Social media and the GAA

Lifestyle – The smartphone culture, and the instant accessibility of gambling sites, has huge ramifications for sport and greatly adds to the pressures on players, a meeting in Barna was told last week. Dearbhla Geraghty listened to the experts and explains why.

Social media and smartphones have changed the way that we relate to sport, and indeed to each other. And, it is not just that the art of conversation between team mates has diminished, but new – before, unheard of – problems are forcing clubs to tackle mental health issues head-on.

All-Ireland winning hurler, Iggy Clarke, gives an example of where players arrive at training already togged-out. They bypass the dressing rooms and, afterwards, go straight from the pitch to their car, and then home.

“We inquired why, and got talking to a few. One said: ‘I’m not going to take a shower, because I might be ‘Snapped’, and my picture could be gone viral before I go home’,” he said.

“That was the approach of some players, they didn’t want to share those dressing room moments. In our day, there was none of it, we looked forward to the dressing room, having the craic and banter, having showers afterwards, it was all part of the culture. Now, to some degree, that has changed quite a bit.”

Former Galway hurlers, Justin Campbell and Iggy Clarke, work in the area of mental health and well-being – Iggy is a member of the Irish Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, while Justin is an addiction counsellor, dealing with alcohol, drugs and gambling.

They are involved with the GAA’s ‘Healthy Club’ initiative, have already trained up dedicated officers in about 60 of the county’s 80 clubs, and were speaking in the Twelve Hotel in Barna about the importance of being aware of the growing issues facing players.

You could say they have seen it all – but the reality is, their eyes are being opened to new challenges every single day.

“Initially, I started dealing with alcohol and substance abuse in 2005-06, when the place was awash with money,” says Justin.

“There was a lot of drinking, including underage drinking, which was impacting on the GAA and communities. We are nearly back at that stage again – those issues and problems haven’t gone away.”

With prominent County players coming forward lately, and speaking about their personal mental health issues, their stresses, additions, and anxieties, he says the ‘lid has been lifted’ somewhat.

“If it’s happening to county players, it must be the same for a club player. We put them on pedestals, but they are the same as everyone else.”

The GAA is in a very strategic position to face this growing problem head-on, being centrally located in every village, town, and city, but it is also taking on a responsibility to address these issues with action plans and policies.

Nearly a third of County players who made contact with the Gaelic Players Association did so with gambling problems, according to figures released from the ‘2012-15 Emotional Health and Wellbeing Programme’.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.