Football Pathways for remote First Nations Players

May 5, 2021

We have some really deadly sports talent in remote communities. National sports organisations have started to recognised the raw, untapped talent with some starting programs to support our mob into their teams. But those programs are few and far between. In this blog post I’ll explore some of the challenges that remote kids face to break into elite sports and what national sports teams might implement to better cater for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Carl Merrison kicks a football with his son in a remote community

Challenges remote kids face to break into elite sports

  • Geographical distance= lack of consistent programs, cost to travel to programs in towns/cities, lack of recruiters travelling out to look for talent
  • Lack of or inconsistent junior sports in community
  • Lack of or inconsistent trained sports teachers at school
  • Issues with access to schooling, transiency, inconsistent teachers, low attendance so therefore lack of knowledge about elite sports, options, pathways, English language proficiency, media awareness, Western culture awareness etc
  • Lack of space or equipment
  • The perception that they should just move to a town then or inability to just ‘move to a town then’.
  • Lack of First Nations role models in their chosen sport… and even less that lived remote and overcame the same challenges as the remote kid.
  • Witnessing racism in sport
  • Lack of supports or culturally aware support people in programs in cities/towns if the player does end up moving for school, sports, sport pathways
  • Issues with literacy- ESLD, written applications, understanding how to book a plane or catch a taxi or understand a bus timetable, written itinerary, understanding Standard Australian English from coach
  • Issues with numeracy- understanding how much is needed to be saved to contribute to the costs of attending a carnival or event, understanding calendars and time to be at sports event
  • Socio-economic circumstances
  • Family’s ability to support sports endeavours

Consider your organisation or clubs ability to commit to an ongoing relationship with remote communities and people

Remote communities are very used to having ‘fly in fly out’ or ‘here one day gone the next’ programs.

  • Are you organising this idea/initiative/program in consultation with First Nations people on the ground on your end and in remote communities?
  • Do you have a long term strategy and plan for developing young people, increasing autonomy and leadership in the communities you work?
  • Do you have a long term strategy to engage with a community which includes funding, strategic development and positive outcomes?

Ideas for implementation to facilitate more remote First Nations players in elite sport

  • Create a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in consultation or driven by First Nations people. This should include a First Nations employment strategy and a First Nations recruitment strategy.
  • Set up a ‘sister community’ and organise workshops, clinics and camps between your club and that community- both bringing down remote players and sending your players and coaches up to learn about life in community.
  • Team up with sports and community engagement organisations that are already in the communities or outback such as Garnduwa, Clontarf, Shooting Stars, Stars.
  • Collaborate with a boarding school in your local region that hosts students from remote communities around Australia and Torres Strait. Run programs and events with those schools as a starting point to engage with remote young people.
  • Look at ways to partner with an existing program or charity that already delivers programs in remote communities such as the Cathy Freeman Foundation, SWIRL program through Victoria University, Garnduwa Sports Programs, Clontarf/Stars/ShootingStars, NT Athletics, NT SEDA.
  • Include remote communities in your plan for recruiters to visit
  • Consider strengthening relationships with the First Nations players, their families and communities first. That way you have a strong community before inviting remote community players to join- they may be more likely to feel accepted, supported and understood

Benefits of having remote Aboriginal players on your team

  • We play a different calibre of sport- some of us have come off dirt and rock ovals (think tough, high pain threshold, pure persistence and dedication to play, raw love of the sport), some of us have played on senior teams at 12 (not afraid to be put on the biggest guy on the ground, not afraid to stand our ground, ready to play tough sports), some of us spend our spare time hunting and fishing (imagine the precision, the fitness levels, the stamina), we play our way remote (think different strategies and moves), some of us have faced down angry bulls or brumbies or snakes (think brave, strong, resilient)
  • We have had to work hard to get to where we are in our sports. We haven’t had it easy, we’ve had to fight to get where we are. We had to leave our families, country and everything we no behind to chance this dream. We really, really want it.
  • We want to make our family, community and Aboriginal people proud.
  • For some of us this is our ticket out of the cycle of poverty- this is our one big chance to make something big.
  • We bring our culture, language and traditions with us to share with you all.
  • We usually have a good sense of humour and willing to have fun.
  • We might bring different strategies, tactics and styles to the game to spice up your game play.
  • Some of us might come across as ‘naturally talented’. What that sometimes leaves out is that in our remote communities sports is sometimes all we have to do- so we kick around and shoot around non stop practising and refining our skills too.

I hope this article has randomly found its way to an elite sport executive and woven its way into your heart and mind. First Nations people are out there- ready when you are.

#FirstNationAustralia #AFLpathways #AustralianFootballLeague #AFL #outbackafl #Aboriginal


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