Unpalatable as it may seem the world is changing and those who fail to embrace the change are sometimes left behind. The recent Volunteer Conference held in Armagh hosted several interesting and very informative workshops which looked closely at every aspect of club governance and many stressed the need for adaptability. There were lots of informative discussions and debates but the ethos of the volunteer shone through all the talks and the presentations.
One of the big challenges facing many clubs is the need to ensure that there is a constant stream of young, enthusiastic, capable people who understand what is expected of them when they hold office in their club coming through and offering their services. Age should not be seen as a barrier to holding such positions, be that youth or senior citizenship. I know of one club where the present secretary took office at sixteen years of age and has done a tremendous job in that post for many years. It is true however that times do change and new ideas and methodologies are required if clubs are to prosper. The internet has changed the world forever and at the flick of a button you can catch up with all the local news and information about your club even though you may be living on the other side of the world.
The founding fathers of The GAA were clearly men of vision who inspired and continue to inspire generations of Irish men and women the world over as they seek to nurture the ideals that led to the establishment of the association in the first place. I wonder however if they really envisioned how their meeting in Thurles in 1884 would transform the lives of millions of Irish people across the globe. Would they recognise the strong, vibrant parish based organisation that it has become? There is nothing else in the world that inspires and unites the young and old alike in the way that The GAA does. Oddly enough there is nothing that can engender polarised views and opinions quite like it also.
Ask anyone who has watched for decades while their club team are beaten year after year in the championship watching one golden dawn after another fade. Then a bunch of players come through to lift a first ever championship and all is right with the world. Recession, bankruptcies, job difficulties etc no longer matter as the parish celebrates in a way that only a joyous parish can. The GAA raises the morale of the people in a way nothing else can do and the pride that is felt when you watch your child and your neighbour’s children achieve success cannot be matched by anything else.
It is such a feeling of pride and willingness to serve the community that has helped to drive the association forward. However we should be mindful of the old adage that we belong to the association the association does not belong to us. As club members or officers we are merely stewards charged with doing the best for our club so that when our time passes we can hand it on to the next generation in good shape. Far too often however the time for succession passes and younger members with drive and energy are lost to the association for ever.
Running a club in the modern era is much more difficult than running any business because ultimately you can walk away from a failing business. That is not the case with a club. It is engrained into your psyche and even though you may live miles away your club is still your club and always will be but it still does not belong to any individual or group of individuals exclusively. It must be inclusive, open and welcoming and above all embrace change. One key note speaker at the Volunteer Conference said that the vast majority of clubs are run “by four or five grey haired men who are usually related.”
The dangers with such stewardship are obvious. Fresh ideas in such circumstances will be few and far between and a club that fails to generate fresh ideas will stagnate and eventually die. What was acceptable, indeed innovative twenty or thirty years ago is no longer good enough. Times are changing and difficult as it may be for some, clubs need to change to meet the challenges of these changing times.