coaching survey
coaching survey

Gaelic Games to benefit from lessons of coaching survey

By John Harrington

The GAA, LGFA, and Camogie Association today published the findings of the largest ever coach development survey undertaken in Irish Sport.

Over 10,400 coaches took part in the survey that that has led today’s publication of ‘Coaching and Coach Education in Gaelic games: a benchmark report’.

The report gives an invaluable insight to the volume of work being undertaken by the volunteer coaches of the three Gaelic Games sports organisations that will now inform coach development policy at National, Provincial, County, School, and Club levels. spoke with the GAA’s Strategy, Insights, and Innovation Manager, Dr. Peter Horgan, who led the research study, about how the lessons learned from the survey will now be implemented.

You can download ‘Coaching and Coach Education in Gaelic games: a benchmark report’ at the bottom of this article.

** Peter, the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Association has today published the result of a survey titled, 'Coaching and Coach Education in Gaelic Games: A benchmark report'. What exactly is the substance of this report?

Dr. Peter Horgan: The report that we have produced is the first example of a report from across Ladies Football, Camogie, and GAA that looks at both the practices and the experiences of coaches. Not just from across the various different playing platforms, but also across the different experience levels.

What we had intended on doing was trying to find out and understand more about our coaches and their experiences. Their experiences both of coaching and training teams, of playing games, and their experiences of coach education. We were also interested as well in how they saw the future. What would they like to see in the future? What would they see as impacting on how they did their job? And, also, what type of learning or what type of events would they like to attend into the future to develop themselves?

The GAA's Strategy, Insights, and Innovation Manager, Dr. Peter Horgan, pictured speaking at the 2020 GAA Games Development Conference. 
The GAA's Strategy, Insights, and Innovation Manager, Dr. Peter Horgan, pictured speaking at the 2020 GAA Games Development Conference. Who has been involved in putting this survey together?

Dr. Peter Horgan: There was a broad coalition of people involved and they're all listed in the report itself. We had people from Camogie, Ladies Football, and the GAA. Sport Ireland were also involved and there was a significant input from Universities - IT Sligo, UCC, Mary Immaculate College, DCU, UCD, University of Ulster, and the University of Georgia in the USA. There was a lot of expertise from a lot of different areas and I think that breadth of experience helped to pull this together. It's the largest ever coaching survey ever conducted in Ireland?

Dr. Peter Horgan: Yes, it is. There are other studies that have been done internationally, but those have been largely done by the equivalent of Sports Councils or Universities which are multi-sport. From what we can figure out it's the largest study that has been ever conducted in a single organisation or a single governing body or single sport. So even though this is across Ladies Football, Camogie, and the GAA, if we were to view the Gaelic Games codes as a single entity, from what we understand it's the largest coaching study that has ever been conducted anywhere. In general, from all the information you've gleaned from this survey, what does the vista of coaching in Gaelic Games look like? Is it generally positive?

Dr. Peter Horgan: We had over 10,500 responses in total and when we analysed the survey responses there was over 4 million data points. There were responses from all over Ireland and overseas. So it was an enormous volume of information that we had to work through. We then had several focus groups for coaches from across different domains. So, for example, coaches of children, teenagers, adults, clubs, schools, inter-county, male, female, and so on. 

Once we break it down, the headline findings are quite positive for us. Coaches in Gaelic Games tend to be very active, very committed to their games, very committed to their teams. They also tend to coach multiple times per week, and they commit a significant amount of time every week to coaching and games related activities. The coaches tend to be well-educated. Over 91% of our coaches have some form of coaching qualification, which is quite heartening when you consider the volume of work that's been ongoing in that area in the last 20 years or so. A huge number of the coaches had more than 5 years coaching experience. And when we asked about whether they wanted to stay involved, again, a huge number of those coaches identify that they were going to stay involved in coaching. That’s not to say that everything is perfect. Coaches would also like more support, build greater coaching capacity in their club. What this study does is provide us with some guidance towards helping coaches.

St Aidan's SNS, Brookfield players listen to their coach Mark Moloney, right, during the Corn Mhic Chaoilte Shield Final against St Cronan's SNS, Brackenstown, during day two of the 2019 Allianz Cumann na mBunscol Finals at Croke Park in Dublin. 
St Aidan's SNS, Brookfield players listen to their coach Mark Moloney, right, during the Corn Mhic Chaoilte Shield Final against St Cronan's SNS, Brackenstown, during day two of the 2019 Allianz Cumann na mBunscol Finals at Croke Park in Dublin. Using the information that has been gleaned from the survey, what sort of policy recommendations will be made?

Dr. Peter Horgan: There's a few different things that have come up come out of this already. The main study has already generated two smaller studies. We have a study of Gaelic Games at primary school level and also a study of female coaches in Gaelic Games. 

Both of those two studies are already ongoing and we hope to be able to in a position to produce those reports in the next couple of months. 

There were some strong recommendations from across the coaches to have leadership within clubs for coaching. It is the case across many clubs that they would have a club coaching officer, for example, but the strong recommendation from our coaches was that this role be formalised in all clubs. 

The Games Development Committee has now submitted a motion that will go to Annual Congress in February, looking at creating the role of the Club Coaching Officer. While it has been in place in lots of clubs already, it's not an official role within the Official Guide. So that's one of the things that has come out of it immediately. 

Some of the coach education information, for example, will also allow us to look at our provision of coach education, what it is that we provide. And, again, the coach education group that we have within the organization are looking at reformatting our coach education support at the moment. That would very much be in line with the results of this study in terms of the format of the education the coaches wish to receive or maybe some of the content of education the coaches wish to receive. That will all be coming on stream again in the next in the next number of months. The importance of clubs developing a Coach Development Plan for their own coaches was also highlighted in the survey?

Dr. Peter Horgan: Absolutely. We would all know that our clubs are centres of player development. Our players join the club and they improve and become better players and become more skilled and more proficient at playing our games. But, equally, the feedback was very strong that we wanted our clubs to be centres where coaches improve too.

The hope would be that part of the function of the Club Coaching Officer would be that the standard and the availability of coaches would be part of that role. What we'll be looking at doing is having each club devising a plan towards the development of their own coaches.

What type of education might they require? What type of support do they require? What resources might they require?

What we are looking support clubs to develop a club coach development plan whereby clubs will become a centre for the development of their own coaches which would mean that clubs can be more self-sufficient in that regard. And that as well as the standard of player improving year on year within a within a club, that the standard of coach within the club would also improve year on year. You mentioned that on the back of this survey there's already a study ongoing into the involvement of female coaches in Gaelic Games. In the most simplistic terms, is the goal of that study to find out how best to recruit more female coaches and how best to support them in the role?

Dr. Peter Horgan: Absolutely. About 21% of respondents to the survey were female coaches. What the data which was showing us was that there was a higher proportion of female coaches involved with the younger age groups, with nursery or Go Games players. 

We also looked at why it is that people begin to coach, and a key driver for coaching was that their children began playing our games. So, a son or a daughter might get involved with a club and a mother or father might decide I'll give a hand-out coaching and get involved. And that's a really important thing for every club. 

A goal of our female coach study is to better understand the experiences of female coaches within Gaelic Games.

We are looking at what those experiences are like and how we might encourage more female coaches to get involved in Gaelic Games. It's a study involving several coaches, researchers and academics from across Gaelic games, several universities, and both Sport Ireland and Sport NI to get a better understanding of that experience of being a female coach and what it is that we can do as organizations to better support those female coaches.

Kilkenny camogie star, Grace Walsh was on hand with Grainne O'Brien, age 10, left, and Rachel McAuliffe, age 10, in Bruff GAA Club, Limerick to mark the first day of the 2021 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps.
Kilkenny camogie star, Grace Walsh was on hand with Grainne O'Brien, age 10, left, and Rachel McAuliffe, age 10, in Bruff GAA Club, Limerick to mark the first day of the 2021 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps. 73 per cent of coaches surveyed said that balancing coaching with other demands was their greatest challenge. Presumably, how to better support our coaches in a myriad of different ways will be the priority now that we're armed with some very useful information? Do you think we're now in a better place to support our coaches going forward?

Dr. Peter Horgan: Yes, absolutely. Like I said, our coaches tend to be very, very busy. So, a large number of coaches coach more than one team. A large number of coaches, almost 40%, coach more than one code. They spend more than seven hours per week on coaching related matters. When games are added on top of that, it could be another nine hours in the week on coaching and/or games related matters. So, they're giving massive amounts of their time. 

When that's the case, obviously you have to be very, very careful because people are busy with work, family and other commitments. We need to ensure that when a person dedicates time to coaching Gaelic Games that that time can be best spent. So, for example during the pandemic there was huge engagement by coaches in online learning, webinars, and podcasts. So can we provide those alternative learning opportunities for coaches, rather than in just the traditional format.

And, on more practical basis, maybe looking at things like fixtures programs, to ensure that those coaches that are coaching multiple teams benefit from fixtures programs that makes that easier to do. So, Peter, is the bottom line that a lot of good information has been gathered by this survey which will now be put to good use?

Dr. Peter Horgan: Yes, the huge part always for me is what happens afterwards. Conducting a survey is brilliant and conducting focus groups is brilliant and we've got very rich information from all of our participants who have given us really, really detailed accounts of their coaching practices and their coaching experiences. 

But it's really up to us now as an organisation to be able to take that data and look at our provision of coach education, look at our provision of coaching, look at our resources, look at our support materials, look at all of those things and see how can we make it easier for somebody to get involved as a coach and to stay involves as a coach of one of one of our teams. 

Whether that's organizationally, having a club coaching officer within every club who would be there as the key contact point within the club, looking at our support materials or resources, whether we provide more online materials and so on, and then our education provision. 

So, if we know the coaches are coaching multiple teams and we know the coaches are giving significant amount of time every week to being involved with our teams then let's look at our learning opportunities that we provide and can we provide those in a form and a format that can fit in with those busy lives that coaches are leading?

I think that it is important that we keep engaging in this type of research work. It’s important that we learn more about our coaches and the work that they do. They really are a crucial part of Gaelic games and can have a massive impact on our players and their enjoyment and participation in our games.


The Coaching and Coach Education Study Advisory group was composed of:

Dr Peter Horgan - GAA

Dr Richard Bowles – Mary Immaculate College of Education

Dr John Considine – University College Cork

Dr Paul Donnelly – University of Ulster

William Harmon – Ladies Gaelic Football Association

Hayley Harrison – Sport Ireland Coaching

Dr Seamus Kelly – University College Dublin

Dr Áine MacNamara – Dublin City University

Prof. Bryan McCullick – University of Georgia

Padraig McGourty – IT Sligo

Niall Williams – Camogie Association