Self-assessment tool developed by Liam Sheedy being rolled out to counties
By John Harrington
For the last 139 years the GAA played an increasingly important role in shaping our communities.
But societal shifts like increased urbanisation means it’s important to take a stock-take of where we are at county and club level so we have a deeper understanding of the investment required to ensure our units can continue playing a vital role in our communities long into the future.
To this end, a self-assessment tool developed by former Tipperary hurling manager, Liam Sheedy, is currently being rolled out to counties so they can assess their current level of development.
By doing so they’ll then be better able to determine how to best use their allocated Coaching and Games Development Funding.
The roll-out of this self-assessment tool is also timely because from November 2022 the GAA adopted a new coaching and games development funding model.
In calculating how much each county receives in terms of funding, four metrics are now being used.
60% of it relates to the number of registered players in a county, 20 per cent the number of clubs in a county, 10 per cent the number of teams in a county, and 10 per cent the percentage of a county’s population of four- to 37-year-old players that are registered players.
With a new funding model in place, the next priority is to ensure that each county uses the money allocated to them in the most productive way possible, and that’s where Liam Sheedy’s self-assessment tool comes in.
It’s based on the dissertation he produced as part of his Masters in Sports Coaching and Performance in Ulster University, supervised by former Antrim hurler, Dr. Paul Donnelly, for which he recently received a first-class honours degree.
The dissertation was titled, ‘Benchmarking the Effectiveness of the Sport Development System within the Gaelic Athletic Association: A County Perspective’, and aimed to “develop a benchmarking tool and process for GAA counties to support strategic planning and decision making.”
This would enable them to perform to their full potential which would in turn ensure our championships are more competitive and the Association as a whole a more vibrant one.
Existing tools such as SPLISS (Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success) weren’t a perfect fit for the GAA.
By liaising with GAA volunteers and full-time employees via focus groups at National, Provincial, and County level, Sheedy created his benchmarking tool which in practice asks counties to critically assess how well they score in these seven pillars of sporting success:
· Governance and Financial support
· Talent Development
· Elite Performance
· Facilities and Infrastructure
· Volunteer Development
· Games Programme
So, how does Sheedy think counties can benefit from honestly assessing how well they perform in these areas and where they have room for improvement?
“When you have that information you're better able to target where the investment needs to go and how you can support counties to allow them reach their full potential,” he told GAA.ie.
“It will also encourage people to get involved because seeing a plan in place and a vision for growth creates excitement.
“The pillars and the overall model will require great people to get involved and get behind the plan.
“It’s an opportunity to say, okay, let’s look and see at what is in place and is it fit for purpose? There's pockets of brilliance all over the country but do we really harness what we do really well and ensure that it's done that way right across the country?
“In some areas people are excellent at facilities, others aren’t. Some are five stars in coaching and others are not. There's a massive span of performance across various areas from coach development to facilities to volunteer administration.
“If counties really shine a mirror on where they’re at, where they feel it's going well and where they feel things need work, then it’ll be much easier to plot a way forward.
“I suppose the ultimate aim is to try to help counties become self-sufficient and self-sustainable, that's a big part of the overall strategic plan.
“I think most counties aren't really sure where they’re at. They've been doing the same thing for a long number of years and there's a real appetite for looking at something that could allow counties to really understand what's going on under each of those pillars and how they can operate to their optimum.”
When Sheedy engaged with his focus groups at national, provincial, and county level, many of the same issues kept appearing such as player retention, the challenge posed by rural decline and increased urbanisation, and marketing and fund-raising at county level to name just three.
There wasn’t dismay at the scale of such challenges though, rather a determination to tackle them head on and a hunger for the knowledge and resources required to do just that.
More than anything else, there was a desire to not just retain what’s best about the Association, but to enhance those aspects.
“Overall, we got a very positive response and the whole culture piece came up really strongly,” says Sheedy.
“How do we make it an all-inclusive Association? How do we really get it to be community-centric and make sure it's a fun environment?
“How do we ensure that we're always in that volunteer, giving mode because there's a little bit of change in that dynamic where maybe people are seeing what they can take from it instead of what they can give to it.
“And then how we share best practice so we have a really vibrant culture?
“We spoke about clubs where they felt there was a really good culture and what made it to be that good.
“I think a big part of it for me was trying to really understand what's going well. We should be bussing people up to Slaughtneil to understand how they do it so well.
“We need more Slaughtneils. You can't just have pockets of brilliance, I think that's a big thing.
“The GAA was always built on a model where you built your coaches from within the club.
“Take the Loughmore-Castleiney model where they always help themselves. That sort of self-sustainability is what we should be striving for.
“I think if we build right there's an opportunity to strengthen the heartbeat of the GAA in every community. And I think it was never more needed.
“I think we can be a real leading light in that regard because we'll really understand how we're doing, where it's going well, where it's not going well, and how we can address the areas where it's not going well and make sure that it's supported by the funding model because now we understand what the challenge is and what the cost is.”
* Liam Sheedy's dissertation, ‘Benchmarking the Effectiveness of the Sport Development System within the Gaelic Athletic Association: A County Perspective’, for his Masters in Sports Coaching and Performance in Ulster University, can be read below.