The GAA was put forward as a shining example for fostering youth engagement at an international UNESCO symposium in Croke Park today. The symposium was organised by three UNESCO Chairs in the field of youth studies from NUI Galway, University of Ulster, and Penn State University, USA.
Professor Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development at Penn State University, believes other countries can learn from the GAA’s model.
According to Professor Brennan: “The Gaelic Athletic Association is a true grassroots organisation. It empowers, involves and invigorates not just individual young people but their families and wider communities. We hear a lot about the ‘fabric’ of society. Organisations such as the GAA are examples of a wonderful type of clever stitching which can make this fabric strong and support young people as they develop. Sport has such potential to strengthen society around the world by engaging young peoples around the world and nations can learn from each other about what works best.”
Speaking at the symposium, NUI Galway’s Professor Eamon O’Shea, who is also the Tipperary Hurling Manager, spoke of the importance of sport. “How we contextualize a child’s engagement with sport can impact how they learn about success and failure. Sport is mainly about failure - learning to go back on the pitch and say, ‘look, things will get better’. If at the end we can say we stayed the course, took the knocks, were resilient, it doesn’t matter how we end up. The journey is the critical piece in how children develop in sport.”
Delegates heard that involvement in sport is key for positive youth development. Apart from obvious physical health gains through fitness, it also has a positive effect on mental health and enables both dealing with stress and coping. Sport enables young people to learn and deal with success and disappointment, which is a useful preparation for later life. Of particular importance, delegates heard, was the mentoring aspect of sport and also the potential for developing emotional intelligence.
Other speakers at the event included Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement, NUI Galway and Professor Alan Smith, UNESCO Chair in Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy, University of Ulster. Some of the representatives from sport included Alan Kerins, former GAA Intercounty hurler and footballer, and founder of Alan Kerins Projects, and Hugo MacNeill, Irish rugby star and Managing Director Goldman Sachs.
Attendees heard that youth citizenship, sponsored through sport and recreation has the power to bring communities together and create a prosperous and peaceful environment for all. A declaration was put forward, which contained a ‘call for all youth worldwide to receive the attention needed for them to be empowered to take ownership for their lives and development of their societies’. The declaration will be signed on Saturday, at half time during the American football clash between Penn State and University of Central Florida.