Gareth Fox

Gareth Fox: Gambling in the GAA

My introduction to gambling was a very bizarre but common thing. After a late Saturday morning fry, I would lie-up on the sofa in the living room to digest, and half follow along with what was on the TV.

My father would be watching the horse racing on Channel 4 and the ear covers of John McCririck’s hat would be flapping around amidst a fury of hand signals and what sounded like nonsensical long division. Gambling was an incomprehensible thing to which I paid little attention.

It wasn’t until my teens that gambling started to take meaning, and my mid-teens when it became a concrete thing that those around me were doing regularly. I still had no real comprehension of the process, of its actual rules and formulas, but small pens and slips of paper started to become a common sighting before and after training and especially around Sunday match day.


And then it was there, everyday; its presence was an everyday thing, with pictures of bet-slips -wins and nears wins – all over social media (Bebo in the beginning). I can distinctly remember often going into the clubhouse for a Lucozade after under 16 training, and there, sitting at a table near the TV, would be a few big-name senior players, surrounded by youth players – the table an array of different slips and possibilities. The younger players proclaiming their ‘near wins’- a battle between disciples to see who could gain the admiration of their club heroes.

I distinctly remember wanting to be a part of it. I wanted to be doing this thing that everyone else was doing. There were two reasons why I never did: I had no money and I had no idea how it worked – and I wasn’t going to admit to either of them. But that feeling that I had then, of wanting to be part of the group, is something extremely important in all this.

It is my understanding that human beings come onto this planet with two powerful emotional needs: to find connection and avoid rejection. If you dig deep enough into the emotional problems of almost everyone you can trace their issues back to a lack of fulfilment of those two needs. You see, to a certain extent, we still have the bodies and mindset of tribal times; it was imperative that we didn’t get rejected by our tribe, as no human could survive in the wilderness alone. Rejection really did mean death, by hunger or by animal, and connection meant survival. That is why the fear is so deeply rooted and the cause of so many modern day problems.

The feeling I used to feel in the clubhouse after training was an urge for connection – connection through a common activity, which was gambling. Gambling was starting to signify being part of the group. And being part of the group, deep down, meant security and safety.

But unfortunately, gambling is a very real addiction, with very real, negative effects, which are being felt at both club and county level. And these negative effects are filtering down into personal lives and causing very real social damage. And we must be very careful what we do about it. There are help lines and support lines which deal with the habit – but we must look closely at the cause.

You see, gambling is a symptom of something much deeper. Gambling is a habit of action – it is something that we do – and most treatments of gambling addiction look to take away the action and in doing so try to take away the addiction.

But what we must understand is that gambling addiction is only a symptom of something emotional; all habits of action are created by habits of thought (thoughts create emotions – emotions start actions – actions create results), and simply changing the habit of action won’t change the habit of thought. So the problem remains, and quite often the habit of action reappears. This is what we call a relapse.

Addiction is something that takes us away from a bad feeling towards a good feeling. It is something that takes us away from confronting our negative reality and environment, towards an escape, a distraction or a release.

I have never worked with a gambler who wasn’t moving away from something negative in their reality; either they felt not good enough, smart enough, interesting enough, talented enough, socially likeable enough, successful enough. The habit of gambling is used as a means of moving from a bad feeling towards a good feeling. It is a negative belief that gambling makes me feel better, about myself or my environment. It makes me feel connected to my tribe – my GAA team or community.

You see, your mind’s number one job is to keep you alive on this planet. And it does this by analysing your environment and downloading ways in order to move you away from pain (physical/emotional) to pleasure. Pain is not good for survival, and so your subconscious mind provides you with ways out. Habits of thought are our survival programs. They are what the mind has subconsciously downloaded in order to move away from pain to pleasure. If you have a survival program that says ‘gambling makes me feel part of the group – which means security’, every time you experience something negative in your environment like work stress, relationship stress, sporting stress which leads to thoughts of rejection, your survival mind simply executes the survival program ‘gambling makes me feel part of the group – which means security’ in order to move you away from that emotional pain towards pleasure. It’s the same process with drugs and alcohol.

Environment is the cause of gambling addiction – it’s the cause of all addictions. Pressures to be part of your team, to fit in with your community, feelings of rejection, the loneliness of injury, stress, anxiety, separation from our peer group, losing our place on the team – anything that causes a negative thought, which then leads to emotional pain – and the body simply does its job and turns on the pleasure habit of action. Problem – solution. It has no idea that the solution is negative and is creating real difficulty in your life, it simply, subconsciously drives us towards what we have recorded as pleasure. My life equals pain, gambling equals pleasure.

But this is great news – your negative gambling habits aren’t you, they are just a pattern that you have established, caused by your own thoughts. Thoughts create emotions – emotions start actions – actions create results. Don’t change the actions that got you there, change the thoughts that started your process.

For more information on Addiction go to or

Gareth Fox is a qualified RTT Hypnotherapist and Peak Performance Coach who works with inter-county footballers. In this new monthly column, he will provide advice on the difficulties of confinement and offer ways to improve peak mental performance. For information on guided meditation or hypnosis audios contact

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