GAA players part of driving force for social change in Ireland and around the world as part of the Association
Irish society benefits hugely from the contribution players make off the field
Last week’s survey by Social Entrepreneurs Ireland highlighting the Gaelic Athletic Association as the ‘greatest force for social change’ is yet another endorsement for what is arguably Ireland’s most important institution.
The research revealed how the GAA’s dedication to funding, developing and nurturing entrepreneurship in Ireland marks it apart as a driving force for social change.
The findings may have raised a few eyebrows within the world of Irish sport but it certainly would come as no surprise to the near one million people involved in GAA activity.
Rooted in every parish and community in Ireland, the GAA is ideally placed as a catalyst for change and has always emphasised the fact that its remit extends beyond its games.
Within the sporting context, the GAA has also been to the forefront in the battle for hearts and minds with the local club playing a pivotal role as a social hub in the community. This in turn is attracting greater numbers to Gaelic games although the Association has identified that it remains relatively weak in some of the poorer urban areas.
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The survey also reveals that Irish people place great importance in cultural identity and a sense of community – two pillars of the GAA’s ethos. With such a strong positive identity in Irish life it is not surprising therefore that people look to the GAA to lead on matters of social concern such as unemployment and suicide prevention.
What isn’t referenced in the survey is the part that many county GAA footballers and hurlers play in their communities as active role models.
The GAA is sustained by the county game and its amateur players who, through their on-field endeavours, also contribute enormously to the cultural and social fabric of the country.
However, Irish society also benefits hugely from the contribution players make off the field; supporting local charities, encouraging sporting activity, coaching and developing juvenile players, fundraising for clubs, endorsing government initiatives, promoting health and implementing change.
And this is an aspect of the player’s role which the Gaelic Players Association is focussing on through a new leadership program aimed at identifying and nurturing the many transferable skills elite players possess.
The object of the program is not only to assist players with their personal development but also to enhance the contribution they make to Irish society; indeed strengthening the GAA’s ability to operate as a force for social change.
An example of this work in action is the number of county players now involved as ambassadors for Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health in Ireland. These players were inducted by GPA charity partners Headstrong and are now involved in promoting key messages to young people in Irish society.
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