Do more to protect our kids from burn-out: GAA schools chief
The secretary of Ulster Schools' GAA has expressed his dismay at the workload that young players are currently undertaking at this time of the year, following the publication of a Talent Academy and Player Development Review report last week.
This comes after the Belfast Telegraph gained access to the training regimes of some Ulster Schools' GAA teams for December and January, which make for grim reading.
Tonight is the Schools' All-Star trials, with one school having scheduled a training session for last night and another for tomorrow, less than 24 hours after the All-Stars trial game.
Most alarmingly, one school has also scheduled a training session for Christmas Day.
Secretary of Ulster Schools' GAA, Seamus Woods, explained the historic reasons behind some schools choosing to make far-reaching demands on players.
This comes in a period where the St Paul's Ulster Minor Club Championship is ongoing and county development squads are conducting their own sessions, leaving some children training or playing as many as six times a week in very formative years of their education.
"The strategic plan for All-Ireland schools is about the integration of schools with clubs. The fact is that schools have been, at best, semi-detached from the mainstream GAA, operating in a parallel universe," said Woods.
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"This harks back historically to a time when there were fewer schools, mostly run by religious orders who did their own thing and nobody would trespass into their constituency. That era has long gone, but too many schools remain detached.
"Schools and clubs are sharing the same players and there are so many avenues for co-operation between clubs and schools; there is player development, coaching, sharing expertise, synchronising training programmes, sharing expertise resources and facilities, coordinating rehabilitation programmes when necessary."
The lack of co-operation between teams is not a blanket problem, with some schools finding ways to measure the training load, but Woods believes more can be done.
"I have been advocating that schools would have an annual event where they would bring in their clubs for an evening at the start of the year for a cup of tea and to map out the programme for the year, and discuss how they can co-operate with one another to the benefit of the player," he stated.
"There have been so many reports and there is so much evidence about players being burnt out and over-used. Everybody agrees that it is happening and accepts the evidence, but it is always everybody else's fault except the person doing the talking. We have heard about teams doing three outdoor field sessions per week in the run-up to Christmas, as well as individual strength and condition sessions on each day in between. To describe this as ill-advised is a gross understatement, and someone needs to intervene.
"Self-interest permeates every level in the GAA, and the lack of governance and oversight at every level creates the vacuum which gives free rein to those responsible for manic training regimes.
"Young players will be involved with their clubs, schools and possibly an academy squad, but where is the oversight which will regulate and constrain a player's involvement in those three areas? The same is happening with many at Third Level.
"The recently-launched Talent Academy Review is strongly advocating unambiguous protocols and the necessary oversight to address both these concerns and the 58% drop-out rate for players throughout their teenage years."
The recent Fixtures Review Report noted the absence of such governance in their list of recommendations.