Farmer's research crucial to growing and maintaining participation levels
One of the most innovative, and successful, schemes introduced by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association has been the Gaelic4Girls programme. Many of the more recently formed clubs owe their existence to this scheme.
Gaelic4Girls is a national club development programme that focuses on recruiting players, coaches and volunteers.
Each year, two clubs from each county are chosen after an application process to take part in Gaelic4Girls, and the clubs are either those who are looking to start girls football in their area for the first time, or existing clubs looking to widen their reach.
One of the clubs in last year's scheme was Cobh, and John Mackessy said it transformed the club. "I would go as far as to say that Gaelic4Girls has saved the club. We were struggling to put together teams but thanks to the programme we have 22 players togging for our under 10s and another 25 for our under 12s whereas this time last year we could barely field a team. Coaches were drafted in from our older teams, they got a huge amount out of the programme themselves too. They were really given a great sense of ownership of the club and they loved being able to give something back."
Cork footballer Orlagh Farmer has investigated the reasons behind the high drop-out rate among girls in the 12- to 13-year-old age group and her results will help to inform how Gaelic4Girls is used. The six-time All-Ireland winner carried out the research as part of a PhD in UCC.
"There is a massive drop-out rate, particularly from primary to secondary school transition and girls also have been shown to participate less in organised sport," she says.
"This is where Gaelic4Girls and my research comes in: Gaelic4Girls promotes ladies football participation, creating a community environment that encourages and supports the full involvement of girls in physical activity and sport.
"My research is involved in investigating the motivators, why these girls are playing sport, keeping active, and the barriers, what's stopping them from playing, why are they dropping out, and designing an intervention to get more girls involved and playing ladies football and more importantly encouraging them to stay playing ladies football and promote lifelong physical activity.
"Giving the girls a voice is important - we need to find out what girls think about sport and participation, what they like/dislike in order to improve the situation for girls."
Farmer's research involved 338 girls in three primary schools in Cork. The girls were aged between eight and 12, and the findings were revealing. She found that fun and enjoyment, a sense of accomplishment and making friends were all noted as reasons to be involved in football but that a lack of enjoyment and a feeling of being under too much pressure were major barriers to entry.
Of more interest again, however, was that only three of those surveyed were deemed to have mastered the seven culturally relevant football skills. The best performance was for the kick, where two-thirds achieved mastery. (The seven skills are running, skipping, vertical jumping, balance, kicking, catching, and bouncing the ball.)
Farmer, in conjunction with LGFA, is now looking at ways to incorporate what was learned during this study into updating the Gaelic4Girls programme.
"I would totally recommend it to any club that needs to retain players or attract new members," says Mackessy of Gaelic4Girls. "There is a lot of work involved in the programme but the rewards make it absolutely worthwhile. This programme saved our club and for that reason I would tell clubs interested in doing it that they should absolutely get involved."
Sunday Indo Sport