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Go Games A Model for 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 the 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 develop physically.



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.

Want To and Will Do






Research on the 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 game.
  • 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 wouldnt 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 development.


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.


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 young people would referee Go Games and to this end a Young Whistlers course has been developed for TY students to provide them with the knowledge and capabilities to do so. With positive support and mentoring there is no reason why they cannot! Where Clubs do not have enough young referees sourced for the games it will fall on Coaches of the teams to officiate. To this end we strongly encourage that the values of FAIR PLAY, RESPECT AND ENJOYMENT are to the fore for all the adults tasked with the referees role.


Each County has a Go Games Coordinator one for Hurling and one for Gaelic Football, if needs be and these, in turn, will have responsibility for training Go Games Coordinators in every Primary School and Underage Club. Carlow GAAs Co-Ordinator is GDA Sen Gannon.










Fun, Fair Play, Full Participation and Achievement are the true values of Go Games, values that are at the heart of underage games development. By providing an environment for children that is centred on these values we ensure that our young players experience enjoyment and fulfilment through their participation in Gaelic Games.


  1. NO children are to be left on the sidelines, regardless of numbers present from various Clubs on the day.
  2. All Clubs are requested to bring bibs on the day of Go Games activity to ensure that all children, regardless of Club, are involved in the games and this simple measure ensures full participation.
  3. Scores are NOT to be kept, or communicated via website, social media, etc.



  • Ideally Under 8 will be 7 a side
  • Ideally Under 10 will be 9 a side
  • Option 1:
  • Loan Players
  • Option 2:
  • Jerseys playing against Bibs
  • Option 3:
  • Everybody wears Bibs


  • Odd Sock Initiative to develop our 100% principle
  • When the sock is on our perceived weaker side must be used
  • Carlow GAA hope that all U.8 Go Games players enjoy the initiative. Coaches are encouraged to push the initiative in their Clubs
  • Playing zones to develop awareness of all areas of the pitch and encourages team development !


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