Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Will there be anybody lining up at the Intercounty Junior XC in 10 years???

A few weeks ago I thought it might be 'fun' to analyse the results of the Inter County Junior Cross Country Championships that took place since the AAI came into being. I’m not sure exactly what details I expected to unearth but unfortunately the emerging picture is pretty grim. What was a great championship (rose tinted glasses perhaps) is now in serious decline as can be seen from the bar chart below. At this rate there will be no athletes lining up in 10 years time!!

After 2005 there is a clear step change in the numbers finishing both men’s and women’s races. Since 2005 only an average of 47 men and 26 women have managed to cross the finish line. Prior to 2005 the averages were 71 and 47 respectively (The dip in numbers can be partly explained by the fact that between 2001 and 2005 the U19 and U20 races took place together and these days it is less likely that an U19 will turn up at the Junior Intercounties when they have to run their own age group All Ireland the following week or the week after). That's a ball park average of less than two men per county and less than one woman per county. Zoinks!

To compound the agony the average number of counties managing to field a complete team in both the men’s and women’s categories since 2005 is a paltry three. That’s less than one tenth of the eligible counties. 

With my ‘Cork’ hat on a quick look at the names of the members of Cork junior teams over the last 10 years reveals that 8/10 of the runners who have represented Cork at the Intercounty Juniors go on to participate at various levels in the sport for a number of years afterwards. All of these guys and girls clearly caught ‘the bug’ and are going to stick with the sport no matter what. If we can get more athletes as far as the Intercounty Juniors then maybe we have a shot at keeping them in the sport for a few more years at least…

So, do we accept that we will only filter 50-60 (men and women) into the senior ranks each year or do we try to figure out some way of helping more counties to field teams at the Intercounties?? In other sports there is a great kudos attached to making county teams at young adult level. Would it be that hard to make a fuss over our junior teams? It could start with something as simple as giving them a tracksuit and getting their pictures up on the AAI website etc. Whatever the solution(s) the AAI need to look at getting the participation levels up at this level and we should realistically be looking at getting half the counties in the land to field teams at this championship.

For once in my life I can’t offer (what I think is) an obvious solution to this problem but it is clear that we need to do something quickly to encourage greater participation in what is or should be our flagship junior championship.

It would be very interesting to hear the views of people in their early 20's who drifted away from the sport when they were 16 years of age or so........

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where have all the juveniles gone?

In the interests of transparency and positivity the AAI have in recent months been publishing updated athlete registration data. As of September 2011 registrations are up by 8% year on year. This is obviously good news, however a deeper look under the covers reveals that in-fact our sport is suffering greatly from a significant drop off in numbers at juvenile level. The figure below offers a snap shot of what are typical distributions of numbers in the juvenile ranks. County Cork in this example has a proud tradition in the sport which is reflected in its very strong numbers of athlete registered per head of capita.

Registration trends for juvenile athletes in Cork county

(Click here to download an easy to use excel file for generating trends  for your own county)

A basic analysis of the data to hand shows clearly that numbers peak at ages 9-10 with a greater number of girls joining the sport at a young age at that age than boys. Between the ages of 10-12 numbers hold up relatively well but after the age of 13 there is a significant decline in numbers. Girls subsequently drop out of the sport at a greater rate than boys resulting in the U19-U20 categories having more boys than girls.

So is there any story behind these trends?? It seems that we get a healthy number of kids trying out the sport at an early age. Not surprising when you consider that many parents very enthusiastically encourage their kids to try their hand at as many sports as possible. Added to that is the fact that in the early days the sport only requires a couple of days of ‘fun’ training a week and is relatively cheap. So far so good in terms of primary school level students…..

Then comes secondary school with the associated increasing demands on time in terms of study and other sports. At this stage it is decision time for the kids and it is clear from the data above that the juveniles are choosing other sports or are succumbing to the hectic social demands of teenage life!!

The greatest rate of decline occurs around the time that students start to come under pressure with state exams and the increased training time requirement that our sport demands. By the time students get to fifth year or sixth year we are left with the hard core kids who are truly addicted to the sport (more evidence of this in a future post).

A rough back of the envelope calculation reveals that of the 20,000 or so juvenile athletes that are currently registered only 1 in 100 of them will stay with the sport into the future………….

So what can we do to help keep the 14-18 year olds in the sport??
  1.  Increase emphasis on the team aspects of the sport.
  2. Hold events on a Saturday, to allow for teenagers to have ‘normal’ Saturday nights with their ‘normal’ friends!!
  3.  Ban age group doubling up at cross-county. How can a young athlete develop/enjoy the sport when they are expected to race almost every weekend for months on end during the winter (more on this in a future post).
  4. Run the U16-U20 age groups on the same day as senior races to recognise the 'grown up' nature of the age groups.
  5. Move away from epic weekends spent at the track in the run up to exams. It is fairly clear that most Junior and Leaving Certificate students cannot afford to give up 5-7 whole days of study in the lead up to the state exams. Most of the ‘schools’ competitions are organised by ‘club’ officials so why not spread the club and school track competitions right across the summer (more on this in the previously mentioned future post).
  6.  Integrate the schools and juvenile age groups. At the moment most juvenile athletes are basically expected to run repeat races across the AAI and schools spectra. If my maths are correct, the schools operate U14 ½, U15 ½, U17 ½ and U19 age categories while the AAI operate between U9 and U19 in single increments. Some realignment here would allow the schools to operate say U13, U15, U17 and U19 with the AAI looking after races for the even age groups (and the primary school level kids). With a lower number of races to compete in perhaps some of our ‘lost’ juveniles might be able to find the time to stick with the sport around exam time (I appreciate that there are restrictions in terms of the age groups that international competitions operate at).
  7. Ask them what we are doing wrong!! In the information age that we live in it is very easy to construct on-line surveys......

I could go on and on and on and I appreciate that my suggestions are not fully fleshed out but at this juncture I will open the argument to the floor……

P.S. Thanks to Moira Aston in AAI headquarters for generously supplying the raw data for the excel sheet.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

37:30.........It's not a rugby score but it is the result of the vote at tonight's Cork AAI E.G.M.

It turned out to be a long night of arguments, counter-arguments, good natured banter and a small bit of insult throwing (even though I may have been the only person who heard said insult!) but in the end our esteemed leadership have won the day and in the coming weeks Cork AAI will officially be landowners. Final tallies revealed that the vote was a close one with the yay's  garnering 37 ticks and the nay's garnering 30 ticks. Two voting slips were spoilt (the mind boggles).

A blow by blow account of the proceedings would be beyond my literary skills so I will resort to the engineering approach and present the night in chunky lumps

Lump 1: The major sticking points (procedural and motion specific)

  • The county board has no documented constitution or bye-laws or rules etc. but ultimately the attendees chose to skip past that small detail and make up the rules as the meeting went along. For example each club and divisional board was entitled to 4 votes and a simple majority was all that was required to provide victory. Very Handy!
  • Some clubs claimed to have  been completely unaware that any such large scale financial moves were afoot - these clubs were beaten back with the argument that they should have attended more meetings. No sympathy administered for the fact that the E.G.M. notice sent to clubs had no details of the motion (so I'm told), and that there were no details of the meeting on the Cork AAI website. There was an email sent out on Monday all right but details were skimpy. The fact that the County Board has no PRO was also wheeled out as a legitimate excuse for the fact that clubs were un-informed.....Brilliant.
  • When asked by yours truly who will be named on the title deed, no clear answer was forthcoming. There was some mention of setting up a board of trustees to look after proceedings but I imagine that such a move should already have been before a meeting of the county board. 
  • The level of access to the land for clubs was queried but after the question was 'answered' we are still unclear what kind of access clubs will have to the land during the year. I think we are looking at no summer access and plenty of access during the winter when it is dark!
  • When asked (very sensibly) if there were any precedents for such a purchase in the country we were told that Thurles Crokes and some club in Co Meath are indeed landowners. No evidence of the success or not of such ventures was available.
  • At the beginning of the process the brief was to find a plot of land suitable for cross country but now it seems that the purchase is more of an investment with the proviso that the land will to be available in the event that clubs are unable to come up with suitable locations for county cross country. So basically it will be a field that many of us may never set eyes upon.
  • It is claimed that the land is suitable for all manner of XC events but according to one seasoned delegate who has walked the land it will only be suitable for county level events (mainly due access issues, I think).
  • Some delegates mentioned that some local authorities are interested in such developments and would actually provide matching funding should Cork AAI wish to develop such facilies in their areas (Ballyhoura, Avondhu, Cork City Council). Exploration of such options does not seem to have been considered when weighing up the options. It's the field and nothing but the field it seems.
Chunk 2: Some definite details/gripes
  • The farmer will take 'two cuts of sileage' off the land per year and no animals will be kept there at any stage (hurray say our ankles). As part of the deal the farmer will get the first three years of sileage for free in return for looking after the land (At least this is what I understand to be the open to correction)
  • Will require planning permission for any developments such as car parks, dressing rooms, flood lights etc.
  • Most delegates would prefer to see a better distribution of the wealth.
Chunky Lump 3: Things that I hope the County Board officers picked up on tonight
  • Communication
    • Clubs need to be better informed on the business of the county board. This can be achieved by making the minutes of county board meetings available to clubs electronically and by keeping the boards website up to date. Simple.
  • Rules and Bye-Laws
    • The fact that the County Board is not and actual 'legal entity' is very worrying. Does tonight's business have any legal standing?? I doubt it very much....
  • Development of athletes
    • Clubs with various suggestions tonight made it very clear that they would like to invest in the development of athletes. At last weeks ordinary meeting of the county board there was a quick mention of hiring a development officer. Tonight there was mention of setting up a junior academy. Leevale would like support for Olympic hopefuls. More of this kind of stuff please.. 
So after all that my own thoughts are as follows
  • If I had persuaded a full cohort of CIT and East Cork AC club members to come to the meeting and vote 'no' with me then this would be a very different post. Ooooops.
  • After getting a shot across my bow's tonight about setting up this 'unhelpful' blog there will be no stopping me now.
  • The ideas pertaining to the development of athletes are ones that I would like to hear more of and if I am honest I think that these are the kind of ideas that the county board should be spending their money on.
  • The county board should have explored the shared course development options available to them and I think that we would ultimately get more 'bang for our buck' and more training/competition spaces throughout the county.
  • In the end of the day the wealth of the county board will not be lost it will just up a hill near Riverstick growing grass!!!!
Not the most eloquent of posts but I think that I have captured the essence of tonight's proceedings. Let me know if I got anything wrong or if you weren't there tonight let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cork AAI to spend upwards of €350,000 in a sideways move into farming!

A sub-committee of Cork AAI has for the last number of months spent a large amount of time shopping around for a piece of land to purchase that is to be utilised as a permanent cross country venue. The current front runner is a 35 acre plot of farm land near Riverstick. It seems that the land has been ‘under maize’ recently and apparently that tells the non-farmers among us that the land is of good quality. As an add on it seems that 4-5 of these acres are ‘a bit rough’.

The land will be available for XC events throughout the winter. In any one year we have 2-3 county cross countrydates, maybe one Munster date and every 10 years or so a National Championship.

- Comments/Thoughts
  1. Land will be ‘under silage’during the summer months; so no access during these months.
  2. During the winter most clubs would like to access these grounds during the week when it will be mostly dark. Has anybody done a study on how much it would cost to floodlight the field and subsequently how much it will cost to light the place for an hour?
  3. The value of the land may increase and should the land need to be sold a tidy profit might be made (where have weheard this before!!). There will be some income each year as the farmer is interested in renting back the land.
  4. Ties up a large quantity of the county boards cash reserves which could perhaps be used better in the development ofthe sport (team support, website, development officers, online entry andresults systems)
  5. It could get a bit boring racing XC in the same place all the time.
  6. For the last couple of years there has been a lot of interest from cork clubs in hosting cross country events, it seems like a shame to take this opportunity from our clubs.
  7. The county board has no constitution/book of rules. Do the committee legally have the right to spend our money in such a manner??
  8. How much is it going to cost to develop the land in terms of dressing rooms, results rooms, parking etc?
  9. Could the land be used for any other purpose that would generate revenue for the county board (e.g. cyclecross, golf driving range etc).
  10. How do we know that we are purchasing the land at the right price??
  11. Why not work with the city council and develop a proper training area (trails and hill runs) and XC course at the Kinsale Road landfill site. It would be sensible to properly explore this option (the city council are very interested in a collaboration) before ruling it out.
  12. Will we be able to get planning permission for whatever developments take place at the venue?
My gut reaction is that this is a poor way to invest in athletics in Cork and I hope that this move doesn't prove to be a significant draw on the remaining cash reserves of the county board and indeed a draw on the already stretched time resources of the committee members.

Comments on a postcard please!!