Mutual support and friendship for youngsters part of the GAA structure

Mutual support and friendship for youngsters part of the GAA structure

The Carrigaline camogie squad during training. A new study has found friendships in young GAA teams are highly valued. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Sure, lookit, we all know the GAA is great, Marty — and a new study has shown just how it helps younger people, including how it enhances the idea that "real-life" friendships are better than the online equivalent.

An Exploration of the Perceived Friendship, Social Support and Understanding of Empathy among the Membership of Four Gaelic Athletic Association Juvenile Clubs was written by Conor Horgan for a PhD in the School of Political Science and Sociology at NUI Galway and looked at the perceived friendship, social support, and understanding of empathy among the membership of the four clubs, all based in Galway city.

A total of 130 respondents completed questionnaires, with 20 young players participating in one-to-one interviews and a researcher completing a further 64 individualised observations of respondents.

The study tracked players aged from 11 to 18, over a season. St James’ GAA male and female Gaelic football teams, and the Castlegar GAA hurling and camogie teams all participated. 

Most players said they had three-to-five close friends and almost all reported good parental support, although more males (63%) than females (37%) perceived that their friends were more willing to help them.

Horgan — a member of the Castlegar GAA Club executive committee, a teacher and now also running his own professional educational, coaching, and therapeutic private practice — found that all 130 respondents demonstrated consistent empathy.

Regarding their club, when asked: ‘Are there friends within your GAA club that you can depend on to help you if you really need it?’ three-quarters said there were. 

Almost 80% agreed that their relationships with friends in the GAA club provided them with a sense of acceptance and happiness, and almost three-quarters of respondents said ‘yes’ to the question: ‘Can you depend other adults within your GAA club to help you, if you really need it?’.

The survey also found that just 8.5% of young players said they did not feel they could turn to another adult within their GAA club for advice if they had problems.

Through observations of the training environment, the study found the players were generally open to accepting the ideas of others and coping with criticism. It also found that "the ‘avoidance of aggression’ was achieved by 78.1% of respondents".

According to the study: "Being friends, having fun, and being respectful to team members were perceived as important parts of being supportive in a GAA club.

"Whereas in general respondents had strong social support in their lives, this was rated as particularly high within friendships in the GAA and there was an overall very positive and high regard for GAA club engagement as a source of support and friendship.

"Respondents do not see friends that they initially make online as being ‘real-life’ friends, and that those they meet on a typical week are more important to them than online friends in general. 

"The respondents to this study noted that the quality of support that they receive from their social network in their life, in general, is good, but this quality has been increased due to the respondents' involvement within their GAA clubs."

Among the conclusions is that "young people who participate in sports’ clubs can help to shape the changes in policies that guide the future of the GAA in Ireland."

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