Jill of All Trades: Sinéad Taylor on Being a Multi-sport Athlete
While most athletes are lucky to make their name in one sport, Sinéad Taylor has managed to excel in three.
She has represented her native Offaly in Gaelic football. She has lined out for Ireland Sevens in rugby and she has had an extensive career in the Women’s National League, playing for some of the top sides in the country.
It is not unusual when growing up, for Irish kids to stretch themselves across multiple sports. Multiple games at a weekend can be commonplace for certain age groups.
Generally, the older you get, and the higher level you play at, choice becomes a factor.
But, in the world of women’s sports in Ireland, it is not uncommon for players to have multiple disciplines happening simultaneously.
A former teammate of Sinéad’s in rugby, Lindsay Peat has played soccer, basketball and rugby all at international level as well as representing the Dublin Ladies’ Gaelic football team at senior level.
“Lindsay was a good teammate of mine and a really good friend.
“What she’s done across all sports has been a testament to her as a person and a player”, Sinéad said.
Whether her humility will allow her to admit it or not, Sinéad is a testament to herself too.
Originally from just outside Blackburn in the UK, she moved to Offaly at 13, where she immediately began playing Ladies football.
Starting with her local club, Edenderry, she went on to represent Offaly at county level.
Soccer was never far from her mind either and after spells at Killeigh and then Tullamore, Sinéad would get the chance to jump in the highest level of women’s soccer in Ireland, the Women’s National League, when Galway set up their senior outfit while she was studying in Athlone.
When her job in the Irish Defence Forces relocated her to Dublin, her sporting interests followed suit.
She played Ladies football with Clanna Gael Fontenoy.
And then she decided to add to her repertoire of sports by taking up rugby.
Starting with Railway Union, where she played with Peat, she went as far as joining Ireland Sevens set up in 2013. But her passion for soccer never went away.
More recently she has played her football in Wexford and just a short couple of months ago, earned herself an FAI Women’s Cup final medal, preventing her old employer Shelbourne from securing a league and cup double.
So it’s fair to say that Sinéad had great success across her multi-sport career.
But is playing at such a high level in different sports sustainable from a performance perspective?
It’s a debate that goes on in academic fields also.
Dr Susan Giblin, Head of Sports Strategy for Portobello Institute, says that while playing across multiple sports can be beneficial in certain developmental aspects, it is something that should be monitored.
“There is an ongoing debate about whether specialisation or diversification is optimal for elite athlete development. In younger development years, in certain disciplines, playing multiple sports has been shown to have neurological, physiological and psychological benefits.
“However, later in life combining the demands of multiple elite level sports commitments can reduce athlete’s capacity to recover in between training or match demands with sleep and physical recovery often being compromised when trying to combine the training schedules from multiple coaches and organisations.
“We see this consistently in GAA players trying to combine college, club and county commitments.
“Clear communication and agreement between coaches, athletes and organisations are essential to ensure multi-sport athletes are well supported to achieve their potential and prioritise their commitments.
“The introduction of ‘Lifestyle Advisors’ and psychologists has been a very positive step taken by sport’s Governing Bodies like Sports Ireland, the IRFU and the GAA to assist athletes in managing playing and personal demands”, Dr Giblin said.
Reflecting on her own career so far and why she committed to multiple sports throughout, Sinéad refers back to the passion she had as a child and still has to this day.
“I think for the likes of myself, I wanted to try play everything because I loved all sports. I wanted to play as much as I could.”
Another factor she cites is the shorter window many female athletes have in comparison to their male counterparts.
“In terms of if you want to settle down and a have a family, your playing career is shorter than that of a man. You have to take these things into consideration," she said.
And so, for Sinéad it is about maximising the amount of sport she plays while she still can.
And there is no end in sight yet.
While continuing her role in the Irish Defence Forces and studying in IT Carlow, she has her eye set on another season of WNL football, signing with Bohemians in the offseason.
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