Kinnerk research underlines benefits of games-based approach

Limerick manager John Kiely, left, and coach Paul Kinnerk watch intently as Cork get the upper hand in their recent Munster SHC clash at the LIT Gaelic Grounds. In a paper published this week, which was co-authored by Kinnerk, it was concluded that Gaelic football coaches have not yet fully embraced games-based approaches. Picture: Diarmuid Greene

Paul Kinnerk’s mind will be on other matters on Sunday in Thurles but this week saw the publication of a Gaelic football research paper the Limerick senior hurling coach and selector co-authored in the International Sport Coaching Journal.

Entitled “An Investigation of the Self-Reported Practice Activities and Session Sequencing of Inter-County Gaelic Football Coaches”, the two-time All-Ireland SHC-winning coach completed the work along with Stephen Harvey, Philip Kearney, Ciarán MacDonncha, and Mark Lyons.

All but Harvey, who is an associate professor of coaching education at Ohio University, are based in UL, where Kinnerk is a PhD researcher.

The paper entailed the recruitment of 150 inter-county football coaches (men’s U14 to senior) in the 2017 season. 29 coaches were operating at senior level, 58 with 16 or more years of experience. Sixty-one were Leinster-based, 31 in both Connacht and Munster and 27 in Ulster. Kinnerk and his team wanted to ascertain how Games-based Approaches (GBAs), which are widely supported by the GAA’s coaching department, were being adopted in training in light of increasing support for them in academic literature.

Research previously conducted by Kinnerk, Harvey, Kearney, and MacDonncha supported GBAs as methods “that positively impact athletes’ personal and social development, decision-making, tactical awareness, and physical fitness” and identified them as “effective at promoting technical development as more technique-focused approaches”.

Following an online survey issued to 401 coaches, the information provided by the 150 respondents was analysed. It was discovered that GBA-like behaviour was more prevalent in peak season than in pre or early season. During pre-season, coaches estimated spending the majority of time in Training Form activities (eg isolated fitness, technical skill) whereas they predominantly utilised Playing Form activities (eg, modified games) during peak season. On average, playing form activities comprised 43% of pre-season practice time.

“Coaches reported utilising Training Form activities in the first half of their coaching session before progressing to game-like activities in the second half of the session,” the paper reads.

Although playing form activities comprised on average 63% of training sessions in peak season, the research underlines previous academic assertions that “athletes involved in invasion game sports spend less time in activities related to the actual game”.

Kinnerk et al can’t say there is a definitive percentage time of playing form that coaches should seek to attain but highlight the benefits of predominant GBAs. They also scrutinised the sequencing of training sessions and noticed how the majority of coaches follow the traditional approach of prescribing drills in the beginning of sessions so as to encourage players to master skills before they are put into practice in games.

However, they point out that philosophy contrasts with GBA literature which suggests commencing a session with “an initial game form” followed by game scenarios or modified-conditioned games before a full game.

Kinnerk and the group conclude that Gaelic football coaches have not yet fully embraced GBAs as they only begin to come close to employing them towards and during peak season. “Coaches reported utilising more Playing Form activities in peak season compared to pre-season, which may reflect a lack of knowledge relating to the potential to develop fitness through games.

“While acknowledging the positive steps sports coaching bodies such as the GAA have made as regards promoting best practice coaching methods, further education is required to ensure a more sophisticated implementation of GBAs by coaches. Such education initiatives would be facilitated by further evidence of the efficacy of GBAs within the specific context of Gaelic games.”

The findings suggest Gaelic football falls in with other sports like soccer, cricket, field hockey, basketball, and volleyball where research has shown coaches spent “the majority of session duration in activities deemed less relevant to game play”. Although, there have been other studies recently which indicate coaches in rugby and soccer are spending greater time in playing form activities.

Another paper derived from the same research process is expected to be published next year involving qualitative data involving interviews and observations from 12 senior inter-county coaches.

Monaleen club man Kinnerk is a former Limerick footballer and his primary PhD research focus is game-based approaches in Gaelic Games.

Kearney is a lecturer in motor skill acquisition, coaching and performance at UL as well as being course director for masters degree in applied sports coaching. Mac Donncha teaches in UL’s department of physical education and sports sciences, while Lyons is a lecturer in strength and conditioning and course director for the masters degree in sports performance programme in the university.

An Investigation of the Self- Reported Practice Activities and Session Sequencing of Inter-County Gaelic Football Coaches” can be accessed for a fee on journals.

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