PETER NUGENT: Marginal gains don’t guarantee success

IF you are involved in a team framework at adult level in any sphere, be it in business or sport the likelihood is you will have encountered the term ‘marginal gains’ on more than one occasion.

It is my belief that the term marginal gains are meant to recognise the significance of small but significant improvements to a team that is already operating at a high level, yet they may still be falling short. Hence these marginal gains applied consistently can be the very catalyst to yield the ultimate dividend.

Yet what we often see is teams and individuals seeking out these one and two percenters that they believe will take them to the next level when in effect the very foundations are built on sand.

In a conversation I had this week with a performance coach this ideology came up in conversation, what sometimes gets lost in this era of fine details is that maybe too many of us aren’t paying enough attention to the ‘big thing’. This can be easily applied to your own performance and indeed to your team’s performance over the coming weeks.

In a Gaelic football context, it’s important that we can differentiate between the absolute performance necessities and the extras that may just tip the scales in a photo finish.


Fundamental skill execution – The ability to produce and repeat these skill aspects to a very high level of competency should be the bedrock for the individual and the team. Encompassed within this will be a range of fluid decision making tasks in game, invariably the better prepared make the better decisions.

What it looks like?

Hand pass, Kick pass, Shooting, Winning ball you should win, pick ups, tackling with physical purpose and diligence.


Game specific pitch conditioning – Be relative. Every session be it pitch, or gym based must reflect the needs and demands of your game. Think how chaotic the games are the range of vulnerable and compromising positions your body will be exposed to in any game.

Landing on a single leg or arm, explosive side on take-off to break free from an opponent. Making three or four lateral 15 meter dummy runs before the option eventually opens for you to receive a pass. Steady state distance running will not prepare the body physically for these actions. Sprint often and repeatedly with variety from a range of starting positions whilst also creating opposed chaotic resistance.

What it looks like?

Sprinting, evasion drills, Plyometrics, conditioned games.


Strength & Conditioningbody composition basics. Simply put players will improve when they engage in a structured, regulated strength and conditioning program which soul aim is to help them move better on the pitch. The water can get murky when players begin to use their gym sessions to purely improve themselves aesthetically (I want bigger arms so I’m going to neglect my lower body). A tuned in S&C Coach will be in continuous contact with the on-field coach to ensure there is a conscious eye on load accountability transferring from gym floor to pitch.

What it looks like?

23 Structured gym sessions per week to develop the aspects unique to each individual. Focus on speed, power, resistance, improved body weight to strength ratios, concise prehab routines that target individual areas of perceived weakness and body composition expectations for a senior player.

Add the above to a solid lifestyle base whereby you are consistently nailing the basics of sleep and nutrition then and only then should you be turning your focus to the ‘marginal gains’.

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