Player burnout is a serious issue amongst young GAA players and the cohort of players most in danger of this affliction are college going inter-county players!
There are a number of factors that contribute to this. Number one on this list is the sheer number of teams that they play for at this age.
Take Diarmuid O’Connor as a classic example of someone in this boat. The newly crowned Young Player of the Year will more than likely be picked to play for Connacht in the Interprovincial Championships in two weeks time.
This will be the sixth team he has represented this calendar year, the others being Mayo (Senior and Under 21), Ballintubber (Senior and U21) and DCU (Sigerson Cup). If you break it down further, in terms of competitions he has played in, the number is closer to twelve.
To give some context, O’Connor’s 2015 season actually started in September 2014. This is when he began training with DCU in preparation for their upcoming league campaign and it still hasn’t finished; yet his 2016 season is already underway.
This time of year, September to March, is the worst period for any young elite GAA player in terms of workload. While O’Connor was training for DCU in preparation for the league, O’Byrne and Sigerson Cups, he was also winning the 2014 county championship for his club and representing them in the Connacht championship at the same time as their U21 championship was being contested, all the while gearing up for the beginning of the inter-county U21 and senior season. There is no two ways about it, that is a dangerous workload and it is unheard of in any other sport in the world!
In an interview in the GPA’s new student website Diarmuid gave this insight in to balancing student and football life:
The nights you’d have to travel home for training are tough, you might have to miss a lecture to get home in time and then you’d get back to Dublin late so that’s tough on the sleeping patterns.
This is a worrying statement when you consider that Diarmuid is not alone. This is a quote that would be repeated by players from Wexford all the way to Donegal and back if they were asked.
This is even more worrying when one delves in to the GPA’s Student Report ‘Never Enough Time’ which claims that 40% of student county players surveyed stated that they have had to repeat exams in college and 14% have had to repeat an entire academic year. This is considerably higher than data from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which revealed a less than 6% repeat rate across all third level students in Ireland. This is clearly attributable to the overbearing workload being placed on our young stars of tomorrow.
I can hear you ask “Why don’t these guys say ‘To hell with the college. I have too much on my plate already and I have no affinity to this setup anyway!'” and it’s a valid question to ask. The simple answer, in a lot of cases, is pure economics.
Before I elaborate, I will outline three more stats that were published in the same GPA report:
- 55% of student county players indicated that they feel under pressure to represent their college
- 50% report that they feel overwhelmed by their commitments
- 55% are experiencing financial difficulties
These stats tell you all you need to know. Basically, if you mash these three stats together and summarise – over half of college players would prefer not to play for their college as they have an overloaded schedule but they feel under pressure, financially, to do so. For some of these players, scholarships are the only way that they can afford to go to college. They can’t afford to concentrate solely on their club and county commitments. Their club or county isn’t going to give them subsidised accommodation and a few bob to cover groceries and other expenses. Something has to give in terms of early year competitions and unless these players are going to be given local scholarships then it’s not going to be the Sigerson Cup.
Later in the same interview mentioned above O’Connor stated:
Yeah definitely. Going home during the week to train in Mayo puts pressure on your college work and even getting enough sleep, but I do enjoy doing it and I know I’m very lucky to get to play for Mayo and to have the opportunities I have in college.
But should it have to be a situation where to play for Mayo and go to college in Dublin needs to be such a sacrifice? Should these players need to travel home a few times a week? Is there no solution that can be reached whereby these players can be better protected from the dangers of player burnout?
Don’t forget that player burnout is not only physical but mental fatigue which results in a significant drop in performance on and off the pitch. Diarmuid is expected to put in 30+ hours of lectures in a week, with assignments and study on top and then play as much football as I have outlined above. Not forgetting that in the heat of his busy season he also has to sit six tough exams each January in order to progress academically.
How can a guy like that sustain that schedule over four years and NOT suffer from some degree of burnout? It’s almost unfathomable but let’s hope for the sake of Mayo that his managers are responsible enough to minimise his workload as much as possible.
So, in summary, I have outlined the awful hardships that college GAA players must go through in order to represent their counties. I hope Diarmuid won’t mind that I used him as an example throughout but it’s important that we personify this issue in order for people to really empathise with it. Nobody cares about numbers; we do care about people like Diarmuid.
In my follow-up blog post that I’ll be doing here soon, I’ll give you my take on some of the solutions that PlayerBurnout.com are offering to coaches of players who play on multiple teams. Before I do this, though, I would love if you could post your personal suggestions to solve the problem in the comments. As well as this, I would love to hear about your thoughts on some of the above and whether you agree or disagree with it all.