Severe pressures on county players revealed in ESRI report

Players give up to 31 hours a week, compromising sleep and personal relationships

An ESRI report indicates that most football players are glad they became involved with their county teams. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

An ESRI report indicates that most football players are glad they became involved with their county teams. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The new research carried out by the ESRI into the lives of senior inter-county players confirms a lot of what had been anecdotally suggested in recent years but it is a formidable collection of information that will act as a benchmark for the GAA going into the future.

The report, Playing Senior Inter-County Games: Experiences, Realities and Consequences, was launched in Croke Park on Tuesday and its 300 pages is a trove of useful data for addressing the concerns of county players.

Its headline conclusions are that despite a remarkably demanding schedule, most players are glad that they became involved with their county teams although the drop-out figure of about 30 per cent remains high but consistent with research done in recent years by Colm Keys in the Irish Independent.

Figures also indicate that more than half of those surveyed believed that the time commitments were too great.

Elish Kelly, senior research officer with the ESRI, gave the presentation on the report’s findings and pointed out the paradox of the mounting time demands frequently being concerned with activities intended to enhance the experience of playing at the top level.

The report, commissioned in January 2017 by the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association, was intended to “examine the challenge of lifestyle balance in the lives of senior inter-county players”.

Data was obtained from workshops and a questionnaire circulated to senior county players last year and based on their experiences of the 2016 season.

Full-time job

Key findings included the scale of the commitment involved with players spending up to 31 hours per week on their team involvement, between travel, preparation, collective training and individually instigated sessions. Obviously travel demands differed for those living within and outside the county.

Forty per cent of the players said that between county and club they had no time off in 2016, whereas involvement with other teams added an average of four hours a week.

Multi-eligibility was predictably more of an issue for younger players in the old under-21 and third-level sectors, but the report accepted that these competitions couldn’t be moved around the calendar because of academic commitments. It recommended, however, that there should be closer liaison between county managers and college coaches.

Given that the daily hours dedicated to career, 7.9, is on a par with the general male population, the report found that players were compromising sleep and personal relationships on account of the hours spent with the county.

Mental wellbeing was above the threshold for being at risk of depression, but below that of the general population and especially those of a similar age.

Benefits of county involvement were identified as enhanced leadership skills and self-confidence, networking for careers and the skills to work under pressure.

KEY FIGURES

31 hours: Amount of time given to involvement with county teams
40 per cent: Number of players who have no time off from Gaelic games
50.7 per cent: Those in the 18-21 age group playing for four or five different teams
7.6 hours: Average sleep for county players
8-10 hours: Recommended sleep for elite athletes
48 per cent: Number of players not getting the recommended sleep
56.6 per cent: Injury rate among those getting seven or fewer hours sleep
76.6 per cent: said main downside of county involvement was spending less time with family, partner and friends.
47.6 per cent: Would like to spend more time on their careers
34.8 per cent: Would like to spend more time with family or partner
47.6 per cent: Ceased playing in 2017 for career reasons
24.1 per cent: Ceased playing in 2017 because of injury
22.6 per cent: Ceased playing in 2017 because of no chance of success
18.6 per cent: Ceased playing in 2017 for family reasons
36 per cent: Played often or very often for the county when injured

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