Planning For Success

A goal without a plan is just a wish

At O’Dwyers we have three levels of planning in our coaching:

  1. Long-Term Planning: This is our overall Club Plan and ‘’Player Pathway’’, where we are creating an environment that all our young players ‘’Play and Stay’’ with O’Dwyers GAA Club, not only for their playing careers but throughout their lives.
  2. Medium-Term Planning: This is breaking the long-term player pathway strands and down to their yearly program. It is about identifying the core values of that strand and from a coaching perspective, identifying the various areas that need to be considered.
  3. Short-Term Planning: The short-term plan is about identifying and planning on a weekly/session basis.

The Long Term Plan will guide what occurs in the Medium Term plan, which itself will guide the Short Term plan.

O’Dwyers GAA Club are committed to ensuring that all our juvenile teams are as competitive as possible. That each player is constantly learning and will be in a better place when progressing to the next age level and with the intention of ensuring each player can reach their full potential throughout their underage careers. By implementing our  ‘’Player Pathway’’ we are creating an environment where all our young players ‘’Play and Stay’’ with O’Dwyers GAA Club, not only for their playing careers but throughout their lives.

This pathway has been created to provide a structured, consistent framework to help guide coaches, managers, mentors and parents who play an active role in the development of our young players. It is intended, at its most basic form, to give our young players the best opportunity to succeed at whatever level they may play and reach their full potential “doing the right thing, at the right time and in the right way.”
It should be viewed as a roadmap that sets out the key characteristics and identifies the age-appropriate content (technical, physical and game-specific) that should be coached or practised at a particular age and stage of the player’s career.


There are 5 key stages outlined in our pathway which have detailed player characteristics. They describe the practical elements that must be coached during these ages.



Player Characteristics

  • Children of this age are self-centred and cooperation is largely absent.
  • At this age, many still think that the ball is their own ‘toy’, so they will try to run with the ball and score rather than pass.
  • They will respond to partner work and skills practice for a short time. This helps introduce them to teamwork and cooperation.
  • These children will only watch the ball. They cannot and will not look for space to run into.
  • They usually enjoy being asked questions and this should give the coach plenty of opportunities to check for understanding.
  • When their team is not in possession they find it difficult to understand defending a goal. To them, they are merely chasing a ball.
  • They respond best to target games and races. (Hitting, throwing & running)



Player Characteristics

  • They will begin to look up when in possession and start choosing options [e.g. passing rather than shooting]
  • They will have difficulty tackling opponents but will kick the ball away from them and attempt to block any shots.
  • They have a tendency to stand back in hurling so encourage them to get close to the opponents.
  • Players will beg for a game at every opportunity, yet their technique is best improved through individual, paired and small group work. This is an ideal time to use the ‘Whole-Part-Whole’ approach to some sessions where the coach starts with a game, stops it after ten minutes, works on one technique for a short period then restarts the game.
  • Coaches need to focus on positive feedback, this is the age where drop-outs occur if children think they are no good.
  • At this age, players will now try to win the game not only by scoring but also by attempting to deny the opposition the opportunity to score.
  • They will also begin to understand the need to change the direction of a run or a pass to be more effective and they will begin to grasp the idea that a player may need support from behind and to the side as well as in front.
  • Coaches should continue to run small-sided games, one of the better games is called ‘Over the River’
  • At this age, players must also get used to attacking the ball [i.e. running and not stopping] and breaking tackles
  • The first critical period for speed development.



Player Characteristics

  • Players will compete with greater intensity against each other.
  • At this age, players will now try to win the game not only by scoring but also by attempting to deny the opposition the opportunity to score.
  • They will begin to understand the need to change the direction of a run or a pass to be more effective and they will begin to grasp the idea that a player may need support from behind and to the side as well as in front.
  • Coaches should continue to run small-sided games and condition the players to solve problems in a game-based environment.
  • During training, these players must always feel part of the session. Coaches must be ready to pay as much attention to them as to other established players and always work to improve their skills (e.g. 1-1 coaching may be needed)
  • Coaches must be quick to address the problem of 1 or 2 players dominating play and preventing others from developing their skills during games. Modifying the rules can help here.
  • Many players at this age fail to recognise the need to attack the ball and prefer to wait for the ball. If this is allowed to persist, that player will find it increasingly difficult to change their instincts.
  • Training needs to be moderately increased at this stage.
  • Players are now ready to develop general strength through their own body weight and core exercises.



Player Characteristics

  • While players in this stage may have the same chronological age, they may differ significantly in terms of biological age, i.e. one may be more physically developed than another.
  • The onset of puberty usually occurs during the early stages of this cycle. Aerobic and strength programmes should be individualised or grouped according to their Peak Height Velocity (PHV) N.B. Only trained coaches to undertake this training.
  • Broad base skills and sports-specific skills.
  • Advanced technical skill development/skills developed under pressure.
  • Fitness with the ball in skills and drills.
  • Gain an understanding of the principles of attack and defence through grids and small-sided games.
  • Players can be introduced to moderate anaerobic and strength training through ball work.
  • Players should be introduced to psychological training through games that promote concentration and better decision-making.



Player Characteristics

  • During this phase, players begin to reach their physical peak and those slow developers begin to catch up with their peers.
  • Encourage ideas of self-awareness and self-help within players.
  • At this stage, a Functional Movement Screening (conducted by a Physio) should be carried out on each player and the results along with the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) identified by each player in their Self Assessment.
  • Profile should form the basis of their Personal Development Plan. (PDP)
  • As a result of the above, each player should have a PDP, a component of which should be an individualised conditioning programme developed and delivered by a Strength & Conditioning coach. Every player should be committed to their programme as they will have had an input into their Self-Assessment Profile.
  • Advanced technical skill development/Skills developed under pressure.
  • Understand the principles of gameplay, tactics and game sense.
  • Accept that the team is paramount and their role within the team structure.
  • Instil concepts of mental toughness and calmness under pressure (winning behaviours).
  • Encourage flexibility and fine-tune the generic skills to play in a variety of positions.
  • Players should be encouraged to embrace positive life skills, i.e. time management and to take control of their own athletic development.

Medium Term Planning: This is planning within each of the relevant player pathway strands and down to their yearly program. It is about identifying the core values of that strand and from a coaching perspective, identifying the various areas that need to be considered. What kind of players and people do we want to develop?

This yearly program can be further broken down into a more specific block that caters for the needs of the players. For younger ages, the season can be much the same with no championship to focus on, it allows a smoother progression from the start of the year to the end. As teams get older, they may try to peak a number of times throughout the season e.g. at U14 level, the manager might try to ensure the team is peaking for Feile in May and again for Championship in August. For an adult team who may need to peak in April for the first round of championship and again in August/September, they may also need to be more conscious of the events in the year. Here is how a season for a U10 Hurling & Football teams might be broken up. Identifying the games and the different rules may allow the coach to plan a little more appropriately.

Sample season plan for U10s team available here:

Session Numbers & Durations

Based on a review of sport organisation guidelines and athlete development literature, recommendations for the optimal number of practice session per week and practice length are provided in the table. Limiting practice sessions to 90 and 120 minutes might seem counterintuitive to popular cultural depictions of what it takes to succeed in sport (e.g., we must train longer and harder than our opponents!)

Under 6 1 : 4 1-2 days per week 45-60 minutes
Under 8 1 : 8 2 days per week 60-75 minutes
Under 10 1 : 8 2 days per week 60-90 minutes
Under 12 1 : 8 2-3 days per week 75-90 minutes
Under 14 1 : 10 3 days per week 75-90 minutes
Under 16 1 : 12 3-4 days per week 90-120 minutes
Under 17 years old and older 1 : 12 4-5 days per week 90-120 minutes

The short-term plan is about identifying and planning on a weekly basis. For young teams, this might be only 1 session which can easily be done with 1 session plan. For older teams, this could mean 2 training sessions and a match in a given week. Identifying the levels of intensity, volume, gameplay etc for each session will directly affect the freshness of the team for the weekends game.

These session plan/s are important to ensure they follow the path outlined in the medium and long-term plans. By outlining areas to target throughout the year, the coaches job can become very focused and easily managed in designing activities.



Effective coaching is a process of continuous application and review of your experiences and performance. A good coach does not simply turn up on the day and produce a generic coaches guide session. Your next session starts when your previous session finishes. An effective review of your session can highlight factors you feel are weak points of your session,  allowing you to make changes for the following week. Failure to make these changes results in you constantly producing the same results that are often not up to standard. Making the same mistakes over and over again.

Many teams and coaches suffer from this as a result of time and tradition. Coaches have coached in a certain way themselves, they then simply reproduced the sessions they were taught again and again without ever making changes or adapting the session based on the participants. This goes on for years and because they have done it for years they feel it can’t be wrong. The review process in coaching is a constant process of this rather than a one-off action and the process can be seen to be a consistent circle of this constant reflection.



Planning is a critical part of the coaching process. Expert coaches report thoroughness in planning as having a great impact on the success of a coaching session. For example, renowned basketball coach John Wooden noted that he would “spend as much time planning a practice as conducting it”.


To assist coaches in session planning the club has developed an easy to use planning tool that will assist our coaches now and for generations to come. The steps on using the tool are available here

The Session Planning Tool template can be downloaded here:

It is important for a coach to take time to plan each training session. Training sessions should be developed from two or three goals that have been identified for that session. The elements of a training session that all coaches should include are:

  • Session introduction
  • Warm-up
  • Recall – (Practice the skills from the previous session – player-led)
  • Games, skill and fitness activities
  • Cooldown
  • Review

Coaches should try to plan at least two practices in advance, in case your team make more progress than you thought they might, in which case you’re in a position to integrate content from one session in advance.


2. DO

‘DO’ing coaching can be broken down into three interrelated models



When coaching a technique or skill to players there are 4 essential steps:

  • Introduce the skill
  • Demonstrate and Explain the skill
  • Practice the skill
  • Provide feedback/correct errors

These steps are often identified by the acronym I.D.E.A.  Each step is best carried out using either Verbal Instruction or Visual Instruction or a combination of both

Step How we communicate
Introduce Verbally introduce the skill, providing a brief description.
Outline the Key Teaching Points.
Demonstrate Demonstrate the skill; perform it in full a number of times.
Then break the skill down, making a point of noting the position of the Head, Hands, (Hurley) and Feet for each distinct component.
Repeat the skill in full again.
Explain Explain Verbally and Visually explain how you want the skill practiced, i.e. the organisation of the drill or activity.
Attend Observe the players performing the skill a number of times.
Provide feedback on how to correct any errors.

Further information on the IDEA principle is available here


This method consists of four simple steps to help you make your sessions more inclusive, encouraging coaches to change the space, taskequipment or people for a chosen activity.

Every coach should modify their areas of focus according to the specific skills, abilities and needs of the individuals in the group. This framework will help them do just that, with the four letters representing those specific areas of focus.

So, change the space in which the activity is taking place – making it smaller or larger for example – in order that each individual is able to participate and more easily achieve their personal goals.

The type of activity can also be changed to suit the different abilities of individual participants. For some, this might involve making the task less complex, more complex or adapting elements of how the task is performed.

Coaches can change the type or size of the equipment being used, or offer participants a choice of equipment so each person in the group feels included and confident in taking part.

Finally, tweaking the number of people who are involved, or matching participants depending on ability, is another great way of helping them achieve their goals and keep them motivated throughout a session.


C. FEEDBACK MODEL (via Questions)

Coaches should seek feedback from players on how the session is going. Sample Questions to allow the coach to detail the session and the reasons for doing/saying what he/she did/said may include

  • Tell me what aspects of your performance were you happy with?
  • Explain to me why are we setting things up the way we are?
  • What were our intended outcomes for the session?
  • In your view, how well were the outcomes achieved from this session?
  • What interventions, expected or otherwise will we make?
  • Why did you step in/stand back when you did?
  • In what ways did the session differ from the session planned?
  • What was the advantage of taking that option?
  • What is the issue? How can we solve it?
  • What do you think we did well?
  • In your opinion, how can we improve?
  • What is the most important improvement you can make?
  • How do you know that they are ready for that?
  • Describe in detail how you might change the activity?
  • What was your role during that activity?
  • What was the role of your fellow players during that activity?
  • If you were to do that activity again what changes (if any) would you make? And Why?
  • Tell me, what did you learn from this session/activity?



Good coaching practice requires all coaches to reflect regularly on the standard of their coaching practice. Reflection should occur as soon as possible following the event, to be meaningful, even though the impact may occur a significant time afterwards.

Coaches should assess how their session measured against the player pathway for their particular age group they are coaching


It is extremely important for a coach to remain flexible when structuring a season, and for the coach to take notes during or just after every practice; how did things go? Were new concepts well received? How much progress was made? You should also identify feedback for individuals as soon as possible after each practice; some will take to new concepts faster than others, and a brief follow-up call can often help people to understand.


Coaching is a constant learning journey, each year you pick up tip and tricks which change for the different age groups, you coach. It is very important that we as coaches pass this knowledge on to the next coaching team to give a leg up and ultimately develop the next generation of players.

To enable this, all coaches MUST keep the session plans in the Club Central Repository, (on Google Drive) so that other coaches can review and learn how to conduct a session for this age group