Waterford GAA is aiming to drive up the number of participants between the ages of four and eight in the county by 20pc over the next five years as part of the recently launched strategic plan ‘Waterford Rising’.
The plan being rolled incorporates many strands but chief among them is the focus on coaching and games development and a new approach based more around fun and engagement than the acquisition of skills.
Through the Wellkids programme, devised by a committee that includes former Waterford player and selector Fergal Hartley, who recently managed Ballygunner to Munster club success, clubs will be encouraged to make Saturday mornings feel more like “a birthday party”, according to Hartley, than a traditional GAA nursery as they seek to broaden their base for the future.
The name of the inception programme has a double-edged meaning, the ‘well’ referencing the holistic approach being taken but also a play on that much-used introductory term in the county itself.
Underpinned by a survey that drew up to 3,000 responses, ‘Waterford Rising’ aims to put down firm roots for the future with Wellkids being complemented by improved academies and schools of excellence.
Hartley says numbers are important and that winning an All-Ireland could be a by-product much further down the line but the immediate emphasis is on creating the right environment in their clubs by overhauling the approach to Saturday mornings.
“The increased numbers and better quality of our teams at county and club level are a by-product to some extent,” he said. “The main product is the quality of experience, the health and wellness of the kids of the county. Yes, we are interested in winning All-Irelands and by growing our base it will help us to do that and make our clubs more vibrant,” he added.
Pilots in six clubs will be rolled out in June, provided public health conditions allow.
“What we see them as are almost like fun camps as opposed to them being the traditional GAA nurseries. We see skills development as a by-product and all the stuff around fundamental movement of agility, balance and co-ordination is really important to learn at that age. We see them learning that through fun.
“If you are six years of age you feel as if you are not going training you are going to a birthday party. When you arrive you have to get that feeling and that has to do with collateral equipment. Traditionally that was balls, bibs and cones, we see this as being very different we have beach balls and hula hoops and water guns that are completely geared and built around fun.
“So a Saturday morning becomes known as a hive of activity for kids in clubs in Waterford between the ages of four to eight. Even in the small clubs, we’ll aim to have an average of 25 per club, that’s small in Dublin terms but in rural clubs it’s huge.”
‘Waterford Rising’ is the most ambitious project of its kind the county has taken on and will plan for the growth around Waterford city especially.
Figures in the plan show that 73,000 of the 116,000 population reside in the east, served by 16 clubs, while there are 43,000 in the west with 34 clubs.
“East and west has been a contentious issue for many years. But we do recognise that 70pc of the population is in the environs of the city and that future growth is expected to be there.
“It doesn’t mean that the same opportunities aren’t afforded to the rest of the county. The reality is everywhere is becoming more urbanised.”