Coaching: Player-perception and fun enhanced by games-based approach to development

Coaching: Player-perception and fun enhanced by games-based approach to development
Richard Shuttleworth.

The GAA are working on the evolution of Gaelic games more so than ever before by constantly communicating with those tasked with the development of other codes across the world, writes Peter McNamara.

Cross-communication between sporting hierarchies is commonplace presently. And hugely beneficial to the parties involved.

At underage and grassroots levels in Ireland coaches are becoming increasingly aware of the significance of implementing a games-based approach to training and development.

It’s nothing particularly new. In fact, it’s been really publicised now as a means of assisting player-enhancement for nearly a decade.

However, not everybody has bought into the theory behind its importance.

A games-based approach to training and development facilitates an individual’s capacity to flourish in their chosen code from a young age.

In the similar way that pushy and overzealous parents can have a negative impact on the mindset of a young player, an underappreciation of the need to prioritise a games-based approach can hinder the development of a youngster technically.

Richard Shuttleworth relayed a fascinating presentation on implementing a gamed-based approach to training and development at Croke Park some time ago.

‘Shuttleworth is currently the Professional Coach Development Manager for the RFU in England responsible for assisting professional coaches with continued personal coaching development and innovation, leadership support and development, performance planning and program delivery,’ as per his ‘Linked in’ profile.

Prior to working at his present post, however, Shuttleworth was a Skills Acquisition Specialist with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) at the time of the aforementioned presentation.

During this period of his career he was heavily involved in cross-communication between the GAA and the AFL.

Tadhg Kennelly one of many players who have played both GAA and AFL.
Tadhg Kennelly one of many players who have played both GAA and AFL.

He also spent a number of years in Dublin City University.

In his time at AIS Shuttleworth’s focus was on improving player-perception.

As we saw while studying the work of Rod Thorpe, Shuttleworth also formed the opinion that productive decision-makers are shaped from a young age, essentially before they acquire any poor training habits.

With player-progression the key to all of this Shuttleworth suggests that it’s imperative for coaches to improve player-perception.

To do this you have to make your training sessions as ‘real-time’ as possible, a theory commonly accepted nowadays.

However, the specifics of his reasoning are interesting.

While conducting drills of any kind his main philosophy is to ensure you never, ever leave out a defender.

For instance, if you organise a ‘three-man weave’ without any defenders you will notice high levels of productive outcome.

However, if you add in defenders which the player will be faced with in ‘real-time’ you will see a considerable drop in the standards. Initially, that is.

Over time, though, the standards will improve significantly with practice.

A constraints-based approach to training is something Shuttleworth advocates, and his theories, of course, can be utilised across many codes.

Without constraints being placed on players they will not be able to make the correct decisions under ‘real-time’ pressure.

Therefore, players’ movement and actions depend on the environment they are working in.

“Take a golfer hitting a ball on to the green,” Shuttleworth said. “The player will move around the contour of the surface before hitting his next shot as the movements will afford him more information for his next shot which will improve it.

“Good players move in their environment, not necessarily a lot but enough to better their current predicament on the field of play.

“This means that intuitive decision-makers are nearly always the best because they act on their perceptions with little or no thinking in an instant.”

Can GAA learn from golf?
Can GAA learn from golf?

Coaches, he suggests, spend too much time explaining what is going to happen instead of actually letting the players figure things out themselves.

Shuttleworth says that “coaches should allow players to become problem-solvers as opposed to coaches giving them solutions to every problem”.

This will, in turn, enhance their perception and decision-making skills.

Shuttleworth works off a theory briefly referred to in the first piece of this series called ‘perception action coupling’.

This constitutes the task at hand, the environment and the players themselves.

In terms of the task, the primary goal of the exercise, rules, boundaries and equipment used are all vital components.

The environment fixates on the physical aspect while also on the socio-cultural aspect, that is the player’s natural ability based on his or her background.

Skilled decision-makers are problem-creators and problem-solvers.

It is important to concentrate your coaching on teaching the players to repeat the problem-solving process instead of repeating the same solutions during drills.

There are countless examples of how implementing a games-based approach can be so worthwhile.

Shuttleworth pointed to Adelaide Crows adopting these strategies in 2005 as it took them just three seasons before transforming into AFL champions in 2008.

Overall, 80% of their training was based on these theories. And he had studied them, in particular, closely during the aforementioned timeframe.

“The development of a skill should never be taught in isolation of wider information otherwise the skill breaks down,” Shuttleworth explained as a keynote speaker at Beechwood Park School in the UK last year. “Learn skills through game situations rather than drills.

He later added: “We must be mindful of placing ‘handbrakes’ on our young athletes which inhibit them from developing as long-term athletes. Instead we must create environments that encourage creativity, fun, the building of self-esteem and development of skills.”

The salient words here are creativity, fun and self-esteem.

The higher the level of sporting participation these days, it seems, the less ‘fun’ is had by those involved.

Players are impeded by expectations.

However, such an occurrence can be avoided by gearing the development of younger players in the correct manner.

Youngsters can be safe-guarded against a code bereft of ‘fun’ by challenging them on the training grounds via ‘real-time’ scenarios rather than increasingly less effective linear exercises.

Organised chaos yields the greatest dividends while honing skills, after all.

This is the second in a three-part series on coaching. The third will be out tomorrow and you can read the first here.

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