27 Nov 2021

Time to address volunteer burnout

All across the country GAA clubs are holding their AGMs, as they set out plans for another year of activity on and off the field. This Sporting Life - Colin Regan

All across the country GAA clubs are holding their AGMs, as they set out plans for another year of activity on and off the field.

This Sporting Life - Colin Regan

These volunteers who give their time so generously are the backbone of this country and in rural Ireland, in particular, it’s impossible to imagine life without the GAA.

The Association, by no means, has a monopoly on generous people giving freely of their time but as the country’s largest sporting and community organisation, its reach into every parish in the country is unmatched.

The Association is, however, suffering from a very real problem – volunteer burnout.

For years the topic of player burnout was top on the agenda in the media and there’s no doubt the multi-layered nature of our competitions, grades, and even our games can lead to some players being over-extended (especially those good enough to represent club, county and colleges across a multitude of age levels).

Volunteer burnout is a different beast, but something we too must address. For too long, the same people have been asked to take on multiple roles within our clubs.

The modernisation of the culture surrounding our games and the best practise governance requirements enforced on sporting organisations – such as those concerned with child welfare – has added enormously to the workload.

Yet the group of people making themselves available as officers, coaches, volunteers, remains limited. Combine this with the loss of so many of our members in recent years to emigration and the situation is becoming stark.

The old joke of being asked how you became secretary for your club and replying because you missed the AGM isn’t so funny anymore. The end result means we lose great people because they get overworked and under-appreciated.

This is all happening at a time when the country is increasingly looking towards the GAA to solve the all the ills of Irish society – from bullying to mental health, from obesity to drug and alcohol abuse.

What most people fail to realise is that by simply running an inclusive, welcoming local club that offers members a broad and varied way to either engage in sport in a physical way (i.e. by training and playing) or in a social way (by connecting people to each other and their communities) GAA clubs (and all sports clubs as far as I am concerned) already do so much for the health of this nation.

Professionals working in the area of mental health or drug and alcohol addiction talk about risk factors and protective factors that young people are exposed to during their formative years.

These either increase the likelihood that they will ever have problems (risk factors) later in life related to their mental health or substance misuse, or reduce the likelihood (protective factors).

The protective factors include good communication skills, positive self-belief and self-efficacy, a strong sense of community; consistent boundaries across all settings of their life i.e. school, home, social life; access to good recreational resources; resilience building skills; a strong sense of identity; and delayed experimentation with alcohol/drugs to name a few.

This are factors all GAA clubs offer in abundance. The risk factors are pretty much the polar opposite.

By having your children engage with your local GAA club – or any sport for that matter – you are giving them the best start in life you possibly can.

I learned more about diet and nutrition and exercise from my involvement with sport than I did in school or college.

I also learned a hell of a lot about life and what’s important in this world from the great club and county coaches, chairpersons, secretaries, officers, and volunteers I was lucky enough to meet and be influenced by along the way. Stuff you could never learn in a book, only in the school of life.

So next time you drop off your child for training and think about heading home to catch Coronation Street before you pick him or her up again, why not hang around instead and see if you can be of any assistance.

You’d never know, you might just find there’s an opportunity awaiting you that will not only benefit your club, but that you could benefit from too.

Liatroim abú.

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