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Our multisport youngsters are burned out and stressed out

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by Charlie O'Neill

In the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of returning to coaching a feisty and passionate school GAA team in North Kerry.

These girls, ranging from 12-17 years of age, never fail to astound me with their knowledge and player-led approach to the game. I would go as far as to say that these girls and many more adolescent athletes are miles ahead of previous generations in understanding the extent of the mental and physical toll sport can take.

However, even with such positivity, the number of back-to-back days these young women train and play matches worries me. One such player confided in me of a panic attack she had just experienced in the dressing room after I subbed her off due to a niggling injury. She was visibly shaken with a sense that she had let the team down. The same girl went on to reveal that she had a basketball match the previous day and Kerry GAA trials early the next morning, before topping it off with an important soccer game hours later.

Does this sound all too familiar? The acknowledgement of player welfare and injury prevention has become a societal trend in Ireland in the adult game, amateur and professionals alike. But, to paraphrase The Simpsons, will someone please think of the children? What I learned in only our second school football game of the season was that the girls were exhausted, with no off-season in sight for them to rest and replenish.

While COVID played a role in the rush to fulfil sporting fixtures, those commendable adolescents who choose to compete in a combination of sports are struggling both physically and psychologically. A study conducted in 2015 by DCU in an Irish school found that 35.6% of multisport athletes are at risk of injury. Of those injured participants, 27.9% are at risk of sustaining another injury that school year, competing in a different sport.

The Irish Sport Council have adopted Player Welfare initiatives in recent years, but for adolescents at grassroots, access to psychologists or these processes are limited and usually at the discretion of local volunteers. Incidents of anxiety or panic attacks, like the one experienced by the player on our school team, are becoming all too common and can become chronic if not dealt with.

Munster’s Keith Earls candidly spoke about his mental health struggles in his new book. The accomplished winger experienced panic attacks from an early age that got progressively worse through grassroots well into his professional rugby career. Attending therapy in 2013 helped him to resolve his issues.

Although some pressure is self-inflicted, young athletes have no idea how to deal with it when the negative voice emerges.

Coaches and parents play an equal role in preventing mental fatigue by recognising its triggers and putting a plan in place to address it.

Irish sportspeople are no strangers to being hailed as all-round athletes. The upheaval of Irish talent now plotting their way in the AFL and AFLW is due to a culture of celebrating multisport competitiveness. Mayo's Sarah Rowe, for example, showed her capacity to play intercounty football and international soccer in the same calendar year before returning to her Collingwood squad. And don't forget Kieran Donaghy's desire to win national basketball titles while representing Kerry in the GAA.

With such success comes a goal-orientated routine. Competing in many sports has incredible advantages, once rest and recovery are prioritised for our young athletes.

Burnout results in many athletes becoming injured or, even worse, quitting their sport altogether. Gentle reminders to grassroots players that they can discuss their concerns with coaches and parents should be implemented.

If burnout is evident, such players should be allowed to step back with protocol for when they return to play, whether it’s injury-related or otherwise.

Charlie O'Neill is a Kerry-based sports writer with a keen interest in rugby, GAA and soccer. She currently plays for the Kerry women's rugby team and also coaches underage Gaelic football.

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Kerry ladies must bounce back at home to Waterford

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All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 2

Kerry v Waterford

Saturday 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

The Kerry ladies will be looking to get back to winning ways against Waterford on Saturday following last weekend’s frustrating draw against Donegal in Ballybofey.

The Kingdom led with seconds remaining in treacherous conditions but a late Donegal free snatched a draw for the home side (Donegal 1-6 Kerry 0-9). It was a game that Kerry would have been expecting to win and the result puts a lot more pressure on them this weekend as they try to top the three-team group and earn a home quarter-final.

If they beat Waterford and Donegal do likewise next week, Kerry and Donegal will be level in first place on four points each. The top seed will then be decided by the head-to-head record between the teams. As Kerry v Donegal was a draw, the deciding factor will be whoever scored the most points in that draw. That would be good news for Kerry as they scored nine points to Donegal’s six.

When Kerry and Waterford last met (in this year’s Munster Championship), Kerry needed a late winner by Fiadhna Tangney to prevail by narrowest of margins (1-8 to 1-7). If Waterford beat Kerry and then lose to Donegal, Kerry would be eliminated from the championship.

The Kerry squad has been boosted by the return of Síofra O’Shea who came off the bench against Donegal following a lengthy period out with a knee injury.

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US-bound Kerry runner Lynch hopes to emulate Mageean magic

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by Adam Moynihan

Killarney middle distance runner Oisín Lynch is taking inspiration from newly crowned European 1500m champion Ciara Mageean as he gets set for the next stage of his career in the United States.

This week Lynch confirmed that he will be heading Stateside after accepting a scholarship at Adams State University in Colorado. The promising 800m and 1500m competitor caught the eye of coaches at the leading American college after representing Ireland in the Youth Olympics and also by winning two national titles in recent months.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, the 18-year-old Killarney Valley AC athlete, who is currently doing his Leaving Cert at St Brendan’s College, says he one day hopes to emulate Mageean’s heroics on the international stage.

“The Irish are on the up at underage and at senior level,” Lynch notes. “We have been improving a lot in recent years. When you see Ciara Mageean winning the 1500m it just shows that it can be done by Irish people.

“Sometimes Irish athletes don’t really believe in themselves when they’re getting knocked out of championships by English or European athletes. Mageean winning that European title is definitely something to drive me on. It shows that I can actually do it.”

DREAM

For Lynch, moving to the United States is a hugely significant step, and one that he has dreamed about making since he was a child.

“It’s unbelievable. I always hoped I could earn a scholarship. I worked hard over the last few years, so it’s nice to see that work paying off.

“I had a few schools onto me but when Adams State got in touch, I sized it up and I knew it was a really good opportunity.

“The fact that the college is at 7,500 feet… That’s a crazy altitude. It’s double the height of Carrauntoohil. Altitude training has massive benefits for distance running and nowadays nearly every pro spends most of their year training at altitude. The chance to get that training for the next couple of years is great.

“And their athletics programme is unbelievable. Coach Damon Martin has been there for 40 years and he has coached 12 Olympians. Adams State is in the top 15 for distance in the country and the standard out there in America is very high.”

STRIDES

Killarney Valley AC have made enormous strides since building their new, state-of-the-art facility in 2020 and Lynch is a grateful beneficiary of that progress.

“I can’t thank the club enough. Going back a couple of years we were training on grass in parks. When you want to be a track runner, it’s just not the same. After a lot of hard work by a lot of good people, we managed to get a 200-metre track in Killarney. That’s massive for us and it’s all we need for training.

“The coaches down there are putting in the hard work, including my dad (Con), Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, Jerry Griffin, Bríd Stack, Alan Delaney… I could go on. It’s a great club and there are some good athletes coming through. It’s an exciting time for Killarney Valley.”

After Lynch completes his Leaving Cert, he will start preparing for life as a college athlete. He will study kinesiology in Colorado and on the track he hopes to keep on moving in the right direction. That means getting his times down (his current PBs are 1.50.59 over 800m and 3.51 over 1500m), representing Ireland, and hopefully winning a national title in America.

“Obviously I’ll take every step as it comes,” the ambitious Kerryman says, “but the Olympics is the main long-term target, hopefully in LA in 2028.”

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