WATCH | Longford GAA club Killoe Emmet Óg launches #JustPlayFootball Healthy Club Campaign

Killoe Emmet Óg Safeguarding #justplayfootball

Longford Leader Sports Correspondent

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Longford Leader Sports Correspondent

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newsroom@longfordleader.ie

Longford GAA club Killoe Emmet Óg launched their #JustPlayFootball Healthy Club Campaign recently. 

ALSO Watch | Killoe Emmet Óg #JustPlayFootball Healthy Club Campaign - children may have their own struggles outside of football

ALSO WATCH | Killoe Emmet Óg #JustPlayFootball Healthy Club Campaign - verbal, physical and online abuse of referees is unacceptable

Here is the background to the entire project; 

The motto “Raised by the village" resonated profoundly during the recording of the Emmet Óg Healthy club- #JustPlayFootball video campaign, in the parish of Killoe, Co. Longford.

Following Croke Park’s Healthy club guidelines a needs assessment was conducted locally to see what project the Healthy club team would focus on.

The first question asked was “What does GAA mean to you?”

100% of the responses were positive. People wrote that they felt “a sense of belonging, community, and friendship”. People noted also “you can’t explain it, it’s our culture, our identity", “pride and heart of the parish" and “belonging to something bigger than yourself, a connection to your family abroad”.” The club helps locally, assisting people during non-footballing events and welcoming new people to the parish.

The link between the school, community centres, businesses, churches and groups”. One person stated “the GAA is the glue that holds us together". The further we read into the results the more it became apparent that the role of the GAA cannot be measured. The results made us realise how special the GAA really is.

Special notes of thanks were made to all volunteers that made this possible in the past and the ones that are currently doing so. Numerous people wrote that the GAA/local volunteers made such a positive difference to their childhood/life and now it is their turn to give back.

Examples of many people giving up their spare time for the passion of the game on and off the field. They noted the work that went into achieving our wonderful facilities and that there is a role for everyone in the club. So many people contributed significantly locally but didn't feature in this article or these videos but are not forgotten.

People were asked to pick from the 10 Healthy Ireland Topics. People picked Mental health. Due to the broad nature of mental health we asked people exactly what area would we focus on. Promoting a positive environment for children and our members through football was picked.

The areas people identified are issues experienced nationally. People identified young children not getting played and being upset. Also, children being brought up from a lower age group even when the bench was not empty. It was noted also the disrespect towards referees, coaches and players.

People commented that football was not always fun because of competitiveness, abusive side-lines even at underage level and the win at all cost attitude. Pressure on coaches to perform well also.

It was difficult to see this on paper because of the exceptional effort and sacrifice our volunteers and parents put in, week in week out. Not one member of our club would purposefully hurt anyone and definitely not children. It is only natural and an inherited culture to want your club to win. Generally people are not aware of their behaviour. These are not only our issues but nationwide GAA issues.

Safeguarding Training
The project began with Safeguarding training for our coaches. It lays out clear rules of acceptable behaviour. Specific guidelines have come from HQ down and now we hope to start from grassroots up. These guidelines are now integrated into our registration form for our new season for all members, spectators and officials.

Video 1 #JustPlayFootball
The next part of the project was inspired by the New Zealand (NZ) rugby “LetKidsBeKids" video campaign.

We decided to base our project on this from a GAA and mental health perspective. We were generously awarded funding through Longford County Council and Healthy Ireland. Nathan Sheridan Productions recorded three days of footage and three videos were produced. To say the project was a group effort is an under statement.

The #JustPlayFootball video is a summary of our project. One of the main points in this video is that the GAA already promotes positive mental health through physical exercise, friendship and community involvement. There is no pressure to be perfect. There is an expectation to be genuine, have a laugh and be down to earth. Members mix with people that they may have never met if not for the GAA. Football unites us all.

Video 2 Children’s interviews
The children’s interview video highlights that children may have their own struggles going on outside of football. Children should look forward to football and meeting their friends in a non-stressed environment. Adults looked back fondly on the coaches that were good to them. This only emphasises how officials and parents can have a powerful positive impact on a child’s life and memories.

Internationally between the age of 11 and 15 years, there is a major dropout rate in sports especially with girls. Other sports like soccer, rugby, cricket and basketball have recognised this trend. To the retain players, children in these sports get time on the field. Winning is not the priority. The priority is retention and growth. It is acknowledged that children peak at different times.

Henry Shefflin, Brian Fenton and Peter Stringer were players that were overlooked in their underage sporting career. Part of a coaches and parents job is to help their players/children reach their potential.

Participation was one of the projects key components in the introduction of the 10 Minute rule- that each child up to the age of 12, plays for a minimum of 10 minutes. Again, internationally in most sports this is happening. The project doesn’t necessarily believe in the idea of participation medals.

It is a difficult balance between participation and healthy competition. In our local survey a parent wrote that their 8 year old is thinking of giving up football even though they love the sport. The parent wrote that the child never gets played in a game yet attends all training sessions. If that child leaves at such a young age we have failed them. However, at some stage competition is healthy and is a very important part of the game. We are not saying that we have all the answers but it is an area that should be looked at.

Clara GAA club in Kilkenny introduced participation rules a few years ago. Children play within their own age group. The children in their last year get priority and every child gets a game during the league season. With the increasing level of childhood obesity and anxiety, being active and enjoyment are the most important aspects for the retention and for preventative health benefits for our young people.

Our club Emmet Óg, this year split the under 14 panel into two teams, so all players got game-time. These are just some examples of ideas about getting children involved in games.

Research shows for any player at any level to remain motivated enjoyment must be a key factor. Allowing children to enjoy their time together will keep them interested. Out of all the children interviewed only one child said the most important thing to them is winning. We must be careful not to impose adult views on children so young and remember that they are only children.

An interesting part of the project was when we asked, “who your role model is locally?”. The people picked were brilliant footballers but also respectful players. Sharon Treacy and Laura Doherty were the two female players picked. These two players are the very essence of GAA. They played a physical game but were skilful and fair. They were leaders on the pitch and encouraged everyone especially the younger players.

The male role model picked was Terry Mc Cormack (RIP). Terry is one of Killoe’s greatest GAA legends. Physically strong, skilled but so kind on and off the field, always with a smile on his face. 

During the 3 days of recording, he was mentioned several times. His memory will not be forgotten because his characteristics of true sportsmanship live on in his family and are the main values of this campaign- Play physically but fairly and enjoy the game.

Video 3 Referees interviews
A separate referee’s survey was completed. Members not understanding the rules was the single biggest challenge for referees. The constant rule changes were highlighted as an issue. The weekly recruitment and lack of acknowledgement for the role of umpires was reported by all referees.

The main topic was the abuse verbally and sometimes physically and that this can then continue onto social media.

Our video is to highlight that referees are human and can make mistakes. It’s a simple request for respect- Give Respect Get Respect. The GAA is an amateur sport and everyone deserves respect.

Silent side-lines will be introduced in Killoe in our new season at underage level. This aims to encourage a non-aggressive encouraging sideline.

Conor Mahon sums up the key message well in our children’s video- “treat the referee the way you would like to be treated”. This can be extended to all areas of the GAA from meetings, to games, to the opposition. Leave grudges at the gate, everyone is a volunteer, and this is a hobby.

This video is a drive for the promotion of emotional intelligent, self control and discipline. For the future recruitment of referees, we need to respect them. A game cannot be ran without them. We need to realise the vital role they play. Most mistakes are minor and as one of the kids pointed out “it probably isn't the All Ireland final so relax!".

Our principal Colin Harte correctly noted that “the referee is right when they are right and right when they are wrong" so it’s a waste of time arguing.

One of the referees in the survey suggested that if there are consistent errors on behalf of referees at crucial times, a feedback system and continuous training should be considered.

Abuse is not only a problem for our referees but for our players. Violence on the pitch can end up in a costly legal battle with a potential criminal record affecting a player’s ability to travel and receive garda clearance. Players can be seriously injured and this can impact on their job, family and could be fatal. The club can then face a suspension and large fines. It is not acceptable to promote violence anywhere else so then it shouldn’t be ok in the GAA.

As David Donnelly our local coach and Garda pointed out when discussing the “Use your Brains not your fist” Gardaí campaign - it takes a bigger person to walk away. The game is physical enough without violence or dirty tactics. Surely beating the opposition on the score board should count for more and retaining the full quota of 15 players on the pitch.

Several people in the interview noted that rugby and American football are physical games yet there is no problem with discipline. Croke Park are currently putting a steering group together on this very issue and this should lead to positive changes for all involved. 

No Mobile Phone Policy
The club is implementing a no mobile phone policy. People are happy that the hour at football is going to be technology free. This will go further to promote positive mental health.

Conclusion
We were honoured to present this project in Croke Park at the National Healthy Club Conference. Brid Mc Goldrick, the National Healthy club chairperson, opened the conference. To add to the day James Mc Goldrick won a prize on behalf of the Emmet Óg club executive, for their vision in setting up and supporting the healthy club locally. Ironically Brian Fenton, a player that was overlooked for the Dublin minor team and is now the 2018 Player of the year, presented the prize to James.

Cian Lynch, the 2018 Hurler of the year, spoke about how the GAA is about family and your club- “They are the people that are there when you win and more importantly when you lose.” Both men are remarkable GAA ambassadors for young people nationwide.

Based on international research, the GAA already promotes positive mental health and resilience. The work of the Healthy Club only compliments what is already there. The #JustPlayFootball video aims to illustrate the incredible health benefits that exist in the GAA. With the small improvements listed above the GAA can become even more influential nationwide and be a driving force for mental fitness and respect through football.