Caoimhe Morris is an S&C coach from Dublin, Ireland. She is currently working in underage sport in basketball, rugby, and weightlifting, and she is the Co-Director of the Irish S&C Network (irishscnetwork.com).
Freelap USA: You’re a sports scientist and strength and conditioning coach currently working in women’s rugby and men’s basketball in Ireland. You’re with the Irish U18 basketball national team, an age group where athletic development is highly influenced by growth and maturation. How do you consider that in your program design for the team?
Caoimhe Morris: It’s a huge consideration for us, particularly when working in a sport such as basketball, where we expect to see above-average growth in athletes. Height is also a major factor in basketball, where players can often be kept on or dropped depending on their height alone, regardless of their physical, technical, or tactical skill.
We first see the extended group in November, and we have roughly 12 camps before the European Championships in July. Preparing for, managing, and monitoring maturation is a major part of my role. While we’re limited in terms of technology in Basketball Ireland, we can still do a lot with height measures, weighing scales, and tape measures. It’s equally important to gather data that is accurate, valid, and repeatable—so working within your equipment restraints is vital.It’s important to gather data that is accurate, valid, and repeatable—so working within your equipment restraints is vital, says @coachcaoimhe. Click To Tweet
Programming considerations include maturation status and how that affects:
- Skill retention and development
- Movement skills
- Injury risk
The biggest issue I see in underage athletes going through their “growth spurt” is the “loss” of skill, often leading to increased injury risk. Their body grows, their limbs get longer, and their height increases, and suddenly they’re moving around the court like a deer on ice. This can confuse and frustrate players and coaches alike, but it’s entirely natural and expected.
Implementing some basics into your programming can help reduce the impact of peak height velocity (PHV) on a player and limit the confidence hit they can so often take.
- Basics Build Better Bodies: Regardless of the equipment you have available to you, there are specific movements that athletes should consistently be exposed to, such as squatting, lunging, hinging, pushing, and pulling. Whether that squatting happens to be with body weight only or under a bar is dependent on the equipment you have available, but exposing athletes to the movement is vital. Build your basics and foundation movements into your daily routine, and your athletes going through that peak maturation window will find their development a bit easier to manage.
- Gym Complements Court: Everything you do in terms of gym-based work must contribute to the sport. Doing your needs analysis is vital—what kind of sport is it? What are the demands? Do those demands change depending on position? How can you replicate those demands and build endurance/speed/strength/power in them?
- Player-Specific Programming: General programs are useful when looking at the sport as a whole. However, as you delve deeper into that needs analysis and see what each position, role, and player is required to do, it’s also important to make sure you adapt and build your program around the person. Considerations such as anthropometric measures, maturation status, injury history, and disabilities must be taken into account when designing your program.
Freelap USA: Can you give us your principles or a framework you follow for developing speed and agility in youth basketball players? What are your performance goals for that specific age group of U18 players?
Caoimhe Morris: Speed in basketball will primarily be acceleration and deceleration over short distances. The more exposure we can give athletes in both a controlled/planned and chaotic/unplanned environment, the better. My own progression model for speed and agility development is as follows:
- Observation: Record, watch, and measure the players’ current speed and agility abilities. I use my coaching eye along with video assessment to look at the player’s technique and its effectiveness.
- Technical Basics: This may be controversial, but I’m not a huge fan of wall drills. I understand they are static in nature for a reason, but I prefer A & B walks/skips/runs as an introduction to technique since they don’t completely remove the balance/proprioceptive demands that the wall drills do. So, running through sprinting technique with players via A & B drills is where I start, but…
- Make It Relevant: Speed and agility in basketball are almost always reactive, unplanned, and acceleration-focused. Therefore, moving on from linear drills to reactive and chaotic games that involve changing direction and accelerating in non-linear planes is the next step. Games such as partner chases, partner hunting, and other competitive games with the ball are the final step. You can also use typical speed (5/10/20-meter sprint), agility (T-test), and repetitive (RST) tests in your training plan to develop skills without taking measurements. This removes the performance focus and allows athletes to focus on technique.
All the while, we’re reminding the players that they need to be explosive off that first step, that getting low early is important, and that turning their chest will give them an edge. Repetition of focus points will be necessary across the season.
Performance goals for this group have been power expression and injury resilience. This has probably been the most challenging task in my career so far, as these are players who were attending two- to three-day (eight hours per day) camps with us once a month while also continuing to play with their schools and clubs in the height of the season. Weighing the effectiveness of any programming against the risk of overload has been an ongoing consideration. I decided that I would try to get the most out of the players without increasing their risk of injury to an unacceptable range. So, a strength development program over two days was provided for players until they finished the club season in May. Since then, we have been focusing on transferring that strength into power.
Monitoring is huge for me in terms of daily readiness scores and workout compliance. We use an Irish programming app called RYPT to send out programs and monitor readiness for the guys.
Freelap USA: I know you as someone who’s very passionate about the development and professionalization of women’s rugby, and more and more nations are giving female players professional contracts. We saw this a couple of years earlier in women’s football/soccer in the U.S. and Europe, and we’re experiencing it now in netball and volleyball. How do you think S&C coaches should approach the quick transition of female players from being amateur to professional?
Caoimhe Morris: I would like to see more and more clubs (in Ireland in particular) employ S&C coaches for their female teams for this very reason! The differences in athletic ability between Irish-based players and English-based players are becoming increasingly large. This is something that needs to be addressed urgently by the IRFU before female rugby in Ireland is left in the dust.I would like to see more and more clubs (in Ireland in particular) employ S&C coaches for their female teams, says @coachcaoimhe. Click To Tweet
For S&C coaches dealing with the transition from amateur to professional players—load management and monitoring will be huge. Too much too soon will lead to overload and increased injury risk. My advice is to incrementally increase the exposure to load, movement, and intensity. Introducing readiness monitoring (such as adductor squeeze tests, CMJ testing, ankle ROM, etc.) will be helpful if you have the resources.
Freelap USA: You are not only an S&C coach but also a rugby coach with a World Rugby Level 3 license. When implementing contact drills for tackling in training sessions with amateur players, how do you consider the physical abilities and training age of the players in your teaching progressions?
Caoimhe Morris: There are certain assumptions you can make for different age groups—U12s are probably getting their first exposure to tackling, a lower division senior team may have a lot of experience but little understanding of contact, and a U20 international representative team likely has a high training age and understanding. So, you can pre-plan your sessions in terms of difficulty, intensity, and length in a lot of cases and adapt as you see fit! Meet the players where they are and increase the demands incrementally.
As you mentioned, adaptations will need to be made for differing abilities and training ages—it’s important that we keep sessions safe above all else. For groups with a lower training age, it’s important to limit external stimuli and focus on individual skills. 1v1 work will be your bread and butter, so teach tackle technique, build to stationary partner tackles, and slowly build to jogging, running, and even COD 1v1 tackles.Meet the players where they are and increase the demands incrementally. Adaptations will need to be made for differing abilities and training ages, says @coachcaoimhe. Click To Tweet
Meanwhile, groups with high training ages and appropriate physical abilities will need higher-intensity, highly specific work. While 1v1 work is vital at every level, it is not enough for experienced players on its own. Increasing external stimuli (reactive work, overload attack, etc.)—which brings a heightened decision-making requirement to the drill—is the way to go.
Freelap USA: Besides team sports, you have gained experience and quite some knowledge about throws. What fascinates you about the biomechanics of the throwing disciplines like the hammer throw, javelin, or shot put? How can S&C coaches implement different throws into their program design for developmental athletes?
Caoimhe Morris: I grew up in athletics, starting in XC before getting bored running in circles in a park! I transitioned to throws when I was about 12, under the guidance of an excellent coach named Joe Walsh, who sadly passed away recently. Hammer became my primary sport then, and when I was 16, I met my current coach, George Eyers. Ireland has a strong history in the hammer throw, and the level of coaching here is incredible, so I developed my ability and technique quickly, thanks to George.
I have George to thank for my interest in, and knowledge of, not only biomechanics in throwing but also across other events and sports. Growing up in such a technical sport has helped me professionally. In throws, having your chin slightly raised, your elbow slightly bent, or your wrist slightly rotated to the wrong degree could throw your attempt off completely, so I became accustomed to analyzing my own throw, talking about the mechanics of it with coaches and others, and analyzing others’ throws on an intricate level. The transference over to rugby, weightlifting, S&C, and so on is huge, and I’m forever grateful to my throws coaches for developing that coach’s eye in me!
What throws coaches implement well is the principle of overload—so in the hammer throw, you might compete with a 4-kilogram hammer but train with a 5-kilogram or 6-kilogram hammer in the pre-season. The same can be seen with resisted sprinting, med ball throws, and resisted plyometrics. The purpose of this is to train in a sport-specific movement under higher load, making the unloaded movement (in competition) more powerful—and hopefully producing better distances. Activities such as shotput, overhead throws, med ball forward throws, med ball lateral throws, and lying explosive chest throws are all movements that could be implemented into other sports training programs.
Med ball throws are a great resource for all sports. You’re getting a huge bang for your buck—plyometric activities with med ball overhead throws, power expression with wall throws, and a bit of force absorption and power production with lying chest throw. You can see the relevance of these movements in other events like the long jump or sprinting but equally in other sports such as handball, rugby, and basketball.