to deceive and others that make life at the elite level better for all.

1. Warm-ups

Gone are the days that the dressing room sprint for the team photo was sufficient to warm-up a player before an All-Ireland final. The warm-up is arguably the clearest example of where sport science has impacted on match intensity from the throw-in. Long may it last.

2. The black card

Ref David Coldrick shows the black card. Its use can be too harsh, or useless

One of the most controversial of all rule changes, ever. Though the principle is sound, the punishment of dismissal is often too harsh or even pointless for those cynical enough to know when to manipulate it further; the closing moments of this year’s Division 1 league final is a good example. Refine or banish it forever.

3. The sin-bin

Surely the most obvious omission from both codes to improve policing of the game. Especially, when it has been successfully adopted by the LGFA; maybe that’s the problem. One for reconsideration.

4. The mark

A new addition to this year’s championship to counter short kickouts and reward aerial fielding. Time will tell if it will have any impact. A little more patience from Croke Park may have resulted in greater tactical nous emerging from coaches and players, alike. Will not see 2018.

5. GPS

The right personnel are essential before investing in GPS trackers

In an era of data-hungry managers, GPS certainly satisfies that appetite. In the right hands, it can be a critical addition to player load monitoring. Not going anywhere soon, but make sure you have the right personnel before you invest.

6. Training camps

By far the most misused addition to the training calendar, especially the foreign, warm-weather variety. No doubt, if thought through sufficiently, a training camp can be a timely boost to preparations. However, most players return home needing a rest and additional visits to the physio as a result of the spike in training they have had to endure while away.

7. SAQ

Speed agility quickness training arrived in Ireland in the late 1990s and, while it is a key component in the development of good movement mechanics, unfortunately, it fast became the staple diet for session planning with cones, ladders, and hurdles replacing fundamental skill work. Still a few die-hards, but generally it has been removed from general population and now resides with the specialist movement coach.

8. Ice baths

Louth players in an ice bath. Ice baths are worth consideration after a pitch session, but to be avoided after the gym.

Depending on how the idea of ice baths are sold to athletes, they can be seen as more of a punishment than anything else. Recent evidence steers us down the path of specificity. In brief, it is worth considering after a pitch session, worth forgetting after a gym session.

9. Nose strips

Made famous by Robbie Fowler at Liverpool and trialled by many hoping to breathe easier during a game. Now resides in the snoring remedy domain. Where to next? Quickly disappeared into the ether... fortunately.

10. Hurling gloves

Not quite sure what is taking the authorities so long to make these compulsory. The number of hand injuries every season at every level in hurling makes this a complete no-brainer. History and machismo are getting in the way. Glove up and move on.

11. Sweat patches

Innovative method for measuring hydration status of an athlete. Some teams are currently using this technology. More will and should follow, to take the guesswork out of athlete-recovery strategy. Don’t be surprised if you see an app for this in the not too distant future.

12. Video sessions

It’s incredible how this side of game preparation has evolved in the last 20 years. Some teams have it down to a fine art, understanding that less is more. This is a specialist post within a set-up, not one for someone to learn on the job. If your video sessions last more than 20 minutes, turn on the lights and wake up the room.

13. Blanket defence/sweeper in hurling

No doubt the purists in both codes have plenty to say about these, but as a sport evolves, there are times when tactical experimentation is required to challenge everyone to rethink their philosophy. Coaches have either stepped up or been found out as result of these evolving additions. Let’s keep exploring.

14. Nutritionists

The often hidden gems among high-performing set-ups. A qualified, experienced nutritionist is a must for any team with serious thoughts of achieving their goals. Forget your Nutron diet or any one-size-fits-all solution, it’s time to get specific to the needs of the individual. Worth the investment.

15. Sport psychologists

It is disgraceful to think that some people ridicule the importance of sport psychology, especially in the pressurised, 24/7 world we live in. Respect the field of sport psychology enough to engage with them on an ongoing basis, not just for the one-off rabble-rousing chat a week out from championship. Time to leave the stigma and taboo behind. Beware, though, of evangelist-like cowboys.

16. Drills

It is baffling how drills persist in training sessions, when we have so much evidence in coaching science to guide coaches through more effective games-based coaching paradigms. In a nutshell: drills build robots, games build players.

17. Strength and Conditioning

Now such an accepted part of the landscape it is abbreviated to simply S&C. Fortunately, there appears to be a significant shift in recent years to focus more on movement and athleticism than size and bulk and the benefits are clear for all to see. A 2017 team would obliterate a 2007 team. Beware of the one-programme-for-all bandits.


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