'It can't be one size fits all': Clubs warned on strength and conditioning perils

Club teams starting back for the new season have been warned not to introduce a one-size-fits-all strength and conditioning programme.

As the majority of adult GAA teams return to training this month, and with the focus largely centred on strength and fitness work, former Tipperary hurling coach Paudie O’Neill and 2010 All-Ireland winning Cork footballer Paudie Kissane have stressed the importance of individual gym programmes being drawn up for players so as to lessen the risk of injury.

O’Neill, who served as Tipperary hurling coach during Eamon O’Shea’s tenure, believes asking a 17-year old who has just joined a club’s adult set-up to carry out the same gym work as an individual 10 years his senior is both ill-advised and potentially detrimental to the physiological development of the teenager.

“There needs to be a real differentiation,” O’Neill insists.

“There has to be a huge level of awareness of where each individual player is at. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.

“A 17-year-old working with a 31-year-old, they are in totally different places. I do think the 17-year-old can be put through a conditioning programme, but it has to be customised for their age and their level of physiological development.

“One of the most effective forms of coaching is one-on-one, whereby whatever you have come up with is specifically designed for that individual player and towards the needs of that player. That has to be applied in the whole area of physical conditioning.”

Kissane, who holds a Masters in strength and conditioning, and also runs an athlete development and performance firm, labelled the practice of enforcing an advanced S&C programme on an entire club team “a disaster”.

“The day of handing out a complicated S&C programme to a beginner has to be gone,” said Kissane.

“You could be 30 years of age but have never stepped inside a gym so, from a strength and conditioning point of view, you are a beginner. You could have an 18-year-old who has come through two years with the county minors and could be more advanced in the gym than a 30-year-old. Whatever programme is handed out, there has to be a profile of the squad done beforehand and what previous injuries players had must be noted.

“The focus should be on doing it right. Sometimes, players are caught up on what exercises they are doing and what loads they are lifting, whereas their first priority should be ‘Am I doing this right?’. The coach or manager’s priority should be making sure that the programme is appropriate to the level of each player in the team.”

Another bugbear of Kissane’s is that while the majority of clubs will spend January and February adhering to some sort of an S&C programme, there is no follow-through for the remainder of the year, rendering the gym work being done at present largely ineffective.

“If you are going to do a programme, make sure it is for the year and not just for four weeks. Where I see a big failing at club level at this time of year is players putting a lot of effort into following a gym programme, but then it is forgotten about as the season goes on.

“If you stop it after six or eight weeks, well then a couple of weeks after that you’ll have lost much of the benefit of that work. Furthermore, come the following January/December, players are more or less back at the same point.”

In a recent conversation with Cork camogie boss Paudie Murray, the four-time All-Ireland winning manager outlined how pre-season for his players is split between S&C work and a focus on the game’s basic skills.

“We would spend a good bit of time working on players’ striking technique and making sure their feet are in the right position. Over the last few years, our striking has improved greatly,” Murray explained.

O’Neill sees it as imperative that the sliotar and football are not neglected.

“There has been an upsurge in clubs of bringing in people from different sporting backgrounds who have qualifications in strength and conditioning. There needs to be a fundamental understanding of what the game is about on the part of those external people.

“For club teams, their training sessions over the next few months may be fundamentally physical training sessions. They are going up to the pitch and they may as well be going to the gym. This is not good practice. They’re not actually developing the skills that are needed for the game.

“A high level of fatigue can set in if players are repeatedly working on the physical side of the game and the hurley is left to one side. You have to be aware of the needs of players and they are met by working the ball in where possible.”

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