AFL Yarns: Setting Indigenous players up for success

June 18, 2019

I’ve played footy since I can remember. Red dirt ovals, bare feet, raw footy, mates, laughs, fun.

I’ve coached junior footy since I started with the Clontarf Academy- the Halls Creek Colts. Next I coached my home team, the Halls Creek Hawks Seniors to two premierships. After a move to the Northern Rivers I coached the Lismore Swans Woman’s team to two premierships too. Then I got selected for the Brisbane Lions Jesaulenko Internship. Then I was selected as the assistant coach for the Gold Coast Suns Northern Rivers Academy, a role I had to leave when I was offered the Garnduwa Kimberley Spirit Pathway Coordinator Position. I have liased with clubs all over Australia to support the recruitment of several Kimberley drafts. And in the Garnduwa KSP role I work closely with Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles. You could kind of say I live and breathe footy.

I’ve been working with mob who have moved away to boarding school and even helped mentor successful remote Aboriginal players in their first years as AFL players.

So I’ve got some ideas for home town coaches and teachers, city club coaches as well as ideas for AFL programs.

Home town coaches and teachers

  • Help your players set goals. You have the power as a mentor and role model to support them to set educational goals, personal goals and sports goals to help them make their sports dreams a reality.
  • Include discussions about personal characteristics such as dedication, persistence and integrity into your interactions with players.
  • Show your players that they can achieve success too- give them role models like them: Cedric Cox (finished his schooling in a remote town in the Kimberleys moved to Victoria to play regional football and was then recruited to Brisbane Lions), Sam Petrvski-Seton (attended boarding school from lower secondary, got selected for state rep teams and then drafted in his draft year), Francis Watson (drafted in his draft year and played in Eagles Reserves in 2018), Shane McAdam (played for the Claremont club, missed out on being drafted in his draft year, persisted to play regional football then got drafted to Adelaide). More recently the amazing AFLW players for female AFL hopefuls to aspire to- including Kitara Whap-Farrer and Krstel Petrevski. The Indigenous AFL map is a great resource for your players to see that there are Indigenous players from ALL over Australia! 2017 Map and 2018 Map.
  • Encourage your players to take opportunities that arise to them- sports carnivals, boarding school opportunities, Clontarf opportunities. These will help adjust your players to city life, Western culture expectations and life away from home.

City club coaches

  • Learn more about your players background- connect with their families and learn about their community. This will give you an insight into how your players think.
  • Understand that your player will probably feel homesick, grief about deaths or issues at home, overwhelmed learning the culture of your town and club that will be different from their home culture, and maybe even exhausted listening to instructions in Standard Australian English being used to interacting in Kriole, Aboriginal English or traditional language.
  • Be patient- your player may have a different learning style than how you teach. Traditionally Aboriginal people from small towns or communities may learn by watching and then trying for themselves, listening to older people tell stories, visually learning from rock art or jotting pictures. Listening to game plans, coaching lecturers etc might not be something that they have experienced before in their community football or town.
  • Your player might be bi-lingual and will probably be very aware of body language. Many Aboriginal languages include hand signals and body language to add to the meaning of the communication. This might lead to them misinterpreting your message or understanding a different perspective. Check in with your players to make sure they are understanding what you are saying.
  • Your player may need support dealing with

AFL ProgramĀ 

  • Be open to the talent available in remote and rural Australia.
  • Seek advice and guidance from the experienced Aboriginal people in our field.
  • Check that your induction program is culturally appropriate- consider that some of your players might need additional support with things like bus/train timetables, finding a doctor/dentist (they might be used to drop in community clinics), how to get to and from the stadium, setting an alarm for training.
  • Check that your club is culturally inclusive- the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags with the Australian flag, staff and players use appropriate terms (know what terms are derogatory), include an acknowledgement of Country etc. There is some great work being done in this field through Reconciliation Action Plans at various clubs.
  • Consider allocating your new Aboriginal players mentors or ‘buddies’ that can check in with them and support through feelings of homesickness, isolation, culture shock etc.
  • Check in regularly with your new draftees that they are understanding and coping with the elite sports pressures. Acknowledge that it might take time for your new draftee to understand and adapt to these routines and expectations- that this is not a weakness or flaw just that these expectations will be very different than what they have ever experienced.
  • Acknowledge your players talent, raw playing style and unique perspective on the field- this is what you recruited them for. Use their strengths.

Suggested reading:

Why Warriers Lie Down and Die

Need help supporting your players- I’d love to have a yarn.


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