Dr Aoife Lane, Head of the Department of Sport and Health Sciences in Athlone IT, is the Chairperson of the newly established Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group.
Dr Aoife Lane, Head of the Department of Sport and Health Sciences in Athlone IT, is the Chairperson of the newly established Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group.

New working group to put sports science at heart of Gaelic Games


By John Harrington

If you get a lot of highly qualified people in a room who are passionate about working together for a greater good, then positive things can surely only happen.

That’s why it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on what will come from the recently established Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group in the short, medium, and long term.

Chaired by Dr Aoife Lane, Head of the Department of Sport and Health Sciences in Athlone IT, the Working Group is a who’s who of leaders in various fields of Sports Science like Athletic Development, Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation, Nutrition, Performance Analysis, Psychology and Wellbeing, and Skill Acquisition and Biomechanics.

Their remit is to generate a framework for the delivery of sports science in Gaelic Games, for men and women, across all stages of the player pathway.

Such a simple summation doesn’t capture the extent of work and collaboration this will entail, because sports science itself is a many-headed hydra in the best sense possible.

By bringing so many people together from different specialist backgrounds (the full list of Working Group members can be viewed at the bottom of this article), the hope is that collaboration will lead to a greater mutual understanding that can be then harnessed in a holistic approach.

“We have a broad range of people in the room to reflect the multi-disciplinary nature of sports science,” Dr Lane told GAA.ie

“To do a good job here, we really had to look at the breadth of the disciplines that were relevant to Gaelic Games and bring them all into one discussion.”

Relevance to Gaelic Games and specifically the player pathway for those who play the sports is a topic that Lane keeps returning to.

In the last 20 years or so the use of sports science has become more and more prevalent in Gaelic Games.

“There are fantastic people involved in delivery but equally there are occasions where we could do better and be more accurate for our games and those who play them across all levels for all codes," says Lane. "We also need to do a better job at delivering sports science with and through coaches and in a multi-disciplinary way.

"There is so much to learn from the experience of Des Ryan, Dr Sharon Madigan and Dr Kate Kirby around working with coaches and delivering sports science in a collective way.”

Des Ryan, Head of Sport Medicine and Athletic Development, Arsenal FC Academy, speaking at the GAA Games Development Conference.
Des Ryan, Head of Sport Medicine and Athletic Development, Arsenal FC Academy, speaking at the GAA Games Development Conference.

Dr. Lane hopes that by increasing education opportunities for coaches, the quality and consistency of sports science being availed of in Gaelic Games will improve.

“We're very conscious of clubs investing a lot of money in specialists when there could and should be a pathway for club coaches to get some accreditation or qualification to be able to deliver content around athletic development, nutrition or performance analysis, for example," she says.

That amateur context is very important. When many people think of sports science they may imagine it is only applicable to elite sport, but that is not the case.

It’s true that inter-county teams will avail of some of the best practitioners in various fields of sports science, but sports science can also be applied to great effect at all stages of the player pathway in Gaelic Games.

“Dr Phil Kearney’s group for example is looking at fundamental movement skills in our youngest players and seeing how that builds to later progress in skill acquisition and athletic development," says Lane.

It’s telling that when the Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group recently published its working principles for Sports Science in Gaelic Games it placed the aspiration that all members can be active and healthy through Gaelic Game at the top of the list.

“Oh yes, it's a priority,” says Dr. Lane. “And that's not disregarding either that at elite level there's often considerable investment in sports science, which needs serious consideration.

“At that level, county boards and managers and players will all be looking for advice on best practice from the GAA in terms of how they can maximise their potential as athletes.

“But our priority is that every player - county players, club players, players in talent development squads, an eight year old playing camogie or hurling - they all deserve to be healthy and active through Gaelic Games.

“Also, at the top level Sports Science is about supporting athletes to be the absolute best they can be. But there are also men and women in clubs who want to do more. And we have to think about how we can deliver relevant and appropriate content to them to help them do that.

“That's why we have the best people in the room, they can judge and steer as to what's right at any given time.

“While pulling this together, we realise that there's probably a gap in what we know about our own players and games. You can glean a lot from what's happening in other sports, but we're maybe adapting things and not thinking of our own context, especially the amateur context. Also, we know even less about girls and women in sport and about specific issues relevant to the female athlete.

“The value of gathering information is visible in the Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation group where Eamon O’Reilly’s group can identify common injuries for men and women in Gaelic Games and generate best practice for diagnosis and recovery.

“Having a more systematic and consistent approach to gathering information and learning from it is something we will be considering in our work as well. ”

Dr Sharon Madigan, Head of Performance Nutrition, Sport Ireland Institute, is a member of the Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group's steering committee. 
Dr Sharon Madigan, Head of Performance Nutrition, Sport Ireland Institute, is a member of the Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group's steering committee. 

The drop-out rate in Gaelic Games, especially among those in their mid to late teens, is a huge issue for the GAA, the LGFA and the Camogie Association.

The reasons for young people dropping out are many, so there will never be a cure-all for the problem, but Dr. Lane recognises that participation is relevant to sports science.

“Yes, that came up at our first meeting, through Professor Niall Moyna,” she says.

“Monitoring is particularly relevant, tracking participation and identifying if and how the delivery of sports science can intervene around some of the usual factors related to drop out; lack of enjoyment, poor coaching, lack of ability.

“Also, we have to consider the load being placed on young players in particular; we have to focus on the player and put the player at the centre of all coaching and games activity. That's the new ethos in Gaelic Games and we will be working to that.”

One of the seven working principles of the Gaelic Games Sport Science Working Group is that all sports science activities will be player led. How exactly would that work in reality?

“What we really mean there is that we're putting the player at the centre in terms of what's best for an individual,” says Dr. Lane.

“At a young level this would involve monitoring training load.

“On occasion as well I think that there's an attitude of that if a certain team is doing something and they’re successful, then we should do it. And I don't think that's always the case.

“We have to think of our own context, our own group, what's best at any point in time for any particular group and the individuals within that group.

“This relates to our duty of care to players, knowing them, supporting them, informing them.

“I think player education is incredibly important here where the player can avail of specialist support but can also be a decision maker in their own development and can make their own judgements about what they eat, how they train, how they cope with winning and losing, how they perform in games, or how they recover.”

Professor Niall Moyna, Health & Human Performance, DCU, is a member of the Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group's steering committee. 
Professor Niall Moyna, Health & Human Performance, DCU, is a member of the Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group's steering committee. 

The new Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group has now come together three times and will continue to meet on a monthly basis going forward.

Ideas have been exchanged and a consensus on many topics reached. In the short to medium term they hope to put many of these good ideas into practice.

“We've started to build a framework for sports science in Gaelic Games,” says Dr. Lane.

“We'll also do some work around accreditation, coach education, monitoring. If we are recruiting service providers, it would be good to have some picture of what these people should look like at various levels?

“I think this will be helpful for county boards and managers in terms of building backroom teams.

“And, equally, if we get to a place where counties have ‘sports science’ officers, I think we have a responsibility to help define what that role would look like and who might be able to fill it.

“For coach education, we have an example of a nice model for performance analysis that was led by Denise Martin, where there is a pathway for accreditation in Gaelic Games so we are looking to see where and how we could do that for other areas.

“There's great energy in the group in terms of working with a really influential community and sporting organisation and in doing so, having a chance to shape and influence their particular discipline in Gaelic Games.”

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Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group

The overall remit of this group is to generate a framework for the delivery of sports science in gaelic games, for men and women, across all stages of the player pathway.

The working model we have established is a National Steering Group (members below) with an expert lead for each sports science discipline. A specialist sub group for each of the core sports science disciplines has also been established (detail at the end of this document). Key considerations in recruitment were gender balance in group membership and experience in all gaelic games codes as well as other sports.

National Steering Group Members:

Chair: Dr Aoife Lane, Head of Department of Sport and Health Sciences, AIT

Athletic Development: Mr Des Ryan, Head of Sport Medicine and Athletic Development, Arsenal FC

Psychology and Wellbeing: Dr Kate Kirby, Head of Performance Psychology, Sport Ireland Institute

Nutrition: Dr Sharon Madigan, Head of Performance Nutrition, Sport Ireland Institute

Performance Analysis: Denise Martin, Lecturer in Sports Performance Analysis, TU Dublin

Skill Acquisition and Biomechanics: Dr Phil Kearney, Lecturer in Skill Acquisition, Coaching and Performance, UL

Physiology: Prof Niall Moyna, Professor in School of Health and Human Performance, DCU

Performance and Rehabilitation: Eamon O’Reilly, Clinic Lead and Performance Physiotherapist, SPARC

Kevin Leahy, GAA Player Welfare Manager

The group have established the below working principles to guide our work.

Working Principles for SS in Gaelic Games

  1. All members can be active and healthy through Gaelic Games.
  2. Retain coaching the game as the core of all activities, with sport science delivered with and through coaches.
  3. Nurture and produce high performers.
  4. Embed sports science into existing player pathways specific to age groups.
  5. Ensure Gaelic Games led activity is best practice and based on up to date scientific principles.
  6. Emphasise Multi- and Inter-Disciplinary support teams.
  7. All sports science activities will be player led.

Current Work

Currently, sub groups are working to develop a framework for service provision in their respective disciplines which in some instances will be shaped by a position statement for the role of that element of sports science in Gaelic Games. There are some important factors to consider in this; gender specific issues, multidisciplinary working, coach education, accreditation, retention in sport and gaps in our knowledge of players across Gaelic Games.

Sub Groups

Athletic Development: Des Ryan, Prof Niall Moyna, Dr David Kelly, Cairbre O’Caillearain, Martina McCarthy, Louise Keane, Dr Bryan Cullen

Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation: Eamon O’Reilly, Dr Enda King, Dr Enda Whyte, Rena Buckley, Dr Helen McElroy

Nutrition: Dr Sharon Madigan, Laura Mahony, Ronan Doherty

Performance Analysis: Denise Martin, Niall Collins, Johnny Bradley, Colm Clear, Louise Byrne, Emma Byrne, Dr Damien Young

Psychology and Wellbeing: Dr Kate Kirby, Dr Ciara Losty, Kevin McManamon, Dr Colin O’Driscoll

Skill Acquisition and Biomechanics: Dr Phil Kearney, Dr Ed Coughlan, Dr Wesley O’Brien, Dr Carla McCabe, Dr Paul Kinnerk, Molly Dunne