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Separating strong and weaker kids at games

  • 03-06-2022 12:56am
    Registered Users Posts: 2

    My 8 year old son plays football with his local gaa club. The coaches segregate the players into stronger and weaker groups in training and matches. Their justification is that the weaker kids don't get as much ball time with the stronger lads and would have more time on the ball with lads on their own level of ability. This make sense but in recent games they split the teams but the weaker lads are mixed in with under age lads from the same club but from a different team. To me it feels like his team are moving on and the weaker lads are getting left behind with a younger age level.

    I'm behind the coaches but my son has started asking questions like "where are the other lads" from his team and "why are we playing with the younger lads".

    Is GAA about developing youngsters into players or just having the best team?



  • Registered Users Posts: 4,957 ✭✭✭kirk.

    A and B teams and players interchangeable in between A and B as they improve or worsen

    That's usually the format I see at underage

  • Registered Users Posts: 851 ✭✭✭Deskjockey

    They should just be playing with their friends at that age.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,400 ✭✭✭MrMusician18

    Sad to see the same **** is still happening decades since I was that age. For many coaches, yes, GAA is about having the best team above all else and that includes teaching and developing young players.

    The likely result is that the weaker players will just drift away from the sport, moving to something else where they are actually encouraged rather than sidelined. If any of those 8 y/o that have been moved to the weaker group are still playing by the time they are U14 I'd be surprised.

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,957 ✭✭✭kirk.

    You seem to be having a general rant at the gaa

    Players have to be split into groups because of numbers and abilities

    But ya when there's a trophy on the line the subs won't get game time , that happens

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,400 ✭✭✭MrMusician18

    I'm not having a rant thanks. Streaming for ability at that age is a bad idea because those already behind will fall further and further behind. By the time the sport becomes competitive you'll have lost all these players probably for good. Sport shouldn't competitive at u8 or u10 level. It should be about developing skills, but primarily fun and play.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 5,723 ✭✭✭creedp

    Just need to ensure the weak lads hang around for as long as possible to pay the membership and contribute to all the fundraisers.. Those trophies don't come cheap these days

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,606 ✭✭✭Treppen

    From having a few young kids in it (and in the mid group of 3 streams) I think it's the only way. If it were all mixed ability the weaker kids without the same skills would be sidelined pretty quick , while the stronger kids would just be running rings around the others thinking they were the beez knees.

    I literally watch 3 different streams every training every week. My own lads have come on immensely thanks to the coaches and the really good lads have to rocketed ahead far more than if they were mixed. It started out at 6 yrs old and everyone was piled together.

    They all know they're streamed and know if they want on the good team they have to work. If they want to chill then there's a place for them too.

    But coaches and parents are key. The coaches of the 3 streams mix around every week and give each group the same encouragement and advice to become better and have fun.

    Maybe it's because our club is relatively big, if it's a smaller club then maybe theres a different dynamic.

    ...and just to throw another spanner in the works... I believe in streaming... But think boys and girls should play together.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,652 ✭✭✭Tombo2001


    Post edited by Tombo2001 on

  • Registered Users Posts: 15,618 ✭✭✭✭Leroy42


  • Registered Users Posts: 1,486 ✭✭✭Uncle Pierre

    Am guessing that anyone who says streaming shouldn't happen isn't actually involved in coaching themselves.

    Am with my own club's U9 group. We have 35 to 40 regulars, and they're split in three streams of 12 to 14 each. We do 60 to 70% hurling, and the rest football.

    In hurling, the A stream lads are capable of picking up the ball on the run, soloing, and sticking it over the bar from 25 yards out or further. They've no fear of getting stuck into one another when competing for the ball either. Most if not all have been coming to the club since joining the Nursery at three or four years of age, so they've already got four or five years of good coaching behind them. Some are sons of current or recent senior hurlers, so they've been getting good practice at home since they could walk too!

    At the other end, we have a group including lads who joined just this year or late last year, and others from non-traditional GAA backgrounds (i.e. we have boys from Polish, Hungarian, Italian, and French families). All still need work on their ground stroke, particularly off their "weaker" side (although we don't say "weaker" in training - we just say "other side" or left side/right side). All need several attempts to pick up a ball (either roll lift or jab lift). Striking from the hand is beyond them at this stage, and one or two need reminding at every training session on how to even hold a hurl. Most if not all are nervous of tackles, and have a fear of maybe being struck by a hurl if they get in close to somebody else.

    You simply can't mix them together all the time. The C stream needs to do different drills because they're at a different stage of their hurling development. The A stream would be bored by those drills, and need something more challenging. And in mini games at the end of training, the A stream lads would run rings around the others, and the C stream would hardly get a tap at the ball.

    Nobody is stigmatised as being "just a B" or "only a C" for the whole year. Lads are moved up a grade when they're ready for it. Nobody is ever moved down, because that would be too demoralising.

    Finally, it's not the case that the "best" coaches are with A, and the "worst" with C. We rotate regularly between them, so that every coach spends time with every player. And one of the best things in coaching is when you help to develop a lad enough for him to be promoted to a higher grade. We've a Chinese boy who held a hurl for the first time and started right from scratch in the pitch three years ago, but he's so interested and enthusiastic that he's now one of our top three or four players.

    Hopefully this is enough to show that streaming works well when done well. But obviously, I can only speak for my own club. If some other club uses it as an excuse to fob "the bad lads" off to the far end of the field, with any oul' eejit to look after them, then obviously that's not what it's about, and it wouldn't work so well there.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 111 ✭✭Killed

    I'm coaching a few years and I've come to the realisation that as a club coach has the kids for only an hour or so a week it's nigh on impossible to bring them to a level up if they don't practice themselves.

    I've very rarely seen a weaker player improve much over the years as frankly they don't practice at home. I think that's the key and that's why coaches with limited coaching time tend to concentrate on the better players.

  • Registered Users Posts: 7,686 ✭✭✭whippet

    I'm of the opposite opinion.

    I have 30 kids of all different abilities and we do have them separated in to two squads. The format for the split was simple - kept the friends together and those who were in the same school.

    So you have all abilities on both squads. Plenty of blitzs and game time for everyone. Thankfully the stronger players accept that some are not as good as them and don't go around bitching and moaning when they make mistakes etc.

    What has fostered is a really great group of young 10 year old lads who work together and enjoy their training sessions / matches. I know that in a couple of years a few of these lads will disappear out of the group but the stronger more interested ones will stay on and form the basis of a strong team with a really strong bond.

    The stronger lads don't get stronger by the hour or two a week at training - they develop their skills practicing what they learned day in day out in the back garden or in the field with their mates after school.

    U10 football isn't about winning, isn't about being the best - it's about learning to be part of a team, be physically active and developing the life time love of a sport.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,872 ✭✭✭ebbsy

    It is up to the coaches to get all the players up to speed.

    For example if the lads are doing soloing drills, what we would do is watch them all do it.

    The strugglers would then do extra ones, with a bit of friendly coaching.

    Dumping kids to a different group is just lazy, and it does not improve them.

    There are plenty of other sports out there to choose from.....

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,465 ✭✭✭celt262

    It definitely is not up to the coaches as in an hour a week you can only do so much. From my experience the ones who improve the most are the ones who practice at home. We have a few with us who after 2/3 years you would think never seen a ball before as they cannot even get the basics right while others are flying.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,486 ✭✭✭Uncle Pierre

    You're actually not as far off our approach as you might think.

    Take soloing, for example (either hurling or football). We've watched everybody do it, and we know who's good at it and who's not so good. The better ones will do one type of drill - soloing around obstacles, or with somebody challenging them for the ball. Others will do a drill where it's simply about learning to balance the ball (hurling) or toe-tap it to themselves (football). We don't need to first watch them all together at every session to know who's more suitable to which drill.

    And if allocating some of them to a different and simpler drill is just "dumping them off", as you suggest, then is your way of having them stay to do extra ones - instead of moving on to something else - not just a form of "dumping them off" too?

    Either way, I very much beg to differ that putting kids in a different group doesn't help to improve them. Just this week, we moved two boys up from Stream C to Stream B. When we started back in March, both were struggling to do even a ground stroke from one side. Now they're pulling confidently and well from both sides, and are generally able to pick up the ball at first attempt too. That's all because they got more coaching on those basics than they would have done if everybody was just all mixed in together all the time.

    And finally, while I agree it's up to coaches to help get players up to speed, remember the coaches generally only have the players for two or maybe three hours per week. It's the ones who are encouraged at home and practice outside of club training sessions who will develop quicker. Parents have a massive role to play in that regard too.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,486 ✭✭✭Uncle Pierre

    Overlooked this one earlier. You're right, wrong, and somewhere in between, all in the space of a few sentences.

    "Streaming for ability at that age is a bad idea because those already behind will fall further and further behind" - wrong, and I've already demonstrated how streaming will help bring players on if it's done well.

    "By the time the sport becomes competitive you'll have lost all these players probably for good" - in between, and will come back to this one.

    "Sport shouldn't competitive at u8 or u10 level. It should be about developing skills, but primarily fun and play." - 100% right, and by streaming, you can make sure everybody gets the appropriate level of coaching on the most important skills for the level they're currently at, and have fun while they're doing it. That's far better than some becoming disillusioned because things are too hard, and others growing bored because they're too easy. There's no "one size fits all" for a group of 30 to 40 kids in any activity or setting.

    Also, I'm guessing you might be unaware that it's actually a rule of the GAA that it doesn't become competitive until U12 at the earliest? All the way up to U11, it's "Go Games", where everybody gets to play and there are no trophies or titles at stake. Maybe have a read of

    And now back to the middle one - yes, an unfortunate truth is that some kids will drop away between the ages of about 8 and about 12 or 13. Also that they'll probably mostly be the ones from a Stream C, because they're generally the ones who are not interested in it enough anyway to practice at home in between training sessions. But coaches can't force kids to develop an interest or practice at home. And it's the same in all sorts of other activities too. Any music or Irish dancing teacher will tell you they've got far more 8-year-olds than 12-year-olds. My local rugby and soccer clubs have got far more 8-year-olds than 12-year-olds too.

    I've a nephew who's 14. When he was 8, he did GAA, soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and music lessons. Now he just does soccer and swimming. It's not because his GAA club (a different one to mine, by the way), his gymnastics club or his music teacher did anything wrong - he just hadn't the interest to keep them going when he got older.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,652 ✭✭✭Tombo2001

    This I have an issue with.

    A lot of parents treat the coaches as if they are paid employees rather than actually other parents that give up their time to mentor 'your' kids.

    Its not up to the coaches to get all players up to speed - as mentioned earlier, if one kid is pucking around with their mum or dad after school every day, and another kid whose parents wouldnt know a sliotar from a tennis ball, and doesnt hit the ball once between training sessions - there is no coach in the world can remedy that.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,652 ✭✭✭Tombo2001

    Devils advocate - in your group, what % of mentor kids are in strongest, in middle and weakest groups

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,652 ✭✭✭Tombo2001

    The major problems with streaming, especially at young age, are as follows (in my experience, and I see this in many clubs):

    (i) If you have a group of say 50 players, and you divide them into A and B and C - yes you have 6 or 7 players at the top end who are brilliant with 8-yr olds who can do a Joe Canning sideline over the bar, and then you've got the 6 or 7 at the bottom that really have zero interest and are waiting for the day that their parents dont make them go any more.

    In the middle you've got a big group of about 35 players where there really isnt much between them at all BUT some of these find themselves in the A team and some of these find themselves in C team.

    What happens then is that players get pigeonholed and are viewed as C players or A players. And of course there is a bit of movement, but ultimately the good C player now needs to be be much better than the B players just to get a move up, even though he/she was never any worse than them in the first place.

    There is never as much movement as there should be because as someone mentioned above it would be 'too distressing' to move players down.

    (ii) At this point you are saying to an 8 year old - you are a C player. This follows through to the schoolyard where its now - what team are you in. I'm in the C team. They can actually get teased about it if things go wrong. Its just a complete pisstake to put 8 years olds through this. Particularly those that cant understand why someone they are as good as are on the B team or A team.

    And there is always some bull about - we dont call them A B and C, we call them the Blues and the Reds and Greens.....but kids can work that out in 3 seconds.

    (iii) the mentors mostly have kids on the A or B teams. So they dont see these problems. They only see all the benefits to their own kids of having them in with other strong players.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,486 ✭✭✭Uncle Pierre

    A fair question, and one I was going to address in my earlier post, except I thought it was long enough already!

    We have six coaches. Three of them are Dads with sons involved, and three have no direct connection with any of the boys.

    Of the Dads and lads - one of them is exceptional and I fully expect him to play senior inter-county one day. He's absolutely obsessed with hurling, and plays every spare minute he has.

    My own lad was Stream B last year but moved up to A this year, partly due to being in a different crop this year and now being "up to the age", but also largely due to plenty of practice over the winter.

    The other Dad's lad is a C, and to be honest, isn't particularly interested in it at all. The Dad finds it hard to get him to practice at home, and as stated previously, he can't force him to.

    Remember we all rotate between the groups. It's not the case that two of us only ever coach Stream A, where our own lads are.

    By the way, surely if you have a group of 50, you'd be looking to have more than three groups? I'd be thinking at least five, even if they were A, three B's, and a C. If you're a big enough club to have 50 kids coming at that age, you should be big enough to have enough adults coaching too, to allow that to happen.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 6,652 ✭✭✭Tombo2001

    The thing on a group of 50 was just for illustration purposes - in other words about 15% of the kids stand out as being strong, 15% stand out as being weak and 70% are somewhere in the middle.

    However, the streaming means that there is a line drawn down the middle. Or a third a third a third.

    50 kids would not cover you for three teams at u14; its four groups at u9.

    To be honest the way it should be done in my view is that teams are streamed for match day - but that only the very strong and very weak are streamed for training purposes. And that that group in the middle is fluid on match day, can be C one day and A the next day.

    Going back to that group of 50 - the 35 in the middle should not be streamed as there is a much of a muchness between them.

    With the rigid streaming piece, the player that really loses out is the good C player - because they are stuck in with a bunch who dont care, who mess, who stand back and avoid the ball. And with a mentor whose child is over on the A team, and is looking over every five minutes to see how the A game is going. (Not always like this, but frequently like this).

    Here's a thing - Ballyboden are one of the strongest clubs in Dublin at all juvenile ages, and they stream later than anyone else and later than the county board advises. Not saying its linked, but Jim Gavin is an underage mentor there.

  • Registered Users Posts: 21,190 ✭✭✭✭PARlance

    Very interesting discussion and something I'm starting out in with my kids. We've about 40 U9's. They split them into U8's and U9's for training and matches and don't stream other than that. Teams are evenly picked etc. for matches.

    Himself and a few of the stronger 8's were fairly disappointed when they found out that they wouldn't be training with the older lads. They had been training throughout the winter with them (club decided to do Friday night sessions on astro for anyone interested, so the numbers weren't as great).

    There has been some good improvement in a few of the lads in the U8 group who may have been seen as weaker, but I do get the sense that the stronger lads are missing out by not testing themselves against some of the U9's.

    I was involved in coaching last year when the were U7 but can't with work commitments this year, and I'd never mention anything unless I was involved, but I do get the sense that they're missing a trick by not mixing the ages up a little. They're all in the same bracket at the end of the day. Even from a social sense, it's better for them to be mixing imo.

    Is this the way most clubs do it, i.e keeping it year by year within the 2 year brackets?

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,872 ✭✭✭ebbsy

    Parents get too emotional about their kids. I was that parent once as well.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,872 ✭✭✭ebbsy

    I still think its up to the coaches to direct the kids properly. To improve them. And if we do that, we are doing our best.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,872 ✭✭✭ebbsy

    I trained my own son for a few years.

    Was it a good idea ? Probably not, looking back now.

  • Registered Users Posts: 4,662 ✭✭✭elefant

    Excellent discussion.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,652 ✭✭✭Tombo2001


    you also right about parents getting too emotional about the kids. The biggest biggest thing is - are they enjoying it. Easy to lose sight of this. The silent sidelines thing for example is a good idea in this regard, there is still too much roaring on the sideline.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,872 ✭✭✭ebbsy

  • Registered Users Posts: 3,353 ✭✭✭KaneToad

    This is not unique to GAA.

    All team sports suffer from mismanagement in this regard. The pursuit of the 'win' becomes the sole focus. But it's the guaranteed way to lose a % of your players.

    All players who want to train & play games should be thrown into the mix and two teams of mixed ability should be created. It's children's sports, the child should be central.

    It is far better to retain a child playing the sport into adulthood than having the bragging rights of your club having the best children's team.

    Why does anyone even play amateur team sports? It's for the enjoyment, the fitness, the camaraderie. Segregating children by ability decimates the participation rates and ensures the enjoyment/fitness/camaraderie is just for those who were deemed 'elite' when they were a child.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 29,519 ✭✭✭✭whelan2

    Saw a really talented lad give up football completely as his dad was a lunatic on the sidelines. No need for it at all