JOHN RIORDAN: Why I’m in awe of what youth coaches achieve

Not many of us are naturally inclined towards coaching kids during our selfish twenties.

It’s that era of our lives when the mirror contains the only thing that matters.

Unless you’re a young professional/quasi-professional athlete doing community outreach or a precocious apprentice coach playing the long game, it’s altogether too rare that a young adult will focus on anything other than their own lives.

Firmly in my mid-30s now and having witnessed first hand the miracle that is the Continental Youth Championships — North American GAA’s annual tournament for underage players — I am in awe of what youth coaches achieve.

These days, parents are much more involved in the coaching of kids and it’s well documented that having so many frustrated and boisterous experts on the sideline isn’t always a healthy thing.

And of course in America, the tensions have always been that bit more ratcheted up by the prospect of college scholarships.

The legal obligation of universities in this country since the 1970s is to give equality to both genders and to provide funding for sports in as equitable a manner as possible.

That means your daughter’s softball career can set her up for degree and a career down the track or your son’s talents with a trumpet will find a rewarding outlet on football or basketball gamedays that will also take care of most of his tuition.

Be it a future student athlete in the US or the next Lionel Messi in the rest of the world, so much is at stake and the ages at which chances of success are being assessed are becoming more and more removed from reality.

There was an interesting piece in The New York Times on Monday penned by a pediatric orthopedic surgeon Ron Turker who wrote about how he was dealing with more and more injured youngsters — some with serious knee damage — way before time and some whose contrived aches and pains are quite simply a cry for help.

With these injuries comes the panic and dismay of parents who place so much hope in the abilities of their offspring. Turker claimed he was having these tough conversations more often.

He describes the “new societal norm” of heavy investment in youth sport which has in turn become big business across the board.

“Millions of dollars flow to coaches, leagues, equipment, road trips, motels, tournament fees — and the list goes on,” he writes. “We give in to the herd mentality along with our confounded friends so that our kids won’t be seen as outliers... When I tell parents that their kid’s chance of scholarship money is less than 2%, they shake their heads in sympathy for the other 98%.”

It would be interesting to find out what Turker might think of the CYC.

There were coaches and equipment for the 2,600 kids, there were fees and hotels and of course there were long trips made from Canada and California and elsewhere.

But this is the GAA in America — there’s no long-term benefit outside of the lasting memories forged on an island on the East River.

This was my first experience of this ever-evolving North American GAA tournament and it was as fascinating as I’d expected.

Volunteering as a field marshall with the sole objective of ensuring every game started on time, I certainly made my fair share of enemies among the aforementioned coaches whose drive to see their 10- and 12-year-olds succeed by any means necessary is worth a longer study all on its own. A tiny minority caused problems and the expected abuse of referees and even of opposing players as young as 10 did unfortunately occur. But for the vast majority, the will to win yielded more positive moments, both in victory and defeat.

Whatever about the incredible young players on whom this tournament was focused, it was their parents and mentors who gave up their time at the height of summer that made the whole thing tick.

And when the sun set brilliantly over Manhattan on Sunday evening as the last of the teams of youngsters filtered out in their various colours, it was suddenly obvious where all this intense passion was really directed.

Not some vague promise of a future fiscal break at one of the countless educational institutions crying out for athletic prestige but rather backwards to a heritage the Irish-American is desperately keen to preserve.

* johnwriordan@gmail.com; Twitter: JohnWRiordan


Lifestyle

With the housing crisis, renovating a run-down property is worth considering if you have the inclination, time, funds and a good team of contractors around you, writes Carol O’CallaghanBehind the scenes in The Great House Revival

More From The Irish Examiner