Sunday 24 March 2019

'We can forget that players are people first' - Ireland's first sporting organisation to introduce wellness programme

Wexford’s joint senior hurling captain, Matthew O’Hanlon. Photo: Sportsfile
Wexford’s joint senior hurling captain, Matthew O’Hanlon. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke Byrne

Luke Byrne

WELLNESS schemes are an increasing trend in the modern workplace but now a sports team is introducing a programme with the hope of boosting the mental resilience of young players.

In a first for a sports organisation in this county, Wexford GAA has introduced a wellness scheme, to help youngsters understand the importance of emotional and mental well-being as well as their physical health.

Wexford’s joint senior hurling captain, Matthew O’Hanlon, told Independent.ie it has become more acceptable for people in sports to talk about mental health issues.

“The more role models that you have coming forward talking about how they may have been struggling in certain areas of their lives, the easier it can be for younger kids to come forward and talk about it.

“That can only be a positive,” he said.

“In years gone by the focus in sports teams has been on physical and maybe academic wellness,” he said.

O’Hanlon said the GAA was the perfect vehicle for such a wellness programme as it was at the centre of the community, especially in rural areas.

The club’s initiative comes as top-level athletes have more and more been speaking out about struggles with mental illnesses such as depression.

This week Aaron Lennon, a professional football player with Burnely, revealed he had suffered with his mental health and how other players had approached him detailing similar problems.

Vice chairman of Wexford GAA, Micheál Martin, pointed out suicide rates were increasing and that Wexford was one of the worst affected areas of the country.

Figures released last year by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed 15 men and one woman died by suicide in Wexford in 2017 – the highest rate outside of large urban areas.

Mr Martin said sport can help play a key role in tackling the issue.

“I think in the past there has been a focus in sports of, sort of win at all costs.

“We can forget that the players, first and foremost are people,” he told the Irish Independent.

“We’re looking at promotion a holistic approach to focusing on the individuals.”

Mr Martin said a change in society has seen a rapid decline in the number of young people playing sports.

Only 21pc of five to 18 year olds were playing GAA in the main Wexford towns.

“There has been a change in society and it’s changing right in front of our eyes,” he said.

Mr Martin said he had approached GAA headquarters at Croke Park with the plan, which saw an increase in the number of development officers at the club and it was enthusiastically supported.

“Our senior team players are very much on-board with this and they’re also involved in promoting it with the local community.”

As part of the programme, Wexford GAA has been offering programmes to local schools and clubs.

It is hoped it will help to increase participation and diversity in the GAA in the county.

The programme has given €100,000 in financial support by Sam McCauley Chemists.

“Wexford GAA needs to be commended for the development of this innovative and ground-breaking youth wellness programme, the first county in Ireland to do so,” said it’s CEO Tony McEntee.

“We wanted to partner with Wexford GAA in this programme which we believe will play a vital role in helping the people of Wexford, particularly youths, to understand the importance of physical and mental wellbeing, and promote inclusion and diversity within local communities.”

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