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GAA is not just a sports umbrella, it is a community organisation

It was great to see Cork GAA organise, promote and deliver its first workshop on creating a healthy club off the pitch. It is a widely misconceived notion that the GAA is a sports organisation but it is actually a community organisation, the country’s largest may I add, hence the importance of holding such an event.

The GAA must play to its strengths in areas like community effort, volunteering, health promotion, mental wellbeing and life skills.

By their very nature, a GAA club delivers health qualities and opportunities — the physical benefits of playing and training, the social connections, life skills such as communication and self-efficacy, a safe place to socialise, inter-generational interaction.

Today, the association is being turned to as the conduit through which to address all Ireland’s ills. We, volunteers, see our responsibility in this area too, but when our volunteers are already going above and beyond with time and effort, something has to give.

We have to be smarter. Issues like mental health and drug and alcohol awareness training also requires a degree of expertise, qualifications and experience rather than the GAA trying to make it mandatory that a club volunteer fill the hugely important role of alcohol and substance abuse prevention officer or wellness officer.

Therefore, for us to have a meaningful and lasting impact on such issues we need to partner with agencies and bodies with the personnel, resources, and expertise to delivery appropriate, accredited programmes and interventions.

The regional drugs taskforces are the perfect example — well funded with trained personnel. Unfortunately, the GAA are concerned about the inter-county scene or club fixtures.

Such bodies and groups are struggling to reach the audiences they are paid and funded to work with, — early teens, young adults, men aged 18-44. Ditto for mental health agencies.

We, the GAA, have a captive audience across all these groups and so are working towards implementing a structure that will better allow them access through our clubs. It has the potential of being a win-win situation.

However, managing expectations of such agencies is a major issue as they don’t realise many clubs are experiencing, volunteer burnout and struggling to get chairpersons and coaches, never mind turn their attention immediately to issues of health and wellbeing. It will take time but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

It is, but only if done in a way that brings value to both sides without adding additional woes and work on our beleaguered burnt-out volunteers.

Stephen Mannix

Banteer/ Lyre GAA



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