Taking up a sport

The sporting life…

If the mere thought of exercise has you breaking out in a cold sweat and the idea of going to a gym seems ridiculous, perhaps you should consider taking up a sport. Unlike what some people feel is the endless repetition of gym exercises or the tedium of jogging, sport can be exciting, social and fun.

The benefits of sport go far beyond the improvement in fitness and boosting of strength and agility. Winning at sport boosts endorphins, the substance that produces feelings of pleasure and well-being in the human body. This is why exhausted runners at the end of a race are able to perform exuberant laps of honour.

However, as the saying goes, it's not about the winning, it's about taking part. Training for a sporting activity improves the state of the whole body, from cardiovascular efficiency to bone strength and can literally add years to the life of a couch potato.

All levels

Many people have admired Ireland's sporting heroes and wondered what it would be like to achieve their honours. Obviously, becoming a Sean Kelly or a Sonia O'Sullivan requires talent and many years of gruelling practice. However, sport exists at all levels and for all ages and it is never too late to take up a sport.

If you are considering taking up a sport in order to keep fit and active, there are a number of options. You might think about commencing again a sport that you were involved in at school, or you might want to consider taking an activity you already do, like cycling or swimming, to a new level. Equally, you may wish to take up a whole new sport from scratch. Irishhealth.com decided to find out how someone would go about taking up a range of popular sports.

Gaelic sports

Ireland is almost unique in that its indigenous games are not only still played to a high level, but also because those games are mass participation sports with many thousands of people taking part. Football and hurling at county level garner the same support as soccer or rugby, but local teams offer a focus of community life and social activity in many areas.

Joining a GAA club can provide anyone with the opportunity of becoming fit and taking part in some of the world's most exciting sports and it has the added benefit of allowing people to become greatly involved in the community where they live. Each county board maintains a list of GAA clubs.

"There is no problem with people becoming involved in football, hurling, camogie or handball", explained a spokesperson for the GAA. "All they need do is go to their local club. If a person contacts their local club secretary and says that they want to meet people, play sport and be coached they will help to arrange it. Most clubs have coaching sessions on a weekly basis".


Hurling is a fast, frenetic ball sport guaranteed to raise fitness levels.

The GAA has an official site at www.gaa.ie, which is largely dedicated to the games at the highest level. However, those wishing to learn more about grass roots gaelic sports are likely to find their local team listed at www.clubgaa.ie. Camogie and ladies football are not quite as widespread as their male equivalent sports, so it might be worth checking www.ladiesgaelic.ie for information on clubs which have female teams.

Football

If your idea of being a football fan involves an armchair and a six-pack, for your health's sake it could be time to take to the pitch yourself. Many people believe that football is a game for prodigies and feel there is no way to pick up the game at a later stage of life.

Thankfully this is a false concept. There are many amateur leagues around the country, including dozens in Dublin alone. The teams involved are always looking for new players and enthusiasm and a degree of fitness are the main criteria for participating. The Football Association of Ireland (01-6766864) can advise you about local teams and leagues in your area.

However, you may still feel that perhaps the risk of injury outweighs the health benefits, in which case there is the option of becoming the man in black. Why not referee for the youth and junior leagues?

On the plus side, there is no chance of sliding tackles placing you in hospital, yet you still gain all the health benefits of participating in a fast moving team sport. And there is always the possibility of rising through the ranks to referee in the national league one day. If you would like to know more about refereeing in Ireland, you should contact Paul Brady at the FAI (01-6766864) or e-mail: info@fai.ie.


A referee guides the play in an amateur game.

Rugby

Rugby is a game with an enormous tradition in Ireland and has rarely been as popular as it is at present, thanks to the successes of the national and provincial teams. However, you do not need to be Brian O'Driscoll to gain the health benefits that rugby training provides. Rugby may have a reputation as a slightly dangerous game and minor injuries do occur, but boxing it is not. Speed, strength and agility are all boosted by taking up rugby and for the couch potato the benefits of taking to the field yourself outweigh those of watching the Six Nations in a smoky pub.

"If someone has an interest in the sport or wishes to revitalise their schools rugby career, the clubs are always interested in new recruits", says John Murphy of the IRFU. "Depending on where you live, you should contact your local provincial rugby office to get information on clubs in your area."

To get involved in time for the new season, people would best get in touch with a club in the autumn, when pre-season training begins. The Irish Rugby Football Union headquarters at Lansdowne Road can be contacted at (01) 6473800. They will be happy to inform any members of the public how to contact their nearest provincial office and get involved.

Athletics

Running is a popular way to keep fit, but yet many people find the idea of a morning run or job too boring to fit into a hectic schedule. The way to avoid the loneliness of the long distance runner is to join an athletics club, where in addition to company and training, there is the opportunity to try your hand at some field sports such as the shot-put, javelin or long jump.

Few of those who take up athletics will ever join Sonia O'Sullivan at the Olympic games, but competitive athletics in Ireland does offer the possibility of testing yourself and the desire to beat that 'personal best' rapidly becomes addictive. Training under experienced athletics coaches ensures that fitness and stamina are guaranteed.

"Depending on which sport they are interested in trying, the board will direct them to the nearest club that can facilitate them", a spokesperson for Athletics Ireland said. All athletics clubs in Ireland provide coaching and they can all accommodate both male and female members. Athletics Ireland can be contacted at (01) 8308925 or emailed at Admin@AthleticsIreland.ie.

Cycling

Perhaps you already cycle to work, but is that life-in-your-hands dash through the traffic fumes really good for your health? Certainly cycling is good for fitness, but breathing car exhaust fumes and dodging the other vehicles on the road don't offer the health benefits of opening your legs up to a 50 mile cycle through the countryside.

"If someone isn't used to going large distances, they may be advised to improve their stamina for a couple of months before they formally join in regular 30 mile spins", said Ciaran McKenna of the Irish Cycling Federation. "Depending on how good you are, you will join a group cycling regularly anything between 10 miles and 80 miles a spin".

The majority of Irish cycling clubs are racing dominated, but more and more are starting up as touring clubs. "Half of our members would be touring leisure cyclists. Age isn't such a big issue these days. Phillip Cassidy, one of the best Irish cyclists currently, is nearly 40", Mr McKenna said.

The Irish Cycling Federation can be contacted by email at irishcyclingfed@eircom.net or you can call them on (01) 8551522 for more information about cycling in your area. The Irish Cycling Federation is based in Kelly Roche House, 619 North Circular Road, Dublin 1, Ireland.

Swimming

Ireland is not as blessed with swimming pools as some countries. In fact, the first Irish Olympic-sized pool only opened last year. A small number of municipal pools exist in the bigger towns and there are many private pools, often in health clubs or attached to schools or hospitals, that hold public swimming sessions.

If you are happy merely taking the occasional therapeutic dip followed by a relaxing sauna, then a health club membership is the answer. If you would like to learn to swim, or to improve your swimming ability and performance, then you might like to think of joining a swimming club.

St Paul's Swim School and Club maintain a comprehensive list of Irish swimming clubs at their website - http://www.iol.ie/~stpauls/links/irish-swim.html. Equally, Swim Ireland, the national body for the sport, can advise you on how to dive into the world of swimming. They have a website at www.swimireland.ie, and are based at the House of Sport, tel: (01) 4568698.

Martial Arts

Taking up a martial art is an increasingly popular option, especially among women who appreciate learning to defend themselves as well as the health and fitness benefits. There are a wide range of martial arts, from the full contact versions of karate and kickboxing to the more gentle arts, such as judo, each with their own underlying philosophy and discipline.

The great thing about martial arts is that anyone of any size, gender, age or fitness level can get involved. Most people who take up a martial art appreciate the confidence boost they gain from it almost as much as the boost in fitness and agility. Before joining any martial arts dojo, ensure that they are recognised by the Irish Martial Arts Commission, the official regulatory umbrella group for all martial arts in Ireland.

For information on classes in Kenpo Karate, the famous art of the empty hand, take a look at http://indigo.ie/~kenpoed/index.html which contains a list of participating clubs in Ireland.

Kickboxing in Ireland falls into a number of different disciplines, but the most popular is organised by the Allstyles Kickboxing Association of Ireland, which has over 5,000 registered members. Practitioners assert that, despite its violent image, kickboxing is perfectly safe and offers improved reflexes and co-ordination, increased strength and stamina and is an excellent all-round cardiovascular exercise.

The AKAI can be emailed at kickboxing@yahoo.com or view their website at www.kickboxing.ie to find out more about clubs in your area.

Taekwon-Do was invented by a Korean, General Choi Hong Hi, in 1955 and is based on Japanese karate with influences of Korean indigenous martial arts. Taekwon-Do has since spread rapidly throughout the world and is now one of the best known and most widely practised of the martial arts.

In Ireland the responsibility of administering Taekwon-Do falls to the Republic of Ireland Taekwon-Do Association, who have a website at www.rita-itf.org. All the information about joining clubs, known as schools, can be found on the site.

Many other martial arts are practised in Ireland, including judo, aikido, and the less well-known forms of karate. The Irish Martial Arts Commission maintains information on all martial arts activity in Ireland and can be contacted at (01) 4783831.

Other Sports

Needless to say, almost every sport under the sun is available in Ireland for those who are interested in participating. Ireland is especially blessed with watersports facilities, not surprising considering we are an island nation. Almost every coastal area offers the possibility of taking up waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing and a plethora of other water-based activities.

Also, Ireland's status as a world-class location for golf is legendary and world famous courses such as Portmarnock, Royal Portrush and the K Club jostle with excellent municipal and links courses for the nation's golfers. There are over 50 golf clubs in Dublin alone and the sport allows men and women the opportunity to test their skills on many beautiful and challenging courses.

Ireland has no great reputation as a tennis nation, but there are many tennis clubs throughout the country. Unfortunately, many of these also offer social cachet as well as tennis courts and lessons, so prices can be expensive and waiting lists for membership are long. The few public courts, usually located in public parks, can often be in bad repair. Nevertheless, Tennis Ireland is keen to attract more people to the sport, and the organisation can be contacted at (01) 6681841.

If you are interested in trying a sport not listed in this article, the best people to contact are the House of Sport, who can put you in touch with the representative body for any sport organised in the country. Simply call them at (01) 4501633 and good luck with whatever you choose to take up!


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