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Monday, September 21 2020 @ 03:39 am ACST

Saturday Morning Footy

North America

This summer, my seven year old son and myself are introducing a new concept in junior sport to Arlington, VA and the Washington DC area. We call it Saturday Morning Footy. In many ways there is nothing new at all about Saturday Morning Footy. I myself started playing Footy (aka Australian football) on Saturday mornings in 1977, thirty years ago! Of course, in 1977 I lived in Ringwood East, an outer suburb of Melbourne Australia and the program was run by my best friend's dad. The name itself comes from Arlington's very successful junior basketball program called Saturday Morning Basketball. Like Saturday Morning Basketball, Saturday Morning Footy will begin with three weeks of "clinics" to teach the skills and rules (although there will be a lot of fun games along the way), and the last two weeks will consist of "matches" between the designated teams.

Saturday Morning Footy also borrows liberally from Australia's extremely successful junior sporting program, Auskick. In 2006, 150,000 children in 2,500 locations across Australia participated in Auskick. If the US had the same per capita participation, that would correspond to 2,213,000 participants aged 5 to 12. That is approximately 80,000 less than Little League Baseball's World-wide participation in 2006. Like Auskick, Saturday Morning Footy emphasises fun, safety and participation.

So what is new about Saturday Morning Footy? To some extent, it is the idea of bringing clinics and organized matches together in one place. Clinics are fun and they are a great way to introduce the game and teach skills, but the kids just want to play matches! Originally, I had planned to simply copy Australia's Auskick program, but my son wanted to play in "real" games against "other" teams. Who can blame him. It is just fun to play. Even though it is thirty years ago, I remember that while I enjoyed the clinics I just loved playing for East Ringwood Primary. Auskick has felt some of this pressure and has introduced "Auskick Pro" for the older kids. One of the most successful junior programs in North America is British Columbia's North Delta Junior Australian Football League. The league has 12 teams across 3 age divisions. Founder and Canada AFL President, Mike McFarlane, told me that he started off doing clinics, but the kids wanted to play games and so he has moved over to games. Similarly, in Walnut Creek, California, Jeff Finsand's junior program just does games. It will be interesting to see if this experiment of combining clinics and matches is able to both introduce the players to the rules and skills of the game while also giving them the opportunity to compete and try what they have learned.

Saturday Morning Footy begins June 30 in Arlington VA and will run for five Saturdays. The first three Saturdays will be clinics and then the last two will be matches. For more information go to www.dcfootykids.blogspot.com.

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