Future Leaders success story continues
By Cian O'Connell
Eoghan Hanley, National Coordinator of the GAA Future Leaders, laughs about how it all started simply because a phone call from Connacht GAA Hurling Director Damien Coleman struck a chord. An idea was generated.
A teacher at Gort Community School for just over a decade, Hanley has ran successful teams, but this particular conversation was interesting. It has ultimately led to the emergence of a cross-curricular Transition Year programme comprising of a series of modules designed to encourage maturity, initiative, responsibility and leadership skills in pupils.
“I often got calls from Damien down through the years as I'm a tutor myself, I'm involved in the Transition Year in Gort and he asked me would I run a Super Games Centre for first and second year hurlers.
“I didn't know what a Super Games Centre was at the time so Damien explained what it was, the next sentence was the one which kickstarted the whole thing. He said you could do it as a Transition Year project.”
That was when Hanley began to think about what could be achieved with the 56 Transition Year students in Gort. Not all were interested in sport or Gaelic Games, but that was merely another challenge for Hanley, to attempt to get as many as possible on board.
“I asked Damien could I make a small twist to it in order to get as many people involved as possible,” Hanley recalls.
“He said no hassle at all and we made a Transition Year County Board. Just looking at my class we had 56 pupils in the class, of that 56 how many were interested in sport? I would say a little over half of them. How many of them were interested in the GAA? Probably three quarters of that half.
“So the challenge was to get something which would capture the imagination of the rest of them. We got them all together and we came up with this County Board with a Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, PRO, Fixtures Committee, Social Media Committee - all jobs and roles that would suit the individual skillset of the pupils in front of me at the time.
“Then obviously you had your team managers, referees, umpires, ground staff, equipment managers, giving them all real and meaningful jobs in the running of the Super Games Centre. That was the idea behind it.”
The most pleasing aspect for Hanley was how the students took ownership. While Hanley was there to provide assistance and guidance the Transition Year group relished the adventure.
“I explained them what they needed to do and how it needed to run - then the committee just took it over. A committee of seven kids really ran it, they embraced the whole thing. It ran really, really well because of the buy in from the kids. They went with it.
“They realised that if you are a referee and the referee doesn't turn up the match doesn't happen. I wasn't going to stand in to referee for them, that would be no good to them.
“If you were a team manager and don't get to know your team, remind them that games were on then the players don't turn up, the match wouldn't happen. All these kind of things. In fairness to the kids they did their jobs very well.
“You'd have your committees for example the PRO, who was in charge of the social media committee and you would also have your journalists and photographers.
“He decided what journalists and photographers covered what matches. They had to email their match reports to him. Some would be put up on Twitter or Facebook or the website. Picture updates would be on Snapchat or Instagram. That is what we did in the first year.”
Coleman and those working Coaching and Games in Croke Park noticed that something was stirring in Gort. There was significant potential.
“I wasn't on Twitter much myself, I was only trying to think of something to do, that they'd feel like they were doing something worthwhile,” Hanley says.
“They were asking me who to tweet? I said to tweet Damien Coleman for example or tweet the Galway County Board or Galway Coaching and Games. Tweet Croke Park and all of a sudden you think it is going out nowhere, but it was noticed.
“Damien rang me one day and that people in Croke Park had heard about it and they were wondering could they come down to see it in action. I said of course.
“A representative came down from Croke Park with Damien, they spoke to the kids about Super Games Centres, then they watched them in action and they were very impressed with the work the kids had done.
“I could easily have done it for them, but it wouldn't have been any benefit to them. I was there, I was present from a health and safety point of view and if they wanted advice I was there. Day to day they made all those decisions themselves and they did a fantastic job.”
Hanley spoke at the Coaching and Games Conference in 2016 and shortly after was contacted by the GAA’s Jimmy Darcy and a plan was constructed.
Seamus Woods, Denis O’Boyle, Darcy, Sean Kelly, Gareth Coyle, Peter Byrne, Eoghan and Colm Hanley formed a committee with teachers strategically placed in Connacht, Munster, Ulster, Leinster, and in Dublin.
The hard graft continued according to Hanley. “We worked for the last two years on designing the modules and developing it, piloting it in our own schools at first,” Hanley remarks.
“We are all GAA tutors ourselves. We met in Abbottstown seeing what worked and what didn't work and we were working away, it was very enjoyable.
“There was a good atmosphere in the group, it was exciting and enjoyable to do. We did that last year in 2016/2017, we had five schools doing it. This year we went to Phase Two of the pilot where we had 48 schools doing it.”
Hanley, though, acknowledges that the input of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) in the past 15 months or so has injected further energy and expertise into the whole operation.
“It was easy enough in the five schools because you had five lads actively working on it,” Hanley adds. “They knew the course inside out. Going to 48 schools the big thing was halfway through pilot year one the PDST got involved in January 2017. We had a meeting in Croke Park and the PDST became involved, now it is a joint initiative between the two. Having the PDST involved gave us much more access to schools and teachers, that was a huge benefit to the programme having the PDST backing it.
“Now all of a sudden it meant we could get teachers out of school to train them up and the PDST would cover it with substitute cover. The principals of schools are then more willing to back it.
“With the PDST it is continuing professional development and the substitute will be covered meant it was a totally different ball game. They have been hugely helpful in the whole process.
“They gave us advisors to work with us on each of the modules so we had a bit more help and access to more resources from an educational point of view once they became involved.”
Encouraged by support and feedback received Hanley is delighted by how the Future Leaders Programme is evolving. “At the outset we had an idea and a vision about what we wanted to achieve with the Future Leaders Programme.
“We know exactly what we wanted each pupil to get from it and it is very important to us that a pupil in Donegal is getting the exact same course as in Cork or Wexford or wherever it is. Not someone's interpretation of the course. That is hugely important to us.
“Like the Foundation Award Coaching courses there is a philosophy behind them and you want coaches all over the country to be getting the same message. It is the same with this, we want pupils all over the country getting the same message. The reaction has been fantastic.”
A real willingness to enhance the offering exists and Hanley stresses the PDST’s assistance. “I was chatting to someone in the PDST, who said it is the fastest growing course they have,” Hanley comments.
“We have set up Whats App group for each of the provinces and regions so we can have a more hands on approach. You would be liasing with the schools on a fairly regular basis to see how they are getting on.
“All of a sudden we are after jumping from 250 pupils to 2,500 pupils it has been a smooth enough transition. In fairness to Jimmy Darcy it was his idea to do a phase two as opposed to jumping from five to a national launch. It was a fantastic idea and he was dead right.
“Next year we are bringing on 40 more tutors so you will have the five regional coordinators plus 40 other tutors based around the country, who will help with the training for the new schools. From 2015/16 having 56 pupils doing it, in 2018/2019 you could have up to 20,000 doing it.”
The Future Leaders success story is only beginning to unfold.