John McEntee: Players should pull the pin on web of negativity
A BIRTHDAY party can be a wonderful occasion where family and friends gather in celebration and take time out of their busy schedules to catch up with each other.
Spring is the birthday season in the McEntee clan. Most weeks we get a text inviting all to a party in someone’s house with a bouncy castle or to the likes of an adventure facility in Newry, where the kids climb assault courses and engage in Laser Quest.
Two hours later the food is served and everyone departs, returning to their own busy lives. In my youth we’d have roamed the fields, kicked football round The Square or played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ until it got dark. How times change.
As I slowly mature I am growing to like these gatherings and I will tell you why. Assuming I am not the host, it creates a bit of head space, some time out to chat with others and to catch up with the usual topics of conversation – births, deaths, marriages and football.
At the most recent gathering, the conversation was about the wear and tear of county players’ training schedules, how it is being perceived as professional and the impact on their social and vocational roles.
The two hours set aside for the party was insufficient to cover this topic so, as is the case with most conversations, we will have to conclude it another day. However, I have a real bee in my bonnet about this. Are county players over-trained? Is physical fatigue such an issue that it is causing burn-out?
In the room was a passionate golfer who plays golf five times a week, works a trade, attends more football matches than most and has young kids.
There is a mother who exercises every day whether that be on long walks or on the treadmill, the guy who spends 20 minutes daily bouncing on a trampoline and the guy who scoots to Gosford Park three days a week for a 10km run with his running mates who are there six days a week – all holding down full-time jobs.
All present could not survive without the release exercise gives them. Of course, those present who didn’t exercise just thought they were nuts.
In 2010, The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a global strategy ‘Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health’.
In this document they recommend 18-64-year-olds should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.
For additional health benefits, adults should engage in an additional 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Finally, muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on two or more days a week.
Three hundred minutes of exercise per week excluding muscle strengthening exercises is the equivalent to five hours of training.
Now compare the WHO recommendation of physical activity for health against the typical county player’s training schedule at this time of year and you might begin to wonder what contributes to fatigue.
The typical county player will have three field sessions; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday/Sunday of which the physical element is 100 minutes per session and one gym session lasting 40 minutes.
There are no county games for six weeks but some might play with their clubs, if permitted.
This is not a significant difference to the WHO recommendations and is actually less than the training completed by those in my company.
So what is fatiguing county players?
You have often heard it said that GAA players just want to play football. This is a statement of fact. It is my view that game preparation and mental preparation has advanced so much that players cannot keep pace with the changes.
Mental preparation, detailed analysis of oneself and the opposition was not part of their development as a footballer.
This preparation is head-wrecking stuff.
Video analysis before training, personal critiques which are shared with your peers and added to meetings about meetings, one-on-one conversations with a member of the management team, opposition analysis, and on it goes.
All these things take time away from the player being with their families, chilling out, a distraction on other interests. Then they have the social media malarkey to deal with.
It is natural curiosity to want to read what others are saying about you on multiple platforms, but this can be a debilitating experience as everyone sees things differently and people are more likely to be critical than praiseworthy. This is what causes mental fatigue.
Analysis is a growth area in our game which is now being introduced within underage development programmes. My only advice to players who read web chat sites is to stop it. No matter how strong you are mentally, the written word has a way of hurting you.
Do not read it and you will not hear the negative comments. Protecting yourself should not be seen as isolating yourself.
The positive comments will always reach your ears. It will be your family and friends who will be telling you how well you are doing or advising you how to get to where you need to be in order to perform.
County players yearn for a balance to life. Perhaps if we review the analysis of this topic we might just come to realise the body is equipped to deal with the stresses... but the mind needs space.