Last year, my son (aka Mr 8), started to play Auskick, the version of Australian Rules Football for kids.
This year my daughter, Miss 5, has decided to do likewise, for the mighty Newtown Swans.
She’s very much a pink fairy sparkly butterly princess unicorn girl when she’s in the mood, so her decision to play football – boots and all – was odd.
But she decided to do it for two reasons. One is that she’ll probably get schlepped to training with her brother half the time, so might as well make the best of it.
The other is that Auskick makes it fun. The emphasis is all on participation, sharing and learning skills and it is done subtley so the kids have fun, rather than feel they are just doing drills.
The best example of this is the game of Stuck in the Mud at every training session. The kids love it, but as the coach explained to me the other day, the game simulates an AFL game pretty well. Think about it: you run up and down the field, you dodge opponents, then if you find an obstacle your team-mates come to your aid, all while using your peripheral vision to spot threats and opportunities. That’s AFL in a nutshell!
Winning doesn’t come into it – the games are not even scored until under 10s. Every kid gets given AFL branded stuff – we got socks, a bag, a ball and a hat – to ram home the brand. And there’s a better than 25% chance she’ll be asked to play Auskick as half-time entertainment during a Sydney Swans game, and get the whole gameday experience.
It’s amazingly well organised. The registration form for new players even asks if we wish to be kept informed of the new Greater Western Sydney team and that won’t enter the competition until 2012. This level of support encourages and facilitates greater levels of volunteering, so the whole experience of being a part of the club is about ten times better than the experience we had with the local soccer team.
I suspect Miss 5’s AFL career will be short. But I also suspect that she will have very strong ideas about the code put into her head at a very young age, and that those ideas will stick there. This, I suspect, is how the AFL will grow and why it will do just fine in Sydney. Sure there is not a slavering horde of AFL supporters ready to support the new team. But give it 10,15, 20 years and all those kids who remember even the one or two seasons of Auskick they played will be more disposed to take an interest in the team than would otherwise have been the case.
I wonder if any of them will realise they’re watching grown men playing a complicated version of Stuck in the Mud?