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Well!Kids programme a huge success for Waterford GAA

The success of Waterford GAA’s Well!Kids Nursery programme brings to mind the old Irish proverb ‘Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí – Praise the youth and they will flourish’.

What began as a pilot programme involving nine clubs in 2021 now involves all 36 juvenile clubs in the county running nursery sessions for 4-6 year olds on Saturday mornings.

The central premise of the programme is fun for everyone involved, and the its rapid growth is a testament to how popular it is.

Not only has it gotten more kids playing Gaelic games in their local club, it has also been a great recruiting tool for new coaches who quickly see the benefit of getting involved too along with their children.

“I’m involved with Waterford GAA since 2015 and it’s by far and away the most enjoyable initiative we’ve seen and the one we’ve gotten the most benefit out of,” says Waterford GAA’s acting County Head of Games Development, Barry Dunne.

“It’s getting so many so many new kids and new coaches involved so it’s been great.

“The name ‘Well!Kids’ works on a few different levels. ‘Well’ is a way that people say hello to each other down here but also then it’s about building up a well of players and coaches for the club.

“Because not only are more kids getting involved with the local club, so too are new parents who may not have had any history of playing GAA.

“Once see the way that the sessions were being ran and that they were very accessible and very open, they say, ‘ok, I can help out here too’.

“Most kids who might come along to these nurseries are first timers who have never paid GAA before so it’s a gentle introduction to GAA really rather than going straight into helmets and hurleys and all that.

“At each session clubs would have a football station, a hurling station and then a fun games and exercise station.

“But even within the football and hurling it’s all throwing and catching, fundamental movements, just kids doing dodging, evasion, all that type of stuff.”

The focus on fun games and fundamental movement is a clever way of filling a void left by societal change.

Young children tend not to be given the latitude as much to visit their friends on an ad hoc basis outside of school hours as in times past, and so don’t get as many opportunities for unstructured play as previous generations did.

Studies have shown that unstructured play and games involving fundamental movement skills are key to children developing speed, agility, and quickness abilities which in turn help them to avoid injury when playing sport.

That’s why its essential that the nursery programmes of GAA clubs should focus on the building blocks of fundamental movements, but do it in as fun a way as possible so that children are engaged.

“That’s probably one thing that we’ve all seen change in the last 20/30 years, and I don’t think it’s kind of looking back with rose tinted glasses nor like that, but play-time for kids nowadays is much more structured,” says Dunne.

“As in they go to school there’s probably certain games that they can and can’t play or they may not be allowed to run in a playground.

“It’s slightly different than it was in previous generations and quite often now parents are not as inclined for their kids to just ramble down the road off to a neighbour’s house to go playing.

“This is kind of like a throwback to that where for an hour or an hour and a half on a Saturday morning they just get to basically be kids. We’d be trying to put a bit of structure on the thing some mornings. But particularly the younger age-groups sometimes just do what they want and you have to go with it.

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