Is this the secret to junior participation in football?

By David Nagel Finding the key to unlocking the secret of junior participation in football is almost the holy grail of solving the long-term future of the sport. Children learning to enjoy the game from a young age and then transferring that passion through to junior and senior football clubs is near the top of... View Article

By David Nagel

Finding the key to unlocking the secret of junior participation in football is almost the holy grail of solving the long-term future of the sport.

Children learning to enjoy the game from a young age and then transferring that passion through to junior and senior football clubs is near the top of the list for administrators of the sport.

And while Auskick has served as a magnificent vehicle for so long, and continues to do so, the Moorooduc Primary School has brought an exciting new twist to solving the holy grail that was mentioned earlier.

Over the last four years, the school’s PE teacher – and Pines senior coach – Paddy Swayn has run the Moorooduc Football League (MFL), with games played between students at lunchtime on Tuesday and Friday of each week during term two of the school calendar.

The school’s population is 260 students and they have a six-team competition, consisting of the Barak Bullfrogs, Loders Rd Lyrebirds, Males Rd Mavericks, Bungower Bunyips, Derril Rd Dingoes and the Goman Goannas – all named after roads that surround the school.

Each team has approximately 12 players on their list and they play AFL 9’s.

Teachers coach the teams and the presidents of each team are grade-six students.

Swayn gives up his private time two days a week to umpire the games, with students acting as live commentators and goal and boundary umpires.

The school has a home-and-away season and a final series, which includes a best-of-the-rest game between fifth and sixth on the ladder who play for the next year’s number one draft pick.

If a new kid comes to the school and he or she shows some talent the winner of that game has the number-one ticket to success!

Two semi-finals are played between first and fourth, and second and third on the ladder, with the two winners going through to the grand final. At halftime of the main game each year, the prep kids take part in an Auskick game – one of the highlights of the season.

And the fun – well it doesn’t stop there in the MFL.

It has a leading goal-kicker award – The Goosey Medal – named after champion local full-forward Simon Goosey, and a Brownlow equivalent for best and fairest in the competition named ‘The Swaynlow’.

There is a Young Gun Award for the best grade-two rookie, and a draft camp is held at the start of the year where the new draftees do the beep test, 20-metre sprint, vertical leap and time trial before their draft day comes around.

And match reports are produced in the school’s newsletter, keeping teachers and students alike up to date with all the football action in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Swayn said the entire school had embraced the concept, which pokes a bit of fun at the big boys in the AFL.

“It all started with wanting to do something a little bit different at lunchtime, footy was getting a bad rap at the time so we thought we’d start something up and get more kids involved in playing the game,” Swayn said.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, it’s all a bit of fun, but it really promotes footy and the improvement in our kids over the last four years has been amazing.

“If you ask them to bring a reader to school they forget, but you don’t see too many of these kids leave their footy boots behind when it’s game day. The kids are great with it and they really get involved and feel like they’re part of something, which is really important.

“Without knowing it the kids are learning about leadership, improving their organisational skills and also learning a bit of IT as well, so there are plenty of positives to take away – even apart from the fitness sides of things.”

Just imagine if every primary school had a program like this in place. If they did, then finding the key to unlocking the secret of junior participation in football would be a lot closer than what people think.