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Parents Need to Get a Grip

04 October 2011

Parents Need to get a Grip
The popularity of the GAA, and the absolute obsession which modern parents have for the advancement of their children, has created an underage environment that can only be described as ugly

Paddy Heaney “Against the Breeze” Irish News 4th October 2011

I know it’s feeble, but I recently drew immense satisfaction from the revelation that myself and Colm ‘the Gooch’ Cooper come from a similar footballing background. Apparently ‘the Gooch’ was completely starved of success when he played underage football for Dr Croke’s. I, too, have trod that weary path. For three years I played on an U12 team that managed one victory per season. After a succession of hammerings, we always looked forward to meeting the one side that was actually worse than us. Did we show them the pity that was spared us? Did we take it easy on them? Did we hell. We slaughtered them and sang songs about our heroic performance on the way home.

But underage football was different back then. Our weekly annihilations on a Saturday morning didn’t mean that much as our matches were played in empty grounds. Neither the winners nor the losers drew a crowd. There was no humiliation as no-one really cared that much. It’s all changed now as the sidelines are jam-packed with the mammies and daddies who attend every game.

I’m not exactly sure why or when this change in culture took place. It’s true the GAA has become much more fashionable. Parents can also devote more time to their offspring as families have become much smaller. Five or six children used to be fairly average. In fact, when I was growing up, a two-child family marked you out as being either: 1) wealthy; 2) a Protestant; or 3) a wealthy Protestant.

Today, the situation is reversed as it’s only the well-heeled who can afford to have a house full of weans. In the prosperous areas of Belfast, the traditional status symbol among well-to-do Catholics has been replaced. It used to be Beemer/Merc or a holiday home in Donegal. Now, it’s the fourth child as only the super affluent can afford to fund that many through university.
The youngest of seven, Colm Cooper wasn’t a child of the status symbol variety. The Coopers lived in a housing estate in Killarney. Given that there were six others in the brood, I’d doubt if Colm Cooper’s parents got to be cheerleaders at many of his games. The Gooch’s ability with a football doesn’t seemed to have suffered unduly, and therein lies an important message for the hundreds of modern parents who are behaving like complete maniacs at their children’s U10 blitzes.

The popularity of the GAA, and the absolute obsession which modern parents have for the advancement of their children, has created an underage environment that can only be described as ugly. A friend told me about a recent game that almost came to blows after a parent accused a member of the opposition team of play-acting. “Get up, there is nothing wrong with you,” he roared at the eight-year-old child. I was talking to another GAA clubman last week who told me his club invited a guest speaker to address the underage teams. The main theme was discipline. The parents were also asked to attend, because as the clubman informed me, the presentation was really for the benefit of the adults.

Parents who scream abuse and criticise the club’s own players have become a major problem at underage games. Given the aforementioned scenarios that have just been described, I’m glad we played in a less stressful environment. With no expectations, no pressure, and no ridicule, it was still a fairly enjoyable experience. Apart from suffering from an absence of old-fashioned parenting skills, the modern parent also lacks some basic gumption. All the guldering in the world isn’t going to make an iota of difference to how their boy develops as a footballer.

The basic but unspoken assumption made by most parents is that if their child plays for a winning team then it increases their chances of being a successful footballer. This is bunkum. Exhibit B is Peter Canavan, who didn’t play any competitive underage football. Ballygawley were suspended from all competitions during Canavan’s early career. Colm Cooper. Peter Canavan. What further proof is required?

Of course, the biggest misconception of all is that good footballers produce good footballers. This theory can still explain much of the unseemly behaviour that is taking place at underage games. Fortunately, I received sound instruction on this subject when I watched a game in the company of a former Derry player. A strong, uncompromising footballer who would have run through a wall, his son was playing at full-forward. When the son received his first ball, he promptly turned and kicked the ball over the bar with his right foot. A few minutes later, the boy received a carbon copy pass. This time, he shaped to kick with his right, but just as the full-back committed himself to blocking the shot, the son promptly turned and kicked an easy point with his left foot. It was very slick, very tidy, very controlled – a million miles away from the type of football which my companion on the terrace used to play. “Not much of the auld boy in your young fella,” I ventured. “Well, you know what the greyhound men say Paddy,” he replied. “No, I don’t,” I confessed. I was then informed that “80 per cent of the breeding is in the bitch”. Lesson over, the father continued to watch the game; chatting, joking, and constantly suppressing the urge to shout advice towards the 20 per cent of him that was on the edge of the square. It’s an example worth following.