Mazenod Panthers in action.

Clubs Kicking Goals with FIDA

By Steve Teakel, AFL Victoria

Football clubs are continually looking at ways to grow their community connectedness and expand their participation base.  By developing a range of inclusive practices community football clubs can embrace people from diverse population groups and ability levels to a game that is celebrated passionately in the winter months.

One such organisation is the Football Integration Development Association (FIDA) which provides a regular, competitive fixture of Australian football for players with an intellectual disability.  Currently there are over 400 players involved in the program with FIDA receiving administrative support from the Victorian Amateur Football Association. Teams come from metropolitan and regional centres of Victoria, with an interstate clash with the Croweaters a highlight on the football calendar.

Not all clubs have a competitive team and for the past six years the Montrose Football Club has offered people with an intellectual disability an opportunity to learn the skills of Australian Football. These clinics have provided participants with an opportunity to improve their motor skills and growth in personal development through increased opportunities for social interaction.

As Chris Dowling explained “we worked closely with the Shire of Yarra Ranges, Melba Support services and were very excited at being able to offer clinics to people who had not had an opportunity to be part of a footy club”. It is word of mouth that has seen the clinic grow with participants from the outer eastern suburbs, Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley.

At first, club coaches were rostered on to conduct the clinics but now Glenn Rickard has taken on the role of coach, designing a program based on fun, skills and games which provides a more settled routine to suit the participants and provides the chance to measure their progress.

Some of the participants need one to one assistance so it was decided to ask some senior players to be involved.  Initially, the players were hesitant as they had not been involved with people with an intellectual disability before and did not know quite what was expected of them.  “But once the players met the boys (we’ve only had one girl) their sheer enjoyment and sometimes surprising abilities made it all good fun” explained Dowling.  Chris added “they have without exception felt their involvement has given them a new perspective on their own good fortune in playing a sport they love, and has given them valuable experience in meeting and getting to know the boys and their families and carers.”

It has its challenges especially on wet days as Glenn Rickard explains “only last week we moved up to the main function room and had to be very inventive with the drills so that none of the glass windows or walls suffered! But you should have heard the laughter from the boys, assistants and parents as they completed obstacle courses over the stage, round the chairs, handballed over tables and did circle work around the room.”

Not only do the players proudly wear the red and blue Montrose jumpers donated by the club, Glenn also provides the opportunity for the boys to be part of the main home games of the senior team by selecting one of them to assist at the coin toss and others to walk out with the umpires’ escorts. The club also provides a presentation lunch at the end of the season in the same way that other teams have a presentation and club sponsors donate the trophies.

Since its inception in 2005 the Mazenod Old Collegians FC has two teams which play in FIDA competition every second Sunday during the football season. Initially drawing its players from the Oakleigh Centre and Emerson School, the Panthers coordinator Andrew Sharp visits Special Development Schools in the neighbouring suburbs to promote the opportunity of playing Australian Football. The overtiding philosophy of the Mazenod Panthers is “success for our team is not necessarily by games won, but by the progress of many players with coordination and body movement, and the confidence to achieve many life skills through integration with the general community”.

The playing personnel range from 13 to 63 years of age and enjoy the Wednesday night training sessions under the guidance of David Regan.  The skill level varies within the group and David faces numerous challenges as coach but is well supported by Shane Regan and Paddy Reed plus other senior players from the Mazenod Old Collegians.  The Panthers have their own committee to plan and organize events and functions which include visits to the football on Saturday, a dinner dance and presentation night.

For the first time a challenge match between Mazenod Panthers and a Mazenod College student team for the Johnson/Sharp Challenge Cup was conducted under lights and proved to be a great success with outstanding support from the school and its community.

Both Mazenod and Montrose football clubs have seen a positive transformation as a result of embracing inclusive opportunities for people with a disability and will hopefully serve as a source inspiration to other football clubs to find a way to not only increase participation of people with a disability but where necessary modify existing club culture and think creatively to embrace all people.

Steve Teakel is the State Coaching Manager for AFL Victoria.

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