'Whole backroom team needs to be able to coach now'
Following the GAA's decision to insist coaches of inter-county teams are qualified, Damian Lawlor sought reaction from some managers
Responses ranged from the unconvinced to the uninformed. Not everybody is sold on this latest diktat from Croke Park.
We contacted two managers from each province and three of the eight hadn't even heard about the new rule. Furthermore, not alone do they not have the necessary qualification, they have no intention of attaining it either.
Four more had heard of the new directive but hadn't yet got their Award 2 badge. They said, however, that they would have no problem doing so. Just one manager we spoke to had achieved the qualification. He joked that as he was in such a unique position he would surely be in huge demand when 2016 came around.
Five had taken foundation courses at some point in their lives, but hadn't seen the need to go any further and none of those quizzed were aware that club-level head coaches would have to be Award 1 certified within the same time-frame.
"At club level, every second person fancies having a crack at the local senior team," one of the managers said. "So it's no harm in having something in place to ensure that they at least know what they are talking about.
"I would make the point, though, that it's highly different at the level we're at. Most of us have 20 or 30 years' experience in the game, either as players or coaches and managers in the top flight, and you learn from that. A piece
of paper will not determine whether you are a good or bad coach."
But where is the harm in self-development?
"Are you telling me that Mickey Harte or Brian Cody who have won what they have would need to go off and do a course like this?" the manager replied. "Would you stop! Paper doesn't mean anything -- managers and coaches have to have a feel for this job and know how to handle both their players and their opponents. You can go into a room or a workshop and listen to all these talks and presentations but sometimes the only way you learn about a player is on the field, or via close contact with them."
The GAA, however, says that only the head coach -- and not necessarily the manager -- would be compelled to have this qualification. And by 2018 those respective coaches must have surpassed Award 2 level and be fully qualified. It's the first strike against the trend of parachuting in ex-county players who may not be particularly suited.
Tipperary under 21 football manager David Power is a younger breed of manager -- he recently turned 30 -- and says it makes sense to bring qualifications to a backroom team. While Tipperary's development squads were training at Dr Morris Park last year, Power could be seen orchestrating drills, tactical five-a-sides and other game-related disciplines under the watchful eye of coaching officer Pat Moroney in order to reach the coaching standards required.
It's not just those two who are equipped to coach the county under 21 team. Along with Power and Moroney, Pat Flanagan, Gerry McGill and Alan O'Connor also work with the under 21s and are all experienced coaches.
"It means that every session we have is totally different and there are some different voices at every session. The players love that," says Power. "Sure there will be disagreements and friction from time to time but that's part of the game in any set-up."
But Power says raising standards is a very positive move and can see little reason why anyone would react negatively to it. "Just because you have a certificate, it doesn't mean you will be a good manager. There are a lot of other factors to be taken into account like can you communicate? How good are your game plans? Can you delegate and trust?
"The problem is that some managers who have been there and done that wouldn't really see the need to go down this road and fair enough, that's up to them. I would say the vast majority of them wouldn't have the qualification and wouldn't be interested in getting it either.
"But while the Award 2 process is time-consuming you can get a lot out of it too. Don't get me wrong, it will not win an All-Ireland for you but through the various workshops you pick up things and the great thing for me was that I got talking to other people and learned from them too.
"You are basically ticking a box. It's part of what you need to do to get to where you want to go. It will not change your style of coaching but it will help you along. I don't see it as a big deal."
Power also stresses the rule will apply to head coaches specifically. "This is crucial because the roles of a manager and coach are completely different now. Someone mentioned recently that the GAA were also looking into running actual managerial courses as well and that would be another good development because as a manager these days you have to be a psychologist, organiser, logistics expert, communicator and tactician. You need your coach to help devise game plans and plays -- all that sort of stuff -- so they need to know what they are doing. But as I said I think the whole backroom needs to be able to coach now. The days of a stand-up selector are going; everyone has to be able to take a session, or part of it."
A managerial course could help establish proper channels of communication between players and officials, and look at the importance of media relations. Such a programme would offer advice on how to set discipline charters, how to enforce rules and how to deal with controversies, both internal and external.
While there is a fear that mandatory coaching demands could diminish interest in managerial positions, especially at club level, the flip side is that there could be enhanced benefits for teams.
Many counties employ full-time games development officers and coaches who are grossly under-utilised when it comes to working with their inter-county senior -- and even club -- teams.
Maybe, apart from improving and streamlining the coaching process, the GAA are also keeping an eye on county boards and giving them the option of reducing associated team costs accrued from working with outside managers and coaches. If a fully-qualified games development officer is on a county's books, why not use him or her more?
Leinster Council currently employs 38 Games Development Administrators but despite their ground-level expertise very few of these feature or appear in inter-county set-ups.
In the meantime, every aspiring manager or coach should consider taking the Award 2 qualification. There are deficits in the skill set of every manager and rather than denying that, it's better to recognise what they are and embrace the challenge of rectifying what needs to be improved.
These coaching demands are all about working towards best practice. And more than anything else the mandatory qualifications might reduce the amount of flogging players are subjected to. In fact, it could be the most practical way of nipping the burnout dilemma at source.