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The DC way: A feature on Draperstown Celtic's underage coaching

DC recently picked up two awards at the IFA Grassroots Football Awards

The DC way: A feature on Draperstown Celtic's underage coaching

The 2011s after winning a tournament

Draperstown Celtic were the toast of the local sporting scene at the recent IFA Grassroots Football awards, picking up Club of the Year and another for their Inclusivity Project. Michael McMullan spoke with Ryan Lagan and Club Chairman Paul McCallion to look behind the scenes at the club's youth policy.

MICHAEL McMULLAN: It's some lift for the club. Now that it has had a chance to sink in, what is the most pleasing thing?

RYAN LAGAN: The inclusivity award...it's great to be awarded Grassroots Club of the Year, but we probably got that award that because of our inclusivity.

PAUL McCALLION: ...And, we don't set out to be inclusive. Are you interested in playing? That's good enough for us.

M McM: Being inclusive, it is a recent focus?

RL: That's just the way it has been. If you are a parent dropping your kids off, you don't send your kids to whatever sport or any group to not take part. The parent might say to us on the Sunday, their wee Johnny or Mary are only coming because their friends are coming. But they are not coming because of that, they are coming to play football.

Peter (Price – co-ordinator of the club's FDC - Football Development Centre) has his spreadsheet there...and we instil it into the other coaches, if you are training you get your go. The kids know if you weren't at training on a Sunday, you can't be picked for the following Friday night's games, but if you were, then you are in with a shout.

M McM: Is that the same across all ages?

P McC: Yeah, that would be up to a certain point, to about U16s.

RL: You are talking about four years old up to about 15 and 16. If you train, you get your fair time.

P McC: After that, we are playing to win and getting ready for senior football. To be fair, our senior management come to a lot of those U16 and U17 games. If they don't have a (youth) game, they'll take them for seniors, it might only be 10 or 15 minutes.

M McM: It's a case of getting the habits in place early.

RL: You have wee boys and girls that know they are brilliant, but they know that doesn't mean they'll play every week. They will be as disappointed not to get picked and equally excited to get picked. It fosters that in them, it lets them know from the club level that it is a squad, it's the bigger (overall) team and not just three or four (players).

P McC: It gets them used to life in that you have to work for something.

RL: We hear of kids when they get to a certain age they drop out. So, if your club focuses on the five or six lads, or girls, and let's fill in the spaces to make a team around them. What if three of those five drop out at 13 or 14...where is your team at? Whereas, if you are making a group of 15 or 20 feel included and part of a team, everybody (of different standards) will benefit from playing in that group dynamic and you'll get better players developing over time.It is all about gearing towards and first team, to get them winning and it should leave us with a better pool of players.

M McM: Your 250 percent increase in numbers, over what period of time did that begin to grow?

P McC: That's been over the last eight years, when we sort of formalised it. Anyone coming into the club, with any new coaches, we said this is the way we like to do things. We are trying this approach, we are getting great feedback from parents that the children are loving it and that's what it is all about.

As Ryan said, yes we will get better players, you never know some might say 'playing is not for me' and they might become a coach if they were well looked after when playing (at a younger age) and could turn out to be a great club man. It is not all about playing.

M McM: In the long term, it means you could have reserve and third teams at senior level.

RL: When you (Paul) started the FDC with Michael Kelly, how many would you have had in the early weeks?

P McC: About 10..

RL: If you take 10 kids on a Sunday morning, now we've had to split our sessions in two. There are now more girls than you would have players (at the start). Now there is easily 120 or 130 kids, it is a significant jump. We must be doing something right that they want to keep coming back.

I can't speak for every coach at the club, but we (Ryan's coaching team) have yet to pick a squad and say 'we need to win that game'. The scores aren't counted. We ask them of the first rule on a Friday night, there will be hands go up and they'll say 'have fun'. They'll want to win themselves, we don't need to tell them.

M McM: Kids will always know the score.

P McC: That's what it is all about. We want to get a club where I would want to send my children. We all know stories of children always standing on the sideline, looking on and it's not fair. They pay their membership, the same as everybody else, so they should get the same opportunity.

M McM: The girls team has taken off. Would there be many girls' football teams in the area?

RL: We would have a few girls that have went on to Mid Ulster (Cookstown) because senior girls starts at 14 and that's the age the girls and boys don't really play together. We are going to try and plug that gap, because we want everybody that wants to play with us to stay.


Some the club's Diamonds team

P McC: Our ladies team were ready to start training before the pandemic. We had 28 people who had declared an interest for a senior ladies and we have 45 girls, from P1 up to the U10s.

RL: We have started at the youngest age and we have decided to build from there, that's our Diamonds team.

P McC: We have seven female coaches, all with their National Coaching Certificate. The senior team would range from 15...

RL: ...let's just say, the oldest is older than me.

P McC: Some of them want it for recreational and others would want it to try and push on with a season of friendlies and hopefully into a league.

RL: The aim would be to have two ladies teams, a competitive team and a social team, an outlet for everybody.

M McM: With the boys, how many teams have you?

P McC: We have teams at every age group, apart from U17. We just didn't have enough and they have merged in with the U18s.


Mental wealth training with STEPS and TAMHI

M McM: On a different note, how did the partnership with STEPS (mental health charity) come about?

RL: When I was doing my first marathon, four or five years ago, people were asking who I was fundraising for. We ran it through the club and said we'd get a set of kits for the team me and Paul were coaching at the time, put STEPS (logo) on them and give rest of the money to STEPS.

It was great, because on a Saturday up at the Harry Gregg League, if the boys got into any difficulty the boys could point (at the STEPS logo) and remember it was more important to he happy.

Paul was a great man for giving his talk at the end of the game, saying it was over and enjoy the rest of their weekend. If they made a mistake in a game, it was – make it, forget about it and move on.

It grew and when Ballinascreen Credit Union came on as sponsor for the whole club, we agreed to keep the STEPS logo on the sleeve of the jersey.

They are our mental health partner. It's alright them talking to the players, but now every time they pull on the jersey the logo is there as a constant reminder that your mental health is as important as your physical health.

P McC: It has just grown from there. Karen McGuigan, who runs STEPS, likes what we are doing and they are giving us training, they are linking in with fundraising and they are associated with us.

RL: Before I joined the club, it was part of what Paul and the rest of the coaches were trying to do. Your mental and physical health are linked. Karen (McGuigan of STEPS) would remind us that everybody has mental health as if it is a negative thing. You have mental health the same way you have physical health, is it good, is it bad, is it somewhere in the middle? It's about trying to remind the boys to look after themselves.

P McC: I am involved also with STEPS now. As we tell everybody, if you get injured on a football field, you go to a doctor or a physiotherapist, so if you are suffering..why not go to a counsellor? We tell the players to send us an email and we will point you to the right place. We have a mental health policy on our website.

RL: All the coaches have done some degree of mental health training. Going back to the (Credit Union) sponsorship, we were able to buy kits for every single squad. There is no insistence from the club to buy any club gear. That takes off the financial pressure off parents and we don't know the background of every family, but on a Friday night they can all step out wearing the same thing.

P McC: The biggest argument will be about what number they will want to wear. They will fight about that and it will take away any pressure or any nerves.

M McM: Developing the playing fields at Cahore, that seems to be the next step. At the minute the pitches only take one match per day.

P McC: We have been liaising with the council and we'd love to get back up to intermediate football, but there is work to be done before the Irish FA will allow us.

If the pitches could take more than one game, there would be four games up there on a Saturday. We are working towards it. It is baby steps.

RL: There is not a lot of work that needs done to bring the pitch to intermediate standard and the council recognise that. To be fair to them, there are promising signs from them that they will work with us.

P McC: It is things like fencing and dugouts that need to be of a certain standard, things have moved on since Cahore first opened.

M McM: Even in terms of the increased numbers, it must be a challenge to be able to cater for everyone.

RL: It must be a worry if your child has a disability and they are ruled out of half of what their friends are involved in. We have numerous children with a vast array of disabilities, you'd have to tell the coaches what they need to be aware of and they just say 'away you go, you're just another child in my team'...that's how they deal with it.

P McC: We only ever need to know about it for medical purposes.

RL: If someone is on the autism spectrum, you need to know. It is not up to that child to change for our training, it is up to our training to change for that child to make them included.

M McM: I suppose this is another reason why the (inclusivity) award is so important.

RL: It justifies our approach. You will have parents that get uptight (wanting to win) but after a while they see it is more important.

You can't hide delight when you win. Not every team wins every game or tournament they enter, but over a season there is an odd trophy coming through the door at different age groups, but it not the be all and end all.

P McC: Sometimes it is not down to coaching, you could have a great year with a good squad of players that gel together.

RL: There is a lot to be said for happy children. Our toughest thing is organising ourselves around other sports, as our players are now coming from a range of places.

When they all come back from lockdown, all the clubs need to work together to get them involved in as many sports as possible.

P McC: I was out walking around Derrynoid Forest recently and a wee girl was sprinting up asking when football starting back up.

M McM: That type of feedback tells its own story.

RL: We have a group of female coaches...you look across at the kids and coaches, all laughing and smiling. They run into training and reluctantly leave an hour later, it is great.

It is a bit embarrassing that our two names are on the awards, we are only collecting them on behalf of the rest.

M McM: Getting the club award, were you given other indication about why you received that one too?

P McC: It was about the way we do things. The 'fun for' ethos, we are in the community for the community...that's not just why it is done (for the award) - this is the type of club we want to be. We know that other clubs have their emphasis on different things, we do things slightly differently and that's the way we do things.

It goes back to the way you'd want your own child to be treated in a club.

RL: We had a couple of coaches, when they started, that didn't see eye to eye with our attitude. It took time before they realised we were doing it right. The wains come to football to get playing football, so we need to get them as much as they can get.

M McM: What comes next?

P McC: We are interested in anything that will help improve Draperstown Celtic, that's the short answer.

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