The game of life at old Kilbarry school

Playing at the top level is a different ball game but for kids, participation and fun are what count

As in life this schoolyard game was kind of dominated by the strong but mistakes were rarely if ever commented on. Photograph: Inpho

As in life this schoolyard game was kind of dominated by the strong but mistakes were rarely if ever commented on. Photograph: Inpho


The GAA’s progressive and inclusive Go Games initiative was in the sports news recently, as was some discussion on Liveline on RTÉ radio on the subject of poor sideline behaviour by a minority of adults at children’s games .

The GAA , in my estimation, is on the right road with the Go Games . Basically, all the child players get to play for the full game in a fun environment with emphasis on improving skills. Participants are not subject to the “win at all costs” approach.

Player development

This should lead to less perceived stress on players from coaches and parents. The emphasis is on player development rather than winning or losing. Everybody involved in Go Games, whether as players, parents/guardians, spectators, mentors, teachers or officials should adhere to the fundamental principles and give expression to the GAA’s “Give Respect, Get Respect” initiative.

I grew up and always played in an environment where winning was everything . I never fully believed in this philosophy but as a player one had to develop this edge or risk not getting on the first team.

It wasn’t until relatively recently I experienced first-hand proof that children like to play and have fun and that winning doesn’t really matter. We adults are responsible for inculcating the win at all costs mentality much too early in their young lives. Much of the time the adults are endeavouring to make their children into the kind of players they wished they were themselves

My final teaching days were spent in Kilbarry National School. This wonderful small rural educational establishment has been sitting at the side of the road a few miles east of Inchigeela in the barony of Muskerry for over one 130 years.The concrete school yard is about 60 metres by 20. The school stands at one end of the long side and the road is the other boundary. A stream and a field provide the remaining borders.

Every dry and not so dry lunchtime gave the boys and girls the opportunity to play Gaelic football across the yard. This is a footballing area and most of the children have a great interest in the game.

On arriving to teach in this special area a few years ago I was immediately fascinated by some of the dynamics of the daily game. It was actually an enactment of an almost perfect life, a life that has rules, respect, tolerance and allowances.

I can’t lay claim to having taught the children any of the values or skills they so easily use in every game. Their homes have to take most of the credit.


As in all walks of life there was a hierarchy in this schoolyard.The sixth class boys were at the head. The teams were chosen by the leaders. A pupil could only play in the big game when he or she was in the master’s room. Equality and inclusion were givens. If you’ve made it to fourth class you were in the game if you wanted to be. Some didn’t of course.


The teams were quickly chosen and the ball was thrown in and the game began. As in life this game was kind of dominated by the strong but mistakes were rarely if ever commented on. Stray passes seldom drew any comment either. Some children ate their lunch while participating in the game, popping in and out of the classroom to replenish supplies. No comment ever from anybody here either. Individual toilet breaks were taken when needed but the game carried on.

The ball went into the stream many times everyday. If the current was strong and the ball was carried then a few children would have to help in its retrieval. The game carried on when everybody was ready. The playing area was the entire yard but this didn’t preclude any of the other children from creating their own entertainment up and down the same space.

Tolerance and inclusion

There might be a game of rounders going on across the football game. A game of chasing was always a possibility. Don’t forget this was all in the one area. Yes indeed tolerance and inclusion was alive in this yard.


There was always a stoppage for injury and genuine concern for the injured. Respect for the opponent was paramount.

One could opt out or in at any stage for any reason. If you were playing you were playing if you weren’t you weren’t.

There was rarely, if ever, anger in this sacred place.The game was played within the rules but being less than good was always tolerated. The scores, some days, came fast and furious.The standard was very high in this yard.

As soon as scoil was called the game ended immediately. None of your next score stuff. Everybody left and headed for the classroom . There was, rarely, if ever, talk of the score or who won or lost.

This is sport in the real sense. Adults have much to learn from this daily unscripted drama.

As Van Morrison wrote “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?”

Obviously there is a big culture change needed to bring about the realisation that the participation, in the long run, is much more valuable and rewarding than winning at all costs.

All sports should be doing their utmost to keep as many children as possible involved for all long as possible. Participation, fun and skill acquisition in that order, are key. Later the maturing player will then be in a position to decide if he or she wants to play at a higher level.

As the old Irish saying goes “Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí” – praise youth and it will flourish.

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