THE term ‘club-school links’ is one which is widely used in sports development language through Sport NI, the Irish Sports Council, governing bodies of sport and other statutory organisations.
The term simply refers to the relationship which exists between a sports club and the schools in its locality. In a GAA context this refers to the GAA club and the primary and post-primary schools in its parish.
The rationale for focusing on club-school links is straight-forward. Every child goes to school, and it is the children in our schools which will be the players, officers and members of our club now and in the future. The GAA club prides itself on being at the heart of its community, serving the sporting, cultural and social needs of the community. Both the club and the school benefit from having strong club-school links.
As rural areas are experiencing dwindling numbers due to emigration and rural depopulation, and while the GAA in urban areas struggles against the wide variety of other activities on offer, it has become increasingly important that clubs think carefully about engaging with the young people of their area.
How can club-school links be created?
- Club-school links can take many forms. In many of our parishes the school is known to the club and vice versa, but increasingly this scenario cannot be taken for granted.
- Clubs should appoint a School Liaison Officer whose duty it is to visit the school principal and staff to inform them of what their club is all about. Letters, flyers and so on, are not good enough. The school must be able to put a face to the name, and be able to pick up the phone, should they need to.
- Clubs will struggle to really implement a strong club-school link if they do not fulfil the role of the School Liaison Officer.
- Clubs should ask about the provision of Gaelic games in the school and see if there is anything the club can offer in terms of providing coaching, equipment, facilities and so on.
- Clubs should ask to establish a club notice board in the school. This should be updated weekly with information being provided to the school via the School Liaison Officer.
- Remember to tell the school about their pupil’s GAA achievements.
- Clubs should ask schools to distribute any relevant promotional material.
- Clubs should invite school staff and board of governors to any club events.
- Clubs should actively promote the idea of one of its members sitting on the school’s board of governors.
- Clubs should actively assist with school events.
- Schools should promote the GAA club to its pupils.
- Schools should provide their facilities for club activities, where necessary.
- Schools should nominate a key member of staff who will be responsible for linking with the local GAA club.Schools should liaise with the club regarding PE provision, coaching, equipment, facilities and so on.
- Schools should encourage staff to become qualified GAA coaches and to promote Gaelic games and the GAA club where possible in the school.
There are many other examples of good and innovative club-school links and every situation will be different. It is clear however, that clubs who have strong relationships with their local primary schools will have greater under-age membership with these members more likely to remain in the club.
The benefits of strong club-school links are far-reaching. Not only will the club have a greater audience, it will be in a better position to represent all members of its local community.
Increasingly the cost to schools of providing sporting opportunities is under greater financial pressure. It is widely proven that children are not getting enough physical activity. Children’s playable areas have decreased substantially in recent decades.
The GAA club provides a safe place where children can partake in physical activity in a fun environment. The benefits to children of playing as a member of a team, learning self-discipline, learning new social and sport skills are widely publicised.
More than ever, the importance of engaging with our local schools has become evident. In order to best serve our communities for today, and our clubs for the future.