Training Like a Pro in an Amateur Set Up: GAA Performance

The world and its dog know that being a top inter-county player takes a lot of commitment, ambition, and skill. Every year we hear of the latest methods that inter-county teams are trying out to get the edge on their competitors, and we constantly hear the word ‘professional’ when describing our top players and even at the top club level. GAA strength and conditioning is now part of most inter county setups. For the uninitiated, the term ‘professional’ conjures up images of 4 hour training sessions and 5am starts. The reality of the situation is that the GAA is not a ‘professional’ sports organization, even at the very highest levels. The vast majority of players have 9-5 jobs or are in college, and this need to be taken into account. However we still have extremely dedicated players that want to get to the very edge of their potential, and if this sounds like you, its important that you don’t fall into the ‘just train more’ mentality. To sustain a high level of performance, and to keep on improving, you need some guidelines about how you can push the boundaries of your training but maintain good recovery levels and have enough energy to do your day job with the enthusiasm that it deserves.

I know from working in a full time professional team set up that the biggest difference between the professional athlete and the top amateurs is the recovery allowed from training and games, and the planning that goes into the training. Especially in-season. Being a GAA player is like having a badge of honor. You give sweat blood and tears on Sunday, and turn in for work on Monday morning, when the Rugby player has a lie in and a massage. At first this may seem like a disadvantage to you, but in fact it is what makes the GAA so great and we should be proud of it. However being an amateur does not mean being haphazard with your training.

The following are a few tips that are absolutely crucial if you want to bring your training beyond what you are currently doing, which is probably 2 team sessions, a match, and a gym session here or there.

Follow sound nutrition guidelines

This is the point that probably requires the most work. You need to consistently follow a set of nutrition guidelines that are supporting your goals, helping you recover, and giving you the energy to blast through each day as you lead your double life as an amateur athlete. 

Have a post training/ match recovery protocol

As I mentioned in the introduction, the big difference between the professional an the amateur is the dedication to proper recovery from training and matches. You need to get yourself into a recovery routine, especially after games. It does not have to be a large complex system, and can be as easy as having a recovery smoothie in the dressing room, spending 20 minutes foam rolling, and having a wade around in the nearby sea water if it is safe. Getting into the groove of a post-game recovery protocol will help keep you injury free and reduce the aches and pains that you will have the following day,

Plan Your week

As an amateur, this is an invaluable task. Sit down and write out all the team sessions that are scheduled in the week. Now write in when you want to do your gym session (s), when you will do your recovery, and any other sessions that you want to do. Keep the training schedule reasonable and realistic. For example, if you train on Tuesday and Thursday with your club, and play your matches on Saturday, then doing a gym session on Monday would fit in well. Wednesday as a day off, and Friday would be suited to a skill based session (light kick around/ ball alley etc). Play the match on Saturday, do you post game recovery protocol afterwards, and maybe do something light on Sunday if you feel like it. As an in-season week, this would work really well.

Consider other things that are going on in your life.

One of the big mistakes that I often see with Gaelic Footballers or hurlers who want to advance their playing careers, especially the young ones, is that they think that they just need to train more and more to improve, and therefore try to squeeze two sessions in each day. This can be a big mistake, and will eventually lead to injury or burn out. Remember you are an amateur, and I say that with great respect for the term,. You are in effect leading a double life. The life of a fully committed athlete, and the life of a [insert your job title here]. So if you want to train twice per day from time to time, the do it on a day where there is not a huge load on you in terms of your job and other commitments. Do it when you will not be under pressure and rushing around for the rest of the day, and when you know you have enough time to get your post training nutrition. Also remember what’s coming down the line later that week. Doing 2 sessions per day can be a bad idea when you have a big game that weekend. Doing a double session can be a great way to bring your development on, but only if you are getting enough recovery in afterwards, and when you have planned your week properly.

Analyze your performance and take action to improve

After a game identify what you could have improved on. We have our own way of doing this at ACLAÍ, but essentially, you need to pick one or two things from each performance, and spend some meaningful time on improving them. It could be your free-taking, tackling, shooting, or even your speed off the mark. This is a sure fire way to keep moving towards your goals and improving your performance.

This Article is by ACLAÍ Owner, Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.