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GAA Games Development Officer with LIT, Mark O’Donnell breaks down the STEPR approach this week.

Two weeks ago, we explored a recent phenomenon to surface in the GAA – Games Based Coaching. It was my intention to highlight the benefits of this approach, in order to facilitate holistic player development, by comparison to outdated drill (linear) practices.

We should respect the need to nurture all facets of the modern day athlete – technical proficiency (skill), teamplay, tactical prowess (decision making), physical fitness, psychological focus and player feedback (communication). With that in mind, I’d like to introduce STEPR – the “coaching bible” for game evolvement, progression and regression.

CASE STUDY: Set-up a 5v5 possession game (Game X) in a 20mx20m grid. Blues vs Reds. 5 consecutive passes earns a point. Normal rules of GAA (code specific) apply. First team to 5 points, or the leading team at the 3 minute interval wins the round. Now let’s apply STEPR.

S – Space. If we want to allow players additional time on the ball, or greater freedom to experiment with a newly learned skill, implement a regression with a more open playing area. When we believe the activity is too comfortable, we can decrease the space afforded to players. This progression will challenge decision making, teamplay and communication as a result of having less space and time in possession. Consequently, Game X evolves from very passive to very frantic, by applying S from STEPR.

T – Task/Time. Task refers to the skills we can alter during a game, whilst the use of our stopwatch adds a further time constraint. Game X transforms from a frantic handpassing possession game, to a more expansive, kicking/striking orientated game by a simple change of task. Initially this game concentrates on maintaining possession, but coaches may further evolve the activity to a more game-like scenario incorporating shooting and scoring after a specific number of passes. Using T of STEPR dictates the overall concept of any game.

E – Equipment. Altering the number of balls or goals are examples of equipment modifications which can help coaches to evolve a game. If we’re seeking a regression or progression, additional balls/sliotars create different challenges for players depending on the coaching objective. It may become easier to gain possession in terms of game involvement, but it also increases difficulty to defend more than one ball! Adding extra goalposts raises spatial awareness, off-the-ball movement and psychological focus. This is achievable for all coaches using E as part of STEPR.

P – Personnel. Coaches seeking to foster problem solving and coping skills may often adjust personnel. Game X presents the ideal scenario featuring two balanced teams. However creating a mismatch (6v4), overload (5v2) or mimicking an injury/sending off/playing vs. sweeper (5v4) are practices suitable to evolve games, and push players outside the comfort zone. There is further scope to improve physical fitness in this manner, therefore P is a vital cog within STEPR.

R – Rules. Similar to Task, rule variations determine the flow and pattern of games. We can challenge the bi-lateral coordination of our players by implementing right foot/hand ONLY, and vice versa leis an citóg. Alternatives include new receiver for each pass (no returns), every second pass must be a kick/strike, or turnover for receiving the ball whilst standing. A subtle dash of R from STEPR opens the door for coaching exploration, whilst maximising player development.

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