Stockholm footy update - Finland tours and juniors

Friday, June 16 2006 @ 06:36 am ACST

Contributed by: Aaron Richard

Footy in Stockholm is now three years old, with the organisation now working on adding a solid juniors foundation to its operations. The league had a few early setbacks this year - the new team in Linkoeping failed to form, then discussions for the Dynamite to join the SAFL's Regional Premiership were knocked back at the Scanian end due to the southerners not wanting to add the extra travel committments. Despite this, Stockholm have continued on, adding a three-match tour series against the new Helsinki-based footy scene and working hard to bring Aussie Rules to Stockholm schools.

This report courtesy of Stockholm's Damian Waldron and Ben Kirk.

SAFF Roundup - Damian Waldron

A new look SAFF organisation has taken to the field for 2006. Many of the founding personnel either retired or returned to Australia during the winter. With the added disappointment of the Linköping team failing to materialize and a denial to join the SAFL competition there was genuine concern if the SAFF could continue to sustain competitive football in the Stockholm region. However due to the hard work of the board and coaching staff and an injection of youth and local talent the SAFF is probably in its strongest position over its three year existence.

Where previously the SAFF has attempted to run a single competition from May to September, a decision was made early on to split the season allowing for the 'other world cup' and the summer break. A genuine focus has been made to lift the standard of fitness and football drills during training sessions. These efforts made by the coaching staff and the consistent attendees at training has produced a much quicker and higher standard of football.

Additionally the SAFF has continued its touring tradition being the first league to send a team to Finland. With such an easy commute between the two capital cities football in the region can only benefit from the growing presence of Aussie Rules across the Baltic. Closing off the spring season the SAFF held the inaugural Stockholm 6's Cup; a Open Touch football competition. In a surprise result a team of Swedish new comers including 3 females made the final. Looking past the summer break, the SAFF will duplicate the Spring Season, with returned matches in planning stages against Finland. Although the number of senior games has been reduced in 2006, the quality of the players skills and match intensity has increased.

Building on the success of 2005 the SAFF continues to invest in junior development. By the end of the term the SAFF will have conducted Aussie Rules clinics in 5 schools and over 400 students aged 10 – 13. The SAFF has set aside a development fund to ensure that clinics are conducted in a professional manner and that the children look favorably on Aussie Rules as a summer alternative sport. Obviously the next step is to ensure that these clinics move from school hours to after school and / or Saturday morning. Planning is currently underway to establish 'Auskick' style program in the vicinity of the participating schools for the summer break and autumn term.

Stockholm Juniors Roundup - Ben Kirk

Off the back of added interest among the Swedes (and an ageing group of competitive Aussies) the SAFF has continued to invest in the growth of Aussie Rules through our Junior programs. Midway through 2005 Trevor Edwards (fresh of the plane from the UK) started doing some ground work gathering contacts from various schools around Stockholm with the view to start a Juniors program. Unfortunately for us his work commitments grew too big but I took over to take the credit! I managed to squeeze in a few more clinics at the end of 2005, but as the days grew shorter and the snow started falling, we were forced to wait for a few months till things warmed up a bit.

Due to an abnormally long winter we actually weren't able to start clinics this year until mid-May so we lost a couple of months of training. (The kids don't enjoy hand-balling with frozen hands and it's a bit hard keeping your feet on the ice!). Since we started in May it's been full-on trying to squeeze 8 schools into 6 weeks before their summer holidays. On behalf of the SAFF I employed another trainer, Kirsten Penzes, to help out with the extra load and she turned out to be a great hit among the girls, showing how they can be competitive (and beat) the boys in Aussie Rules. Our format is to see each class twice over a week, 2 classes at a time. Classes are mixed and have around 25 kids, so we're often taking between 40 and 50 kids at a time.

Up to now we've been aiming at yr's 4 and 5 (9, 10 and 11 year-olds) as they aren't quite locked in to any particular sport, but have the strength and co-ordination to grasp the basics. I've been surprised by the results -the more sporty kids have taken to it like a Swede to snow, utilising their kicking skills from soccer and the ability to take (and give) knocks from ice-hockey. Those that aren't as experienced with contact sports have focussed on the art of the perfect kick and the thrill of the mark, showing that at primary-school level football has something for everyone.

Those that want to talk numbers, here are a few figures: In 2005 we visited 4 schools, and all of those have asked us back in 2006. Just through word of mouth, we've added 4 new schools to our 2006 list which makes a total of around 450 kids we've seen this year which has doubled from around 220 in 2005. The second half of 2006 promises even greater growth with community health organisations and programs showing interest in supporting us and contacting schools on our behalf! This could be a major breakthrough for us as up to now the SAFF has been paying the coaches out of their own coffers and donations from generous ex-pats -money which is likely to dry up if we continue to grow our programs at this rate. I'm expecting to have reached over 700 kids by the time the snow starts falling again in November, with the nice round figure of 1000 by summer next year. By this time the kids actively participating will be in year 6 and it will be time to start with a new batch of 4th and 5th graders.

If we get just 5% of the kids we've had clinics with that means we should have 30 kids ready to play in their own Junior competition in the Autumn and 40-50 to choose from to play England and Denmark in a proposed Junior competition next year! The game plan is to echo the SAFF senior competition with a team from North Stockholm (the Dynamite) and a team from the South (the Royals). Coincidentally, the clinics have been divided between schools in the north and south of Stockholm, enabling the kids to play for their side of Stockholm. These teams will likely be coached through an 'Aus-kick' style program in their area, with the clinics continuing to generate further interest.

It all sounds so promising, so what is there to stop us? Well, so far our only limitations are man-hours and funding. During May I was spending over 20hrs a week on co-ordinating and taking clinics, with 2 other (SAFF-paid) coaches conducting clinics. We've just purchased 50 more Aus-kick footballs in order to leave a few balls at schools for the kids to practice with, and up to now this has all been SAFF-financed. The money has come directly from the Seniors and supporting members who want to re-invest in the game, but we're fighting our way out of the typical catch-22: we need funding to get more numbers, but at the same time the organisations we're approaching for funding need to see more numbers in order to give us the funding! Like I said earlier though, it looks like we may have just found our break with a program aiming at decreasing obesity in schools.

And so long as we have dedicated volunteers willing to help me run clinics and enthusiastic teachers and children in the schools, the future looks bright for Australian Rules Football in Stockholm!! Keep an eye on the SAFF junior competition in the years to come -there's some great Swedish talent coming through!

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