Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Joe Kernan: Competitive matches may stunt young players’ growth

No grouping within the GAA has seen such unparalleled growth in recent years as the under-age sector.

Yet for all the headway that is undoubtedly being made and the benefits that are accruing, one element disturbs me: the increasing emphasis which is being placed on the competitive aspect of under-age activity.

I have had occasion recently to attend some under-age matches, and I must say I was both surprised and shocked to hear the tone and content of the language emanating from the touchlines.

I have never been particularly enthusiastic about the concept of Under-8 and Under-10 competitions in particular. I believe that children in these age groups should instead be receiving every encouragement in honing their skills, perfecting their sportsmanship, and learning to respect other competitors.

It is time enough to organise competitions for youngsters when they are at Under-14 level. Up until then they should be allowed to pursue their learning process away from the pressures associated with competitive matches. It is imperative that children are given the proper coaching so that they can absorb and retain skills that will maybe remain with them for the rest of their lives, rather than be forced to focus on silverware.

The whole emphasis in under-age coaching should be to ensure that the children derive maximum enjoyment from their involvement in GAA.

By the aforementioned age of 14, they should feel comfortable with most aspects of their chosen code within the GAA, and will be even better players because of this.