So since the burnout problem in GAA is such a wide-ranging issue, I decided to split the article into two parts, in the first part I focused on burnout concernig underage players, so be sure to check that out. In the second part I’ll be talking about burnout being a huge problem for senior inter-county teams.
When I first started researching this particular topic, I was stunned to find out just how much players are being affected by burnout, and over-training. I always thought that it was younger players that were most at risk, what the demanding schedule of club, county and college. However further research suggest otherwise. Case in point, a little experiment. If you were to type out ‘burnout in GAA’ into the Google search engine, a good five pages, worth of articles, interviews, and reports would greet you, so to say it is well documented topic is a bit of an understatement. Nonetheless, it gave me massive food for thought.
Back in 2007, a report was released by the GAA on the whole burnout conundrum. 534 players were studied, between the ages of 16-24. All 32 counties were represented. It found that almost one third of the players studied played for at least FIVE teams within one competitive season. A further 26% of this figure played for seven or more teams in one competitive season. About one in every ten players were in the final stages of burnout, and as a result, their interest in Gaelic games was dwindling. 30% of the players were currently suffering from mental and physical exhaustion.42% of the players felt isolated from their clubs and detected resentment because their county participation. The statistics were just as shocking as they are today, which makes you wonder, how much is currently being done to tackle the problem?
Joe Brolly’s claims earlier this year, claiming current players were ‘indentured slaves’ may be slightly out of context, however it did hit a nerve. If a player is training seven days a week, not having any release and living an almost professional lifestyle, then of course resentment is bound to rear its ugly head. Let us not forget that the GAA is an amateur association, and the players play not for money but for enjoyment. It’s hard to do that however, if that player is unable to find a balance his playing commitments and other life demands. In a recent interview, three well-known players, issued a public demand for action on burnout. Tipperary defender Cathal Barrett, Waterford’s Noel Connors, and Meath’s captain Kevin Reilly admitted that they played for at least EIGHT teams as minors and slammed the narrow-mindedness of the managers for putting pressure on players to play. The trio agreed that it is time that managers must start putting player’s health first, whether it be physical or mental. A recent report claimed that one certain inter county team was asked to train 28 days out of a possible 31 day month, which not only puts the players’ at risk of injury, but will also lead to poor performances due to exhaustion.
A number of solutions have fallen by the wayside, however strength and conditioning coach and Dublin defender Philly McMahon offers a scientific solution to the problem. His sports science background helped him build up an immunity to constant action and has resulted in him not sustaining an injury for over two years. His argument is centered around the idea that player has to think for himself, and not be seduced into playing for various teams. The abundance of strength and conditioning coaches such as McMahon means that the GAA is joining the fast growing world of sports science. The anatomy of the player is being studied more acutely, and with a better understanding of this, burnout might become a smaller issue.
It is no secret that because Gaelic games is now being treated as serious commitment, on par with most professional sports, there is more awareness of the physical treatment of players. To do it right, the GAA and the GPA, must come together and work towards a more positive environment for the inter county player. If we want to see 17 year old player playing until he is 27 and maybe beyond that, then burnout must be treated just as seriously.