The GAA plays a crucial role in rural areas – along with camogie and ladies football for girls. Following your parish club helps to define an area – it’s as tribal as following the flag into battle on Game of Thrones!
Its very centrality – and very often the lack of a sporting alternative – is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s great that there are team sports available. But, in areas with player shortages, it can be difficult holding the line and ensuring players play only with their own age group. There are instances of U13s playing on adult teams, particularly in ladies football where no age restriction applies. There are times when players are training or playing matches almost every night of the week between hurling and football or camogie and ladies football.
But given that hip operations are a growing problem for GAA players and minor footballers increasingly needing knee surgery, it’s evident that something, somewhere is gone wrong in a supposedly voluntary amateur sport.
I’ve been involved in an administrative capacity in a women’s sport at club level for the last six years and on the sidelines at GAA, camogie, and soccer matches since then. But one of my key concerns, as a parent, is managing the amount of training and playing my child does. And yet, we hear of parents saying, ‘They want her/him’ referring to the coach of an older age team.
Player burnout was something that was associated with inter-county players – not with U14s who are exhausted by July.
The harsh reality is that, as ever, when it comes to an underage player, it is you, the parent, who must make the decision. Much as we like to think that sport is about participation, in a lot of clubs, it is about winning. And that means overusing the ‘good’ player, not minding them or protecting them, but playing them in as many teams as they can get away with.
In much the same way that the GAA has had to be reined in in terms of inter-county player welfare, at club level, when it comes to your child, you have to be the adult! If you want your child to enjoy sport over the long term, say ‘No’. It won’t make you popular but your child’s knees and hips will thank you!