A report has been commissioned by the GAA in partnership with the University of Stirling about the drop-out rate of young people from sport.
Many would accept that sport is widely regarded as having a significant impact on society and providing a powerful context for promoting the health and well-being of youth. Given the popularity and benefits that may come from being involved in sport, it is perhaps surprising that there is a declining sport participation trend from childhood to adulthood and reduced participation in regular sport among youth.
The report, which came out in 2015, believed the drop-out rate from a variety of sports to be around 50%; a portion of the drop-out rate was put down to children moving from one sport to another or taking up different hobbies. They were also of the opinion that some of the drop -out from sport may reflect “dissatisfaction” or “negative experiences” from within their sport.
Has the drop-out slowed down since that report was published, or have the drop -ut rates gone to higher rate? Within the GAA, especially in rural Ireland, many clubs are finding it increasingly difficult to field teams at different ages. There are multiple reasons, with many families leaving rural communities to find work; young people having to go away for college or job prospects and of course many players do not play as long as they used too.
As with many reports it can be hard to get any real reasons for why kids drop out of sport, especially the GAA, of which it has been significant in the last few years.
Since the report was published in 2015, the GAA have done their best in trying to slow down the rate with different ideas and programmes but nothing seems to have worked. There are those who suspect that our games have become too serious and many are not interested in giving up so much just to participate in GAA games.
Is it a case that with the huge investment in infrastructure at both club and inter-county level, that expectation is high for a return from the investment. There are clubs with state of the art gyms and training facilities, floodlit practice pitches. The alleged payment of club managers, trainers or strength and conditioning coaches have increased even further pressure on players to perform at their highest levels every day they play.
These expectations filter down to underage level with some managers wanting to make a name for themselves and move up through the ranks. If the children or adult involved does not commit to the expected levels set down by managers or trainers then they're moved on or not given game time, thus they drop out.
It should be said that this is not the norm but we have to accept that it happens. While it’s not for me to suggest whether it’s right or wrong, it’s not something I personally agree with. Development of the child and the group is certainly more important than winning at all costs. While winning is important as a life lesson and promoting the sport in your area, there is a way to achieve that success without restricting the development of those involved and making sure they are there for the long term.
Looking also at the way the inter-county game has gone, with players coming through development squads and being promoted to the senior squad, it begs the question, are those club players who develop later in their sporting career restricted in their opportunities to get into the county team? When the player feels he or she can go no further in that career do they pull the plug?
The way the club season is set up, with games being restricted at certain times of the year because of the inter-county scene, what many might not know is that underage fixtures are affected in the same way, with young lads being asked to play league competitions in early March or April and then not have their championship played until September or even later. Could this be the biggest reason to cause both adults and youths to drop out.
It should also be said that it’s getting harder and harder for clubs, and not just GAA clubs, to get people to volunteer to help facilitate their sport or activity. There are huge pressures on those on committees to finance sport, with huge insurance and running costs involved. Those who have young families or busy jobs tend not to stay involved too long because of these pressures.
It is well documented the positive effects of sport. Sport promotes many good qualities, respect, discipline, accountability, fitness, fun and many more. Many would suggest being involved in sport is one of life’s great lessons.
Who am I to argue.