Steven McDonnell: GAA will lose out by trying to quell competitive spirt

The year was 1988, the game was in Forkhill and our opponents were Cullyhanna. I was eight years old and this was the first ever football final that I participated in. I was also left half back in those days.

I’m now 43 years old and I still have a vivid memory of playing in my first final. Why? Because it meant something to me and to all the players on the field that day. Because we were all U10, did that take away from it? Absolutely not.

When you participate in sport, no matter what sport it is or what age bracket you are playing in, there is a competitiveness inside you that comes to the fore. That competitiveness does not always allow you to win, but it gives you an objective to strive towards, and all players regardless of age should always be allowed to experience that.

There is a famous quote in relation to sport and it goes “I never lose, I either win or I learn”. The GAA’s decision to clamp down competitive play from U12s and below is taking away this opportunity for our kids to learn properly.

In all walks of life, there are disappointments and there are good times. This should be the same for sport. You have to be able to deal with disappointment in order to improve.

Not everyone will agree with me on this, but as harsh as it may sound, I always want the best for my kids, but I won’t ever mollycoddle them into a false sense of achievement from a sporting point of view. I want them to go out and be competitive and aim to be as good as they can be.

If there is an end goal, such as the winning and losing of a game, then they have something to strive towards. Winning is not always possible though, so learning to experience defeat is just as important as learning to be a gracious winner.

Soccer and rugby are the two sports that the GAA are more in danger of losing players to and they are making it a lot easier for parents to decide what direction they want their kids to go in by taking away this opportunity of competition.

I stand to be corrected, but I have never heard of soccer or rugby playing at any age group in a non-competitive nature. Some of the reasons given by the GAA for this thinking was that there was a lack of fun for the kids and a lack of perceived competence, with an over-emphasis on competitive outcomes from both coaches and parents.

These same parents are not going to change the fact that they want their kids to experience competition so they will just take them to the other sports mentioned.

Many of the coaches that are working wonders throughout the country certainly do it for the love of their clubs and of the game, but they are human and there is without a doubt a competitive streak in the majority of them, so they want competitive action to prepare their players towards. Do we want to lose these coaches also?

It definitely should not all be about winning, but having the opportunity to win a game means a lot, even to a kid at eight years of age.

Show me a kid that is not competitive and wants to win every time they take to the field. There aren’t many. That’s just in them. I have refereed plenty of juvenile games, both in challenge games and in blitzes and I can assure you it’s not just the coaches or the parents on the sidelines with an over-emphasis on competitive outcomes.

To host a blitz, an application has to be submitted online by the club to the county’s games development manager for approval. This is crazy stuff. In times when clubs do their utmost to raise much needed funds to help them stay on top of things, hosting blitzes opens up a door of opportunity for them to gather in a few pounds whether it is having a fee to attend, opening up club shops or coffee shops on their premises or maybe even a barbecue on the day.

These clubs are now going to lose out on financial return because of this bizarre decision. Some things are not properly thought through, and I, for one, am not in favour of this. Going back to that match in 1988 against Cullyhanna, we lost it by one point. Did it do me or any of my team-mates that day any harm? Definitely not.  

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