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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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Glorious weather for Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships

It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough […]

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It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough Bay on Lough Lein.

Hundreds flocked to the Valley shore to see the coastal clubs of Kerry race in crews from Under 12 to Masters. As well as clubs from around the Ring of Kerry, there was a strong representation from the Killarney clubs with the Workmen, Commercials and Fossa wearing their colours with pride. The atmosphere, colour, fun and fierce competition produced a spectacular day that will live long in the memory.

The event was opened by the Councillor John O’Donoghue, vice chair of the Killarney Municipal District who congratulated Flesk Valley on their centenary, which occurred during 1920, and wished all of the clubs a successful day’s racing.

The first race was preceded by a special blessing of the boats by Fr Eugene McGillycuddy, who also remembered Brendan Teahan of Cromane Rowing Club in his prayers.

Afterwards John Fleming, chair of Flesk Valley, expressed his immense pride and satisfaction with the success of the regatta.

“It’s our first time ever hosting a regatta, but we wanted to do something special to mark our 102 years in existence,” he said.

“It was a lot of work, but we have a fantastic hard-working committee in Flesk Valley who really pulled out all the stops to make it happen, and we received fantastic support from our members, parents, other clubs and local businesses.”

John also thanked the Kerry Coastal Rowing Association, in particular Mary B Teahan and Andrew Wharton, and the staff of the Killarney National Park for all their support and encouragement in hosting this event.

This was a qualifying event and the Kerry clubs will be heading to Wexford next weekend to complete for honours at the All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships.

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Live referee mics should be the norm – swearing concerns be damned

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by Adam Moynihan

I was disappointed to learn that the GAA are preventing TG4 from using their live referee mic in this Sunday’s Wexford hurling final.

(And not just because I had already written an article saying how great live referee mics are and how they are sure to be implemented across the board. Ctrl + A. Delete.)

TG4’s GAA coverage is superb and they raised the bar once again when they mic’d up referee John O’Halloran for the Kerry hurling final between Causeway and Ballyduff.

Pinning a microphone on the referee is standard practice in televised rugby and judging by the positive response to Gaelic games’ first foray into this territory, I was expecting it to become the norm.

It still might but, explaining their decision to The 42, the GAA said that they were not aware beforehand of the ref mic being trialled in Stack Park on Sunday.

“They believe such a development will require more discussion and education if it is to be implemented on a more regular basis in live TV coverage and could possibly need a policy change,” Fintan O’Toole reported.

The image of the Association is surely the primary concern here.

Players and managers – usually the worst behaved participants when it comes to things like swearing – will be among those who get “educated” on the subject. Some verbal abuse that might otherwise be muted for television viewers will, in all likelihood, be picked up by the referee’s microphone. You would imagine that the teams involved will be reminded of this the week of a televised game.

It also makes sense from Croke Park’s point of view to speak to referees and give them guidance on how to conduct themselves when the mic is on.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if senior GAA figures are currently fretting over the possibility of an agitated ref making headlines for something they say in the heat of the moment. And make no mistake about it, some match officials can eff and jeff with the best of them.

A friend of mine (a Wexford man, funnily enough) recalls an incident when a teammate was unceremoniously taken out of it by an opponent.

“Ah ref, for f***’s sake!” the victim complained.

“I gave you the f***ing free,” the referee replied. “What do you want me to do, slap him in the face with a wet fish?!”

The GAA might think that a referee swearing like that would leave all of us red-faced. In reality the clip would be a viral sensation and the general public would probably call for the official in question to run for Áras an Uachtárain. (He’d get my ****ing vote.)

The odd swear word from someone involved is bound to sneak through every now and then but you’d hear the same – and plenty more – at any match you attend from Cahersiveen to County Antrim.

Implementing the referee mic on a wider scale is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t appear to take a huge amount of effort or expense for the broadcaster to set it up and, more importantly, it offers a wonderful insight into the unknown.

Listening to referees explain their decisions in real time will clear a lot of things up for commentators, analysts and the media. We will no longer have to speculate about what they did or did not see, or what specific rule is being cited, or why.

Viewers, especially those who might be casual followers of the sport, will appreciate it too and become more educated; I know that’s how I feel when I watch rugby, for example.

It just leads to greater transparency and understanding.

Well done to TG4 and the Kerry County Board for being the pioneers. I’m sure others will follow their lead – as soon as the GAA allow them to do so.

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