Dr Ed Coughlan: Are we overcomplicating and overcompensating the art of coaching football?

At what stage does paralysis from over analysis become a concern for both the coaches and the players? Is there a point when a coach feels the need to justify their role by continuously coming up with new information?
Dr Ed Coughlan: Are we overcomplicating and overcompensating the art of coaching football?

AN EVOLVING ROLE: With increasing demands on the manager, it is more likely they’ll inhabit a more director of football type role in the years ahead. Picture: Inpho/Ryan Byrne

Managers these days have more than their fair share of work to be doing.

Whether its sticking to the process or developing the culture, there’s always something that needs their attention. Not to mention the personnel in their backroom team, which in recent years have ballooned in size, and in some cases, are almost as high as the numbers of players in the squad.

We appear to be in the age of specialists, where every job and role in a team has a specific person assigned to it. Managers of yesteryear must be looking on with bemusement when they recall how it was in their day with a kitman, a trainer, a physio, a coach, and a few selectors at a session. Back then one bus was enough to ferry the team and everyone involved to Croke Park for a match.

Though it may be the case for many teams still, there is a growing need for some to find alternative means of transport on gameday.

Specialist coaches are all the rage nowadays and in particular for specific positions on the pitch. It is not difficult to see where this phenomenon of position-specific specialist coaches has emerged from, when you look at how specialised coaching is in American football and baseball already. There, coaches are assigned jobs to work on a single position on the field, even on a particular side of the field, such as the right cornerback in the NFL or the first baseman in the MLB, respectively. These coaches have such a specific remit that they spend massive hours accumulating endless knowledge about the minutiae of a particular position.

Is such a forensic approach required in sport?

Is any sport that complicated?

Is there a fear of overkill setting in and if so, how bad will it get before the tide begins to turn back towards normality again, if ever?

At what stage does paralysis from over analysis become a concern for both the coaches and the players?

Is there a point when a coach feels the need to justify their role by continuously coming up with new information, where maybe there is none?

Does the player feel the need to match a specialist coach for interest? Someone who has only one, highly defined job to do is likely to develop an interest far deeper than others. Such specialist coaches can be forgiven for thinking that everyone, especially the player, will want to know everything possible there is to know about what might happen in their position, even if it is for an unthinkable freak moment during a game. Does information overload have the same impact on player’s performance as training overload has and if so, do we know how to manage it in order to keep them safe from burnout?

Is this yet another role that falls on the lap of the manager? Managing the backroom team and their hunger to get their chance to shine. In simpler times, it was a tough enough job to manage the hunger of the players and their needs and best intentions to convince them that they were worthy of more game time. Now, a manager may have to manage coaches and their need for more pitch time during a session.

Surely, the need for position-specific coaches should depend on the sport and not just be something we begin to do because other sports are doing it? Closer to home, we have seen a similar form of specialism emerge in rugby beyond the traditional backs and forwards coaches. We now have lineout specialists and even within that one aspect of the game, there are those who further specialise on the throw and others still who focus solely on the lifting aspects of the lineout. But rugby may be better suited to such specialism because of the fragmented nature of the sport, not to mention the differing demands the game has for backs compared to forwards, as evident by their physique alone.

Does Gaelic football put such differing demands on full-backs compared to half-backs, half-forwards compared to full-forwards, and so on? The physiological evidence is clear, there are differences, but it’s not that much.

The very nature of Gaelic football is that players are required to do more than their position requires. There is an expectation that footballers should be more versatile than specialised. After all, a dispossessed half-forward is expected to have the ability to tackle and regain possession just as much as a half-back is expected to venture up field and take their scores every now and then.

Where will it end, if at all, as maybe there’s nothing wrong with having position-specific specialist coaches, and maybe it’s just a symptom of progression and development. Or maybe it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

If it continues like this, the backroom team of a senior inter-county football set up in 2031 could look very different to what it is today. We are already accustomed to strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, goalkeeping coaches, sport psychologists, and performance analysts.

The next wave of specialists may see defensive coaches, offensive coaches, data scientists, maybe even corner-back coaches, and coaches we haven’t even identified as necessary yet, but will no doubt become essential if this trend continues.

Success has a funny way of inspiring others to mimic what was done in the hope that it returns them the same good fortune.

With that in mind, one should look to Dublin as a possible barometer for how others might tend to go in the years ahead. If this is the case, then the idea that less is more will not see the light of day for some time yet. Apparently, for now, more is more and the more the merrier by the looks of things.

With increasing demands on the manager, it is more likely they’ll inhabit a more director of football type role in the years ahead, with a head coach overseeing on-field business where a team of coaches will feed their content into the mix for consideration.

However, Stiúrthóir doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Bainisteoir.

- Follow Dr Edward Coughlan on Twitter @DrSkillAcq

- You can read the Irish Examiner's 20-page special publication looking forward to the Allianz Football League and Championship with your Friday edition of the Irish Examiner in stores or from our epaper site.

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