Substance Use and Performance

Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath pictured at the launch of the Drink Less, Gain More campaign at Croke Park. 
Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath pictured at the launch of the Drink Less, Gain More campaign at Croke Park. 

Substance Use has a negative affect on player performance. To ensure our clubs are informed on best practice in the area, we work with the appropriate statutory bodies, such as the HSE, the Alcohol Forum, and the Regional Drug & Alcohol Task Forces (DATF) in the 26 counties and the Drug & Alcohol Community Teams (DACTs) in the 6 counties. The result of this work is made available to all GAA units in the form of:

· the GAA’s substance use policy for use by clubs and counties

· a step by step guide advising units on how best to respond proactively in the area of drug and alcohol education

· strengthened links with suitably accredited agencies, ensuring all GAA units can access expert advice and support in their local community

In attendance during the launch of the Drink Less, Gain More campaign, and GAA/HSE Health Theme Day, are, from left, Noel McGrath of Tipperary, Professor Donal O’Shea, HSE Clinical Lead for Obesity, Marian Rackard, HSE Alcohol Programme, Stacey Cahill, National Health and Well Being Coordinator, Stephanie O’Keefe, HSE National Director, Strategic Transformation & Planning, Jim Bolger, GAA Vice President and Sharon Courtney of Monaghan at Croke Park in Dublin.
In attendance during the launch of the Drink Less, Gain More campaign, and GAA/HSE Health Theme Day, are, from left, Noel McGrath of Tipperary, Professor Donal O’Shea, HSE Clinical Lead for Obesity, Marian Rackard, HSE Alcohol Programme, Stacey Cahill, National Health and Well Being Coordinator, Stephanie O’Keefe, HSE National Director, Strategic Transformation & Planning, Jim Bolger, GAA Vice President and Sharon Courtney of Monaghan at Croke Park in Dublin.

The use of 'recreational drugs' tends to dominate the headlines, but experts in this area are keen to emphasise the most harmful drug in Ireland, by some degree, is alcohol. Alcohol is a significant public health concern Paula Leonard, Lead, National Community Action on Alcohol Programme with the Alcohol Forum, explains:

“Alcohol remains the main problem drug in Ireland, causing twice the number of deaths attributed to all other drugs combined. It is also remains the main drug for which people enter treatment in Ireland.

The dynamic between athletes and alcohol is complex, with team-sport players tending to drink less than their peers over the course of a year but when they do consume alcohol, they tend to binge-drink more particularly during off season. Binge drinking is defined by health experts, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), as six or more standard drinks in one session, which is the equivalent of three or more pints of beer or six or more pub measures of spirits.

To help address this, the GAA in 2018 partnered with the HSE to highlight at a full-house All Ireland semi-final in Croke Park their #DrinkLessGainMore awareness campaign and website askaboutalcohol.ie While the percentage of the 1,600 GAA clubs in Ireland with a licensed premises is very small, a number of clubs in that category in north Dublin are working on achieving the Safer Alcohol Mark (SAM) thanks to training for their bar staff delivered by the North Dublin Regional DATF. This is based on the Australian ‘Good Sports’ programme which has recorded significant positive impacts for participating clubs.

Clubs also seek advice on how they can best safeguard their members against the harms associated with substance use. The starting point is to recognise and celebrate the fact that research suggests involvement in a community-based sports club acts as a protective factor against substance use.

It is important to note that research shows that once-off talks on the topic of substance use has little or no impact on behaviour change. Clubs should follow a number of steps to help safeguard players and members.

Step 1 - Ensure your club has an up-to-date substance use policy in place and that members are made aware of its content.

Step 2 - Launch the policy in collaboration with representatives from your regional DATF or DACT, An Gardai Siochana or PSNI Community Liaison Officers

Parents remain the primary educators and despite the influence of peer pressure, social media and marketing, continue to be the single biggest influence on their children and teenagers. Clubs can support parents' by facilitating workshops delivered by recognised and appropriately qualified bodies such as those mentioned above.

Many players form trusted relationships with their coaches, who are well placed to signpost a player/squad to the club’s Substance Use policy. When speaking to players on health-related topics it is worthwhile remembering they are involved with a club or team because they love sport. As they are committing significant time to becoming the best player they can be, if the information provided to them – be it pertaining to diet, the importance of sleep, or substance use – is framed in the context of sporting performance they may be more likely to take that advice onboard.

For more information on Substance Use and Performance contact Stacey Cahill

stacey.cahill@gaa.ie