So today I’m going to be taking something that must be the biggest GAA issue in the modern era. Burnout. Not only does it affect the inter county player but is also causing havoc with organizing the fixture calendar. No grade has been left unaffected by this. However players from the ages 17-21, where the demands of playing for your club, county and school/college are as intense as ever, are the most at risk of picking an injury which could jeopardize their senior careers.
At the recent Games Development conference, a striking report was compiled which contained some thought-provoking points. One of the review groups, which dealt with the Minor grade, found that a quarter players were involved in a sporting activity everyday, some more than that and more than half of those surveyed are active at least six days a week.
More shockingly, 81% of players are now often encouraged by their managers not to participate in another unit of the association. Even worse 63% played with an injury. Not only are young players under pressure from their mentors, but they are risking their health in the long-term.
Something to consider, schools hurling finishes around April, not long after the minor championship kicks off, and some players also have to contend with state exams. Now a proposal has been put forward where minor and under 21 championships are not allowed to start until the colleges are finished but I do think the state exams need to be taken into consideration when planning underage team fixtures.
Cathal Cregg, A Roscommon footballer and Connaught GAA strength and conditioning officer, pointed out that muscle injuries are more common in GAA than any other sports, the reasoning being over-training and inadequate rest periods. A possible solution might be to combine minor and under 21 and form an under 20 category, where the age group being 18 to 20. Would it make the fixtures easier to organize?
College is another issue. Another idea put forward would be that college players should not allowed to play National League. This could work because for the the three or four years a person is there, college is their life, particularly if they are lining away from home. A player feels a sense of ownership towards their college club, since they are the ones keeping it going, and at the end of the day, we have to look at what is most important to the player as an individual.
Training methods are another factor contributing to underage burnout. The increasingly popularity of shorter, high intensity sessions are a welcome method as they are seen to produce better performances, rather than longer sessions which are inconvenient to a players hectic schedule.
These issues all feed into the wider problem of burnout among underage players, and the Games Conference highlighted enough points that GAA cannot ignore. Congress 2015 will be an interesting one to say the least. One thing’s for sure it’s a problem that cannot be ignored anymore.