The annual GAA Coaching Conference held last weekend in Croke Park drew a big attendance from around the country.
The event is well organised, having a wide range of topics and presenters covering many facets of hurling and Gaelic football.
The GAA has an impressive record of accrediting its coaches since it began delivering formal coaching training in 1992. For years all courses are certified in conjunction with Coaching Ireland with over 75,000 individuals receiving certification over the past decade or more.
In more recent years the GAA has developed a comprehensive on-line learning module which may be accessed by all coaches. There is much to commend about this approach but the difficulty is in getting the information into the hands of all the coaches.
There is great value in having on-line material as it can be easily updated with new data as necessary. However, getting all that knowledge down to the club coaches remains a challenge.
At last weekend’s conference the GAA announced the introduction of mandatory coaching standards for club and inter-county coaches from 2016.
This new policy was approved by GAA Central Council in June. It was one of many recommendations from the Football Review Committee and was supported by the National Games Development Committee.
All inter-county management teams in hurling and football will be required to have an Award 2 coach from 2016. In addition, all club management teams must contain an Award 1 coach. And from 2018 the Head Coach in both cases must be qualified at the appropriate level.
The GAA will also introduce an ‘Assimilation’ programme for experienced coaches without qualifications which will ensure that coaches who have the requisite skills are recognised for those skills and certified at the appropriate level.
Numerous individuals are already qualified to Foundation and Level 1 status (as they were previously called) but less so at Award 2 status. The new policy will see the majority of existing inter-county managers, plus lots of aspiring managers, being fast-tracked to Award 2 level if the deadline of 2016 implementation is to be met.
It is going to be an interesting process. I am not familiar with the criteria for being granted an Award 2 accreditation but I expect it will be broader than just delivering coaching skills training.
And what happens if an existing inter-county manager/coach has not received their Award 2 accreditation by 2016? Also, will it be acceptable just to have an appropriately qualified team coach with the team manager having no formal qualification?
Policing the new policy at inter-county level will be difficult as it covers teams in all grades, but it will be a mammoth task at club level given the number of teams involved.
While the number of Award 1 coaches has grown, there is a lot of work ahead to ensure clubs have the requisite number of appropriately qualified personnel to cover all teams. This will definitely place an increasing workload in the coming years on full-time county coaching personnel, plus county coaching and games development committees.
In recent times we have seen a plethora of changes to Gaelic football rules which came from the Football Review Committee (FDC). None, though, will apply to hurling - at least for now.
Now we have another proposal from the FDC but it will apply to both codes. Notwithstanding all the problems ahead implementing this new policy (and there will be many) the notion of qualified personnel being in charge of teams is the correct approach.
Last weekend’s coaching conference covered many other issues also, but I am concerned that there is insufficient attention being given at this annual event to skills coaching in both codes.
Maybe the next conference will go back to basics and focus on ensuring that our games remain skilful and enjoyable for the ordinary club players with less focus on the requirements for inter-county athletes.