A new model of participation in Gaelic Games
Traditionally in Gaelic games, there has been a tendency to nurture the perceived best and to the
neglect of the rest. This has arisen from the adult training and adult conditions that we expose our young players to, and has led to a situation where many players who develop at a different rate to their peers – for a variety of reasons – drop out of Gaelic games due to a lack of confidence in their ability, a lack of playing time and lack of fun.
In recent years, there has been a greater appreciation and increased recognition of the need to ensure that a child-centred approach is adopted where the promotion and development of Gaelic games is concerned.
In other words, it should be a case of children first, winning second.
What are Go Games?
The GAA has responded to this need by designing six individual skill development
games, known as Go Games. Go Games are small-sided, modified rules games in both
Hurling (Go Hurling) and Gaelic Football (Go Gaelic) called First Touch (under-8),
Quick Touch (under-10) and Smart Touch (under-12).
Each of the games is accompanied by a series of coaching classes which provide coaches
with the ability to develop the specific skills for each game. The games are progressive in
terms of the Technical, Tactical and Team Play challenges they present as the children
become more competent, while the physical demands are also increased as the children
Why are Go Games important?
The Go Games are the first step in the Pathway to Elite Performance (PEP). The Pathway
has been designed to ensure that all participants Play to Learn, Learn to Compete and,
with time, Compete to Win as they progress through its four stages: the Recreation Stage
(Fun Do), Talent Identification Stage (Can Do), the Talent Transfer Stage (Want To) and
the Elite Performance Stage (Will Do).
In essence Go Games provide the fundamental playing opportunity for young Gaelic Games players.
Research on Go Games
Small-sided games have been used for many years in a wide range of sports as a way of
developing the tactical and technical abilities of players of all ages. However, to date
there has been a distinct lack of scientific research to validate their use. Research
conducted at DCU, under the guidance of Prof Niall Moyna has shed some light on this,
and was a crucial reference in the development of the Go Games. The research,
conducted by Mickey Whelan, was based on a number of hypotheses:
• The physical response would be greater during a 7-a-side game than a 15-a-side
• Individual involvement – in terms of intentional ball contacts – would be greater
during a 7-a-side game than a 15-a-side game.
• Levels of enjoyment and perceived competence would be greater during a 7-aside
game than a 15-a-side game.
Modifying the playing area of the 7-a-side game to ensure that each player had the same
playing area to ‘work’ in allowed researchers to negate any influence of a greater playing
area on the physical or technical data. By tracking the same 7 players in a 15 and 7-a-side
game (each of 30 minute duration) the data showed that the players were subjected to a
greater physical demand in the small-sided game, while the number of intentional ball
contacts, over a range of skills – including catches, kicks and scoring attempts, were
significantly higher in the modified game.
Players also reported a greater level of enjoyment and had higher levels of perceived
confidence playing the 7-a-side game than the 15-a-side game. Players worked harder,
got possession of the ball more often and had an increased number of opportunities to
score in the small-sided game – who wouldn’t enjoy it more!
Competition ‘versus’ Development
In developing the philosophy and values which underpin Go Games we compared the key
factors associated with the traditional competitive model of participation and an
alternative developmental model of participation.
The competitive model is identified by its focus on the outcome, i.e. winning. The best
way to ensure this outcome is to use the full compliment of the rules and to use the best
players to exploit them. This in turn has a negative influence on the use of substitutes, as
a substitute system is often used to keep the poorer players on the line and ensure that the
best combination of players are on the field throughout a game. On the field the game
itself is often dominated by the better players, particularly in juvenile competitions.
Furthermore the ‘win at all costs’ competitive model is often marked by an environment
of increased and inappropriate parent and mentor pressure on the players. Taking these
factors into account one can safely assume that for many players such a model limits
By contrast a developmental model of participation focuses on development of the
players, and as such can utilise modified rules and equipment to best suit their current
level of ability. As winning is not the ultimate focus the model can cater for a variety of
numbers and full participation can be assured making the idea of substitutes obsolete.
Applied wisely the model can be used by coaches to help players set and achieve
individual goals and focus on particular limits to their play. It can also be modified and
adapted further to cater for the varying needs of the players as they develop in order to
consistently set appropriate challenges and provide opportunity for achievement. In
essence the developmental model is about fun, fair play and full participation.
Playing Go Games
A summary of the Go Games playing rules is illustrated in figures 2 and 3. These playing
rules are not necessarily set in stone – there is no reason why the rules cannot be
modified to meet the varying needs and abilities that coaches meet ‘on the ground’.
However, the philosophy of the Go Games – to promote full participation and fair play
while catering for the developmental needs of the participants – is central to their success,
as is the principle of ensuring that each player gets to play the entire game and
experiences a number of different playing positions during each game. These are the true
value of Go Games.
Summary of playing rule and playing equipment modifications in Go Games Football
Refereeing Go Games
Go Games are not only about Fair Play in the sense that all participants should get the
opportunity to participate fully in the games. They are about Fair Play in terms of
developing sportsmanship and in terms of respecting the opposition, respecting the match
officials and respecting the game and a number of rules have been included specifically
to reinforce these elements
Go Games also provide an ideal opportunity to introduce young Referees to our games. It
is recommended that children as young as 12 would referee Go Games and to this end a
course has been developed to provide them with the knowledge and capabilities to do so.
With positive support and mentoring there is no reason why they cannot!