Everybody finds their own way through the crisis. Avenues that a month ago were wide and welcoming are shut off now, with little other than idle guessing as to when they’ll be open again. This is especially true of sportspeople, a group whose identity is wrapped up in something that suddenly doesn’t exist. It must be like swimming in a pool where the floor has been lowered without warning.
For the Gaelic Players Association, the job now is to find a way to help their members stay afloat through it all. Starting last Thursday night and continuing through the rest of the month, the GPA is running massed online webinars for inter-county footballers and hurlers, covering five different areas – mindset, nutrition, injuries, sleep and finance. The first one had 127 players from across the country logged in last week.
“From our perspective, a large part of our work is done on a face-to-face basis,” says Eamon Murphy of the GPA. “Last year, we would have engaged with over 1,500 players and around 80 per cent of those would have been supported on a face-to-face basis. It is a fundamental change for us. We needed to adapt to the situation and innovate.
“We have been optimising our digital capabilities over the past year, we’ve developed a player app and a new website and so this format was probably something that was in the pipeline anyway. The situation with the pandemic has probably accelerated that a little bit.
“We quickly needed to adapt. Key to that was doing it in consultation with the players. We would have surveyed them and engaged with all our squad reps in the last couple of weeks, just to identify what the priority areas would be. We got those answers back pretty quickly. Those are reflected in the content we created for the webinars.”
The first webinar was run by GPA Personal Devlopment coach Declan O’Connell, talking players through the mindset challenges that have suddenly come upon them. With the sun in the sky and the ground hardening beneath us all, this is the time of year when inter-county players begin to come into their own. Finding the right way to deal with all that having gone away in the blink of an eye isn’t straightforward.
“The biggest thing is the sense of being disconnected,” O’Connell says. “Everything we took for granted – training, gymwork, the collective, meeting up with the lads, going for a few pucks or a kickabout even, that’s all been taken away and denied to us.
“After that, you have the uncertainty of not knowing when everything is going to happen again. And the problem of motivation in the middle of a global pandemic when training is the last thing on your mind.
“Finally, we have anxiety and boredom. Anxiety over the fact that it’s a health pandemic so players are worried for family, for older people, parents, grandparents, whoever. Themselves, even. And the boredom piece is obvious. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch.”
Even with the GAA holding a remote Special Congress at the end of the week to give them more power to change the championship structures quickly, nobody expects clarity on when or even whether there will be championships this year. Now more than ever, perspective and patience are skills worth learning.
“In such a time of uncertainty, players and athletes across the world are seeking that bit of certainty and assurances,” says Murphy. “And while it’s difficult for us to provide that explicitly, I suppose what we can provide is some sort of perspective. We can give various bit of support in the areas that they need.
“I think in terms of identity, inter-county players have innate qualities that they’ve developed by their roles on the field. Resilience, perseverance, whatever it is. I think what we’re trying to do is fill the void that would normally be filled with their on and off-field commitments. And trying to provide an outlets for them where they can focus on themselves a bit more.
“They have so much more time for that now because they aren’t putting in the 30 hours a week that an intercounty career takes up. It is a time for all of us to pause and reflect and to try and figure out where we’re going. The aim of these webinars is to fill some of that void that players now find themselves in. Ultimately we can’t control the situation we find ourselves in. We can certainly control the response.”
More information: THE IRISH TIMES.