There are many things I am thankful for growing up but the main one is being brought up by a family utterly obsessed with our national games. From the young age of five, I was sent out on a Saturday morning to the underage Camogie training and it was just great being let loose out on the GAA field. There’s no better way for a youngster to learn the ways of the world than to be thrown into the GAA deep end. This is where I learnt how to be a team player, how to be tough, how to become mentally strong and the likes.
The GAA teaches you discipline and focus, it teaches you to want something and to keep going, no matter how many times you get beaten, just like life you must keep going no matter how many times you may not want to.
One of the many joys of playing a team sport as a teenager is that I rarely felt unhappy or lonely as you always had your team mates to chat to. Honestly this was one of the main reasons I went to training on those miserable cold nights, it wasn’t all do to with winning championships or getting fit, although that certainly helped. It was seeing my best mates, the girls who I had grew up with, my friends for life.
Now coming from a large parish, most of us went to different schools so training was the perfect opportunity to catch up on all those important teenage topics, “who is her new boyfriend?” or “what are you wearing to the Elk next month?” (The Elk was ultimate teenage disco in the mid-ulster area). We all developed the skills necessary to be able to run a few laps and get in the craic in that short time period.
As a teenager the GAA was a particularly important part of my life as it kept me on the right path and honestly kept me sane. The mounting pressures on young girls wherever it be from school work or the pressures to look a certain way. I found the GAA gave me a coping mechanism to deal with all these pressures.
Nowadays with numerous social media platforms young girls are open to much more of these pressures, may it be to get a certain number of ‘likes’ on your Instagram or Facebook posts or to maintain ‘streaks’ on Snapchat. In times like these, I am thankful that the height of our social media back in the day was Bebo, and yet I still had days that I felt down but what helped me deal with these pressures was playing a team sport, no matter how stressed or annoyed I was or how much I was dreading heading out to train or play a game in the pouring rain I always went knowing that I would feel so much better for going. Coming back home buzzing, in such a good mood with a big smile on my face. (Subject to victory).
It is so stress-relieving to be able to let out all that energy you have bottled up all day and run riot for an hour or so. Wherever it is kicking a ball around or ‘pucking’ up against a wall, it just lets you get away from it all and escape.
But by age 13, half of girls have given up sport completely with the main reason for quitting being that their friends weren’t playing anymore. Many also lack confidence and feel that they are not good enough to keep playing. With academic pressure building it is important for parents, teachers and girls to understand that being involved in sport actually helps you academically and with your health and well-being.
If there are any young girls reading this, please keep going. You will thank yourself later.
Now all this chat has got me buzzing for pre-season training come the spring.
Carla McCloskey is a final year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/carla-mccloskey-14a47b10b/ and on Twitter @Carla_Mac12