U-17s face risk of burnout, warns Tobin
Reducing the minor age limit to 17 years will increase the risk of serious player burnout unless there's a dramatic change of approach to training.
The warning comes from John Tobin, Connacht Games Manager and former Galway star who also had stints as senior manager of his native county and Roscommon.
He wholeheartedly backs the recent Congress decision to reduce the minor age limit from 18 to 17 years and to regrade U-21 as U-20 but has concerns that it may not be as effective in the battle against burnout as is generally thought.
He suspects that the excessively demanding training regimes, currently applying at minor (U-18), level will be transferred to U-17s, thereby exacerbating the problem as younger players are less well-equipped to cope with the stresses.
"At U-17 level, the emphasis should be on developing the player in all parts of the technical, tactical, psychological and physical aspects of the game. It's my opinion that the strength and conditioning of players has consumed many coaches and has been given a disproportionate priority over the many other skills that are required. Are we now going to transfer that from U-18 to U-17? That's the danger," he said.
Lowering the minor age limit was designed essentially to ease the burden on players in their Leaving Cert year; while Tobin is happy it will achieve that, he fears a new situation will develop where U-17s will be put under excessive pressures. It's already well known that the rule on when inter-county minor squads can start official training is being broken and Tobin believes the same will apply with U-17s when the new age limit applies from next year on.
"Despite the fact that collective training for county minors is not supposed to start until February 1, it's common practice for teams to be months into their programme at that stage We all know that - it happens all the time," added Tobin.
Tobin said that players are facing pressures from a number of sources.
"It's common for players to be subjected to three or four sessions a week, excluding the demands from their club or school.
"In an average year, a county minor may have to attend over 100 training sessions in order to play five league games and an average of two championship games.
"There is a complete imbalance there in this ratio of training to games.
"One can only hope that the existing inter-county minor format which encourages these unreasonable demands on players will hopefully not be imposed on players who will be a year younger and less mature in all aspects of their development," he wrote in the Connacht U-21 final match programme.