Boys and girls just want to have fun
An old hurling friend of mine and I have constantly bickered over the very contentious point of picking your best players and basically forgetting the rest.
The issue is very topical today given the high rate of dropout by players around the 16-year age group, while obesity and a lack of fitness with the resultant health problems later in life is now a major issue in national and secondary schools.
Sport is the answer to a lot of these problems but many kids are not getting the chance with the emphasis on winning, which means only the better players really get a look in and the rest are discarded.
I'm a prime example. Useless at sport at school (okay, I can hear McGovern and Callan saying "tell us something we don't know"), but I still enjoyed it and wanted to participate, and indeed I did, but I'm afraid the cabinet trophy is a bit bare.
My friend and I constantly argued over, do you pick the best and forget the rest. Now the fact that he was a Kilkenny man might go someway to explain that his dogma was very clear: "You have to pick your best."
"And what about the poor sod who isn't good enough but still wants to play?"
"Send him/her home to mammy," was the reply. A bit severe, I would suggest, and at times I know he would put up the argument just to rise and annoy me, something that can be very easily done at times, but he was sincere in his views.
Anyway, getting back to my point. I always believed every kid should get a chance to play ball, or as the Yanks might say, kick ass. The problem is if you want to win games and trophies you have to pick your best team.
The GAA have come up with a way around this problem with their decision to abolish winning leagues or championships from Under 12 downwards.
It is a directive from Croke Park under their GO Games initiative. The emphasis is solely on fun and enjoyment.
The basis for the imitative was a study carried out by Dr. Niall Moyna of the sports science and health department at DCU, which made the following observations.
Recent research conducted by DCU sheds light on the error of imposing traditional competitive models on young players who, during their formative years, are particularly susceptible to dropout. The study looked at the activity matters and responses of children when playing small-sided games and 15-a-side games.
The study found that when participating in small-sided games the children worked harder (as measured by heart rate), had more touches on the ball (catches, lifts and scoring attempts) and expressed a greater level of enjoyment.
It further made this observation: Children participate in Gaelic games for a number of reasons - to have fun, to play with friends, parental encouragement, etc.
Lack of fun, lack of perceived competence and an overemphasis on competitive outcomes (which usually come from coaches and parents) are major reasons for dropout.
Let's put the fun back into sport. After all, it can be the only thing that keeps us sane in what is an insane world at times.