Monday 9 December 2019

Pressure on young GAA stars reaching unacceptable levels


Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Sport was never supposed to be like this, certainly not for U-18s, who are under enough pressure with their studies and the many other challenges associated with growing up in an increasingly stressful environment.

Being involved in sport should be a release valve, something to enjoy as part of a balanced lifestyle. Obviously, some competitive pressures will always apply but, according to a report into how young GAA players are being treated, the demands have long gone beyond simply striving to win games and into a world largely devoid of fun.

There's something very wrong with the system when eight out of ten minor players complain that managers are putting them under pressure to drop either hurling or football, when their natural instinct is to play both. Clearly, it's a case of managers putting their own interests first.

It's even more serious that six of out of ten minors reported that they had played games while injured and that four out of ten had experienced chronic fatigue, sometimes or often.

One third felt they were asked to train too much; a quarter had GAA activity every day of the week at certain times of the year.

These are among the more headline-grabbing points in a report by the GAA's Minor Review Workgroup. They outline several other problem areas too, including structural difficulties with competitions, which add to the stresses on players.

It's not surprising then that the group notes in its interim report that the challenges facing minor players present "a very serious situation for the Association."

They state bluntly that "there is insufficient focus at underage level on the long-term playing career potential of a player" and "excessive focus on short-term results."

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It sounds like the standard recipe for burnout, brought about by physical and psychological pressures that no U-18 player should have to endure.

The group are devising corrective proposals, with a view to bringing them before Congress next year. The aim is to put the welfare of the player first, with everything else revolving around that fundamental principle.

Of course, it should be in place long before now. Reports of the unreasonable demands being placed on young players have been circulating for years and while there's general agreement that it should not be happening, the system seems incapable of addressing it.

The Work Group will bring it back on the agenda and propose ways of easing the burden on players but what happens after that? That's the big test.

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