Try the Crossbar Challenge as a hurling club fundraiser

Hurling clubs in the U.S. are notoriously underfunded. They beg their players for dues to cover field costs, insurance fees, advertising and equipment replenishment, so it’s no wonder that the clubs are constantly scrounging for cash.

CROSSBAR CHALLENGE

OBJECT: Hit the goal’s crossbar with a sliotar. The more times you hit the crossbar, the better.

EQUIPMENT: Hurls, at least 10 sliotars and a goal.

DISTANCE: 10 yards out (maybe less).

SHOTS: The player gets 10 balls.

ENTRY FEE: $10 per player. ($7 goes to the hosting club, $3 for prize money)

PRIZES: Top prizes are based on the number of times the crossbar is hit among all players. Each “hit” on the crossbar gives the player one share of the prize money. The more hits the player makes, the more shares earned.

WHEN: Play between games at a tournament or at the end of a tournament.

For the most part, fundraising comes in the form of pub crawls, pub sponsors and direct solicitation. A while ago, I suggested creating an annual Poc Fada (essentially a hurling-inspired game of golf) as another revenue generator.

Well, here’s another idea: The Crossbar Challenge

This fundraiser (which I stole from the GAA, which, I believe, was stole from the soccer world) tests a hurler’s skill to the extreme. Essentially, contestants get a set number of hits from a set distance from the goal. The object is to bounce the ball off the crossbar with one of those hits.

Your team’s skill level is what determines the number of shots they can take and the distance. For most American players, I would recommend 10 shots from 10 yards (or even less) out.

Of course, this is a really tough test of one’s hurling skills. You’re asking people to hit a very thin target with a fairly small ball.

Since there’s a chance that no one will hit it, I would suggest a tie-breaker: Turn the players around and have the players make one hit. Whoever hits the longest ball (first bounce only) is the winner of 50 percent of the prize amount, the second longest gets 30 percent and third gets 20 percent.

Here’s a look at some Irish players taking the challenge. http://youtu.be/EjtOUns4sXY

WHEN: The best time to have this fundraiser is when your club is hosting a tournament, so you can get oodles of players from multiple teams.

Typically, you’ll want the Crossbar Challenge to take place after all the games are done for the day. You don’t want to tire out the players before their big game.

PRIZES: While I’m not sure of any real prizes for a Crossbar Challenge, here’s how I would do it:

Collect $10 (or whatever amount you deem appropriate) from all the players.

Seventy percent of the collection goes to the hosting club. Thirty percent of the entry fee goes into the prize pool.

Every time a player hits the crossbar, he earns one share of the prize. When all the contestants have played, divide the pool up into the number of shares created and dole out those shares.

The reason you should give out shares (versus a first, second and third prize) is because anyone who hits the crossbar should be honored, even if for just a couple of bucks. Why? Because hitting the crossbar at all is a major accomplishment!

STAFF: The fundraisers will need a few staff members. Essentially you need a treasurer, a record-keeper and two judges.

  • Treasurer: This person is responsible for collecting all the money and distributing the prize money at the end of the competition.
  • Record-Keeper: This person collects all the names of contestants and records hits as determined by the judges.
  • Judges: Two judges are stationed at both sides of the goal. They watch to see if the ball hits the crossbar and signal to the record-keeper.

Clubs might also consider adding:

  • Emcee: This person hooks up a PA system, introduces every player, jokes around with them a bit, tries to get the crowd into the event and encourages additional signups.

BIG BUCKS: To create an even bigger fundraising bang for your buck. Announce the Crossbar Challenge a few weeks before a tournament and urge interested players to find their own sponsors and raise the entry fee to $50 or $100.

The point here is that the contestants should ask their workplace, employees or family to sponsor them.

To further sweeten the prize-pot, try to get a few local stores to add to the winnings in the form of gift certificates and sports supplies. The hosting club should also offer a club jersey too.

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The plan for hurling in North America

Early this spring, the Gaelic Athletic Association’s North American County Board released a report that maps out its plans to continue its expansion into America and Canada.

The GAA, of course, is the governing body for hurling, camogie, gaelic football and a few other sports that were created in Ireland. Those sports are actively supported by the organization around the world. The North American County Board is the division of the GAA that covers all of the U.S. and Canada, with the exception of the New York City area, which has its own division of the GAA.

PLAY BALL: The North American County Board of the GAA released their strategic plan early in the spring of 2012.

It’s no secret that hurling and gaelic football have exploded in popularity in the U.S. And by “exploded”, I don’t mean that they’re booting football, soccer and baseball off the field, but instead, I’m saying the gaelic sports are gaining major footholds across the nation. At this point, most major cities have some sort of GAA club in operation and those that don’t have a club within 100 miles or so.

That’s certainly a positive, and the NACB’s strategic plan is the organization’s effort to continue to foster that growth.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with what I read. There are a few good ideas here and there, but much of the plan is ridiculously vague. Other parts read as lip service to keep dues-paying members from complaining too loud. And other parts made me think “I believe it when I see it.”

While it starts off with a dynamic, star-spangled cover and snapshot of the NACB affliates, the 17-page report then spends 9 pages on comments from key board members, most of whom waste space saying how much potential the North American clubs have, why it’s important to read the report, offering “thank yous” and explaining about how excited they are for the plan.

Yeah, that’s great and all, but really, couldn’t you all have combined this into one cohesive statement? Bureaucracy at it’s finest, I guess.

The basics of the plan: Once you get past all those needless page fillers, readers get into the heart of the plan wherein the fundamental plan is laid out.

According to the report, the NACB wants to allow players in North America to play meaningful and safe gaelic games. To do so, the board has opted to focus on:

  • Coach and referee education
  • Schools of excellence and development of squad programs,
  • Providing coaching backup and assistance to our clubs, schools and colleges
  • Roll out and delivery of training, camps and awards for youth development programs.

Admirable goals, indeed. Coach and referees are needed to build up the game. Player training is needed for adults just entering into the sports. Supplemental material is always a plus for coaches teaching a game they only just learned and helpful to clubs struggling to survive. Pushing the games to youth players certainly gives strength to the games in the future.

The board, for example, wants to offer special courses to school teachers interested in gaelic sports. These classes could then be used to introduce gaelic games to a whole new generation.

More info please: Other ideas are bandied about: Getting games from Ireland on American TV,  assisting new clubs, offering starter packs to new clubs and so on.

All good ideas, but also unfortunately murky.

What kind of TV broadcast is the NACB aiming for? Full games? An edited wrap-up of all the action? Will the broadcasters bother to explain the rules to fresh American eyes?

And the NACB wants to assist new clubs. How will it do that? Send out a few temporary coaches? Give the clubs some space on the NACB website? Pat them on the back and thank them for their dues?

How about this ” starter pack”? Is it a package of 20 hurleys and 100 sliotars? A notebook with the rules inside? Some cones to mark the lines of play? A media kit to help advertise a new club? It’s hard to commit to starting a club when you aren’t offered any substantial support.

How about this? The report says “Increase % of American Players playing hurling/camogie.” Wow. Great goal. Try something like “Add 100 registered hurling/camogie players every six months.” That’s precise. That’s a real goal.

Details, folks! We want details, not just a vague statement.

Marketing: As I said, the report does have some intriguing points.

One says “Establish a National Sponsorship/Marketing Committee.” Now that sounds great, but I wonder what they are referring to exactly? Having Guiness USA sponsor the NACB? I hope not, because I think this is a great goal. The question is how big of a national sponsor can the NACB get? And what company out there wants to aggressively market to Irish immigrants and those of Irish ancestry? (Leave some ideas in the comments, folks!)

The plan also suggests GAA establish a brand in the USA. That’s very interesting. If I read it right, the board wants to establish a name for itself and there’s a lot they can do with this. There’s lots of small-time sports out there with national organizations — from bull riders to skateboarders — and its high time that Irish sports develop their own.

Missing: I think the report also neglected a few areas.

  • Every club in North America struggles to raise funds.
  • Every player struggles to find equipment.

Addressing these two key problems are vitally important to the growth of hurling and other gaelic sports in America.

Regarding fundraisers, the NACB should develop a few templates for for clubs to follow. Basically some guides that say “Here’s how to do a Poc Fada,”   “Here’s how to do a bar patronage” and “Here are some ideas on developing non-Irish financial support.”

Regarding equipment, the NACB should consider setting up a brick-and-mortar store, online presence and/or warehouse for equipment and supplies related to the game. Getting equipment is a big pain in the butt here. After every practice, most teams spend several minutes hunting for lost balls because they cost so much! The NACB should set up a warehouse for supplies to keep those supplies fresh and push the cost of imports from Ireland down.

Positives: Don’t think this review is entirely off-putting, either. It’s clear the NACB plans to address issues almost impossible to do on a club level, such as insurance issues and developing better organization within the board.

It also addresses another issue in that gaelic-friendly facilities are hard to find. The report suggests developing long-term partnerships with municipalities, schools and other sports to use their facilities. This is good planning, but the GAA needs to go one step further.

The board should develop generic landscaping and engineering plans that show how to build a multi-use field that successfully incorporates gaelic game field designs with other American sports’ designs. You know, exactly how baseball diamonds are mapped out in the corner of a many football gridirons. The NACB needs to add hurling fields into that mix.

And that is the key to bringing hurling (and the other gaelic sports) into the limelight here in the U.S: First you adapt to American thinking and then you change it from the inside out.

The NACB has that plan, it just needs to flesh out the details.

 

 

 

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You need both your hands in hurling

TWO-FER: Always use two hands when scooping up a grounded sliotar.

When you watch a game of professional basketball you see players do some amazing things and you want to be like them. You want to nail that flying dunk from 10 feet out. You want to spin away from your opponents and sink a solid jumping shot.

But truth be told, not everyone can do that. For the average guy at the local playground court, it’s an impossibility. It’s just not in his wheelhouse.

The same can be said for those of us picking up hurling.

We can watch YouTube videos of top matches with players who dedicate their lives to the game and pick up unrealistic expectations — or even worse, lazy habits.

I was reminded of one of my lazy habits and unrealistic expectations at a recent practice.
“Keep both you hands on the hurley. You aren’t playing for Tipp,” he said, referring to the County Tipperary team, one of the best groups of hurlers in the world.

The frank comparison was referring to my repeated efforts to scoop up a grounded sliotar with my hurley. Instead of keeping one hand at the bas (the hitting end) and one on the handle, I kept on trying to manipulate the hurley with just my “handle hand.”

The top-level players can do one-handed pick-ups in their sleep. They have the muscle memory to do it right. I do not.

Instead, what I need to do — and what nearly every hurling player needs to do — is manipulate the hurley with two hands and not try to show off.

Once they’ve played at Tipp’s levels for a season or two, the coaches will lay off, until then it’s “two hands on the hurley unless one of is holding the ball.”

Some key points to remember:

  • CONTROL THE ACTION: If you don’t have two hands on the hurley, the hurley is naturally harder to control — it can go wild. That means that when you take a one-handed whack at the ball, you’re never sure where it’s going. That same reasoning can be applied to a one-handed ground-ball pick-up: Without that extra control, it might roll off unexpectedly or pop up out away from your ball hand. Keeping both hands on the hurley lets you adjust quicker and maintain control.
  • CLOSE TO THE ACTION: If you don’t have both hands on the hurley, you have to be deadly accurate with your pop-up to your hand. Instead, keep your non-dominant hand on the bas of the hurley when you’re picking up ground balls. This lets you transfer it quickly and smoothly to that hand — the same hand that is now just inches away from the ball and ready to grab it.
  • CUT TO THE ACTION: It’s important to remember that the ball just has to be off the ground to grab it — there’s no exact measure, just “off the ground.” That means that as soon as your hurley is between the ball and the pitch, you can take it into your hand. That’s a perfect reason to do ground ball pick-ups with two hands. You can literally cut out the entire “popping up” action if you’re willing to bend over and grab the ball.

Images from http://champlainabroaddublin.blogspot.com/2010/11/experience-gaelic-games.html and  http://www.hurling.be/info_hr.htm

 

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Converting America (Part 5): Steal the Wienermobile

Welcome to Part 5 of my series about how the Gaelic Athletic Association can increase interest and participation in their sports here in America. Now on to the entry …

One of the biggest hurdles for hurling and gaelic football in the United States is that, quite frankly, very few Americans have ever heard of the games. They don’t know how they’re played. They don’t know the rules. Heck, they don’t even really know how to watch the games.

So the GAA, the international governing body for both sports, needs to address those problems by taking the games to Americans instead of expecting us to find them on our own.

First off, the GAA needs to hire some of their players coaches on a year-long contract. These guys and gals wouldn’t be paid to play the games, a no-no under GAA rules, but instead they would be public relations workers. Their job? To teach Americans to play and enjoy hurling and gaelic football.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The GAA needs a promotional tour, just like Oscar-Meyer does, but without the giant hot dog-shaped bus.

To do so GAA officials would next grab a map of the U.S., and plot out a course that takes their promotional effort to America’s largest Irish festivals, just like the world famous Wienermobile travels the world promoting hot dog maker Oscar-Meyer.  Luckily for the GAA, their bus wouldn’t look so darn goofy (though it might help) and Irish festivals don’t all happen on the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, they pretty much occur on scattered weekends from March through October.

From that list and map, the GAA will send out one or two buses full of players with the simple task of promoting their sports to anyone they come across. Naturally, people attending Irish festivals will be more receptive such things, so Irish festivals will be the backbone of the tour.

Arriving at the festival of the week, the players set up a tent and also plot out a playing field somewhere on the grounds. In their tents, the players talk up the sports, demonstrate some skills, show off the equipment and hand out free (or nominally priced) DVDs of games, documentaries and instructional segments.  All this schmoozing leads up to two games in the festival’s final hours. One game of hurling/camogie, and another of gaelic football.

In between all those Irish festivals, the promotional tour isn’t just sitting around either. Instead, the crew makes even more stops: At colleges, high schools, elementary schools and county fairs. They could even swing into Canada for a leg of the trip.

At each additional stop, they would once again set up the tent, hand out the DVDs, sell some merchandise, play a few games and, most importantly, get the word out about the gaelic games.

Now I’m no accounting wiz, but considering the current financial turmoil Ireland is at this point, I bet the GAA could easily find 100 qualified people ready and willing to set sail for America. Further, one year of this just isn’t going to be enough. Plan it for five years or so. That sort of timeframe would really help to saturate the entire U.S.

Sure the cost of staging such a promotional effort would be in the millions, but the long-term reward — both financially and simply expanding the international scope of the gaelic games — is exactly what hurling and gaelic football need.


Living St. Louis explores hurling

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