Most of us have won a Brownlow Medal or been the star goalshooter for the Thunderbirds, but regrettably we wake up just when we are about to become the hero.
Being great at a sport is the dream of so many kids, but either the skeletal muscles and joints that form a complicated system of levers which allow us to move our bodies develop into non-preferred shapes, or the youngsters simply don’t have the opportunity to play the sport in the first place.
Be not dismayed; there is always a sport to fit all sizes, and now a marvellous new program across the state where field officers make a connection between schools and local sporting associations or clubs to create pathways for all children aged 10-13 to be introduced to sport.
It’s called Community Active, created through the STARCLUB Club Development Program, an initiative of the state government and funded through the Department of Recreation and Sport in partnership with local councils, which share the cost of creating a role to service sport and recreation in their region.
The program was launched on the Fleurieu Peninsula early last month when the Goolwa Hockey Club took part in the first session through the Alexandrina Council, which will host other five-week introductory sport programs run by local sporting clubs in Port Elliot, Strathalbyn, Milang and Ashbourne.
The field officer is Jeremy Bell, and the Victor Harbor, Yankalilla and Kangaroo Island councils have also embraced this marvellous concept.
“Community Active is about linking our local clubs to the schools, and providing the clubs with help and support to be able to carry on the program,” Jeremy said.
“Kids who may not necessarily be involved in a club suddenly have an opportunity to be part of an introductory-type sporting program, and if they wish they can follow the pathway to a club.”
The Goolwa Hockey Club did it well, organising Hockey SA state under-15 coach Dan Mitchell to take the first training session at Port Elliot Primary, and the kids loved every moment. In a terrific initiative by the club headed by its president Tania Newcombe, the treasurer/fundraiser Lynette Wheatley offered beginners packs – a new stick, ball and shin pads – to the children who chose to continue the program and were interested in joining the club.
The session drew 13 registrations including eight new to the sport, and it was very well organised. It was a fun session after school.
Jeremy said a key element to the program was to get the message across to the children that it’s okay if they are not the biggest, strongest or the best at a particular sport because there are countless other options to also experience that wonderful feeling of being part of a team or receiving that same support through a club environment.
“Some children may not develop the physical attributes to play for an AFL club, but they can still be the best at hockey and go to the Olympics or play table tennis and also represent their country in the Commonwealth Games,” he added.
“Sport means different things to different people, but the bottom line is that kids play sport because it’s fun.
“They want to play a game with their friends, and if we can give them that opportunity to play it through some of the coaching courses that we offer then we have achieved something. It’s not about trying to turn every child into an elite athlete, but creating opportunities for them to participate.
“We run a course on the essentials for coaching children where we look at why kids play sport, what makes a good or a bad coach, and how coaches can develop a program for kids. The winning and losing thing doesn’t factor into the research on why kids play sport. Some would rather play in a losing team than sit on the bench in a winning team.”
Jeremy knows the country sporting environment only too well having come from Jamestown in the Mid-North, and while completing a sports science degree at UniSA and working in the health and fitness industry playing tennis and junior football for North Adelaide and later for Victor Harbor for six years until last year. He and wife, Rebecca, have two children, Leo, four, and Archer, 16 months, so he also appreciates the common time restraints for volunteers.
Working at the grass roots level of sport has become his passion – supporting the sport and recreation sector around club development with an aim to making them well managed and sustainable. He’s also there to help clubs and associations with their responsibilities like child safety, putting the best policies and procedures in place.
“We are very mindful of the fact many children are not from a sporting family environment, or perhaps they do not have the resources to pay a fee for their child to join or club or purchase sporting clothing, footwear and equipment,” Jeremy said.
“One of the reasons we initially looked at this program was because we wanted to provide that opportunity for people who have financially not been able to access a club.
“Sport is not the answer for a lot of people either, but it is a really powerful way to engage kids that may not necessarily have been engaged through a traditional school system.
“For some children, sport is their passion and they like to try something new; the task is providing that pathway. At the same time we want to educate the clubs to make sure they are being inclusive and providing an opportunity for everyone to participate.”
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