Playing GAA at senior inter-county level can take a major toll, with some players getting less time with their loved ones, less sleep than they need and experiencing poorer mental health, a new study has shown.
Researchers from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) were commissioned by the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) to investigate the commitment required to play at senior inter-county level, and the impact this has on players' lives.
The research was mainly based on workshops and a survey of players carried out in 2016.
The study found that one of the main commitments required to play at this level is time. During the 2016 championship, players allocated over six hours on a weekday pitch-based training day, despite having spent an average of almost eight hours in work on that same day.
In other words, their commitment on these days was ‘almost equivalent to them undertaking a second consecutive shift of work', the ESRI noted.
Overall, players were found to spend up to 31 hours per week on their GAA commitments, and a major factor in this is the emergence of sports conditioning as a major component of inter-county training in recent years.
"This is adding substantially to players' overall training load and needs to be considered in the design of any policies aimed at preventing injury and/or burnout," the ESRI said.
The study found that players tend to ring fence their time allocation to playing by compromising on other aspects of their lives, particularly the time they allocate to personal relationships and downtime.
This sacrifice was greater among players aged over 30.
Players were also found to be compromising on sleep, with almost half not getting the eight to 10 hours recommended for athletes on a pitch-based training day.
Furthermore, the injury rate tended to be higher among players getting less than seven hours sleep.
The mental wellbeing of players also tended to be poorer than that of the general population, particularly when compared to those of similar age.
While not enough sleep may contribute to poorer mental health, players also reported that too much effort was demanded of them, and that time away from family and friends was a downside of playing at this level.
The study pointed out that while it appears that players are maintaining their professional careers in tandem with playing, this is at the expense of personal relationships, sleep and general relaxation.
Regardless of age, the main reasons players gave for stopping playing was because they wanted to focus on their career.
Meanwhile, the study also found that over half of players sustained an injury with their team in 2016. Of these, 56% could not play for at least a month, while 6% missed five weeks or more of work/college.
The researchers noted that many players continued to train and play even when injured, with some receiving medication to do so. Injury was the second biggest reason for players decided not to play anymore.
"Most players emphasised that they were glad that they made the decision to play senior inter-county, and pointed to the benefits of doing so. Nevertheless, the research identified areas of concern across health and wellbeing, professional career development, and players' personal lives.
"Addressing these concerns, and in particular the underlying sources of the issues, is key to enabling players to thrive on and off the pitch," commented the study's author and ESRI researcher, Elish Kelly.
The report can be viewed here
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