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Thinking ahead on Sport Psychology in Gaelic Games

St Mary’s University College was delighted to host a briefing about sport psychology in Gaelic games on campus last week. Chaired by Senior Lecturer Dr Ciarán Kearney, the event received a briefing from visiting academics Dr Trish Jackman and Dr Matt Bird, of Lincoln University. Dr Kearney welcomed Dr Jackman and Dr Bird, before summarising the progress made on sport psychology in Gaelic games over recent years. Having helped to lead on this aspect of the new Gaelic Games Sport Science framework, Dr Kearney said the event signalled renewed engagement with sporting Governing Bodies.

With interest in sport psychology continuing to grow throughout Ireland, including Gaelic games, there is increasing need to educate about paths to qualification, effective regulation and the harmonisation of professional standards across Ireland, said Dr Kearney. One step in the right direction is the newly formed Sport Psychology network which met for the first time last month in Ulster University’s Belfast campus.

Dr Jackman and Dr Bird presented the findings from two pieces of research about sport psychology in Gaelic games, published in recent months.

The research found that one in five of those offering services under the guise of “sport psychology” in Gaelic games have no accreditation of any form and are not on a professional training pathway. The research found a misunderstanding that sport psychology may be wrongly associated with athletes or players being ‘mentally weak’. Many players also reported a reluctance to engage with sport psychology because of poor past experiences of working with “unqualified people”. The fact that this is still happening at club and county level in Gaelic games was highlighted at the event.

Dr Bird talked about research which shows that increasing knowledge of mental health can also help reduce social stigma about mental illness. In turn, this led onto discussion about the need for clear referral pathways across Gaelic games.  Dr Jackman spoke about the opportunity to promote a holistic approach to coaching Gaelic games which fosters wellbeing and performance across age grades. Having education programmes for coaches which improve psychologically-informed coaching is another opportunity going forward in Gaelic games, said Dr Jackman. The research made several recommendations for future policy and practice in Gaelic games:

  1. Have clear guidelines and education for mental health
  2. Efforts to curb burnout should (continue to) consider structure and culture
  3. Consider psychology in coach education programmes
  4. Ensure adequate support for female coaches
  5. Action at organisational and regulatory levels to protect and develop the sport psychology profession in Ireland.
  6. Development of guidance to support the integration of sport psychology practice into Gaelic games, within different contexts

Among those invited to the research briefing were stakeholders representing interests across Gaelic games including National Governing Bodies, Gaelic Players Association, Ulster Council GAA, Ulster University School of Sport. Others present included coaches, athletes and members of the newly formed Sport Psychology network.

For more information about the Sport Psychology network or a summary of the latest research ‘Sport Psychology in Gaelic Games’ (Jackman 2023) please contact :

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