Follow the Rules

Monday, May 30, 2011

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

Paul Roos faced an investigation by AFL NSW/ACT after he ran onto the field as the coach of his son's junior football team to assist a young player who suffered a knock.

The incident raises many issues for junior sport.

I have been involved in junior football for more than 10 years through both my sons playing, and have acted in nearly every role there is, because that's what parents do at junior matches. They coach, manage the team, act as the trainer, do the goal umpiring, escort umpires, etc. Without the parents' involvement the game at junior level doesn't function.

Parental support comes in many forms. Some parents are fully engaged and others are more passive. Most are happy to yell encouragement, a minority to yell at the umpires.

The right of any parents to attend and be involved in their children's sporting pursuits is without question, but they also have an obligation to behave appropriately.

Unfortunately, bad incidents sometimes happen in sport. If they do and they are deliberate acts of violence, they can never be condoned and the perpetrators must be held accountable.

But there are rules in place that govern games and they must be adhered to, or else you have chaos.

Umpires are there to make decisions about whether it is a free kick or not, to report players or to order players from the field if there is a send-off rule and they feel it is necessary.

They have a huge responsibility and they are often one-out.

They should never be held accountable for the bad behaviour of players, coaches or spectators. In fact they should be supported in their role, because ultimately they can influence the tone of a match by the way in which they control it.

As much as it upsets a parent, whatever their role in a team, to see something happen on the field that they don't like or see as being outside the rules, they must accept that there are ways in which the game needs to control such incidents.

As a parent I fully understand the need to protect your children and comfort them if they have been hurt - it is a natural reaction - but for the sake of the game, no matter how hard it may be, the rules need to be followed or there is every chance of a situation escalating.

Of course there may be exceptional circumstances and coaches can decide that the safety of the players they are entrusted to care for needs to be protected and the only option they have is to call the game off, but that sort of decision needs to be made in the best possible manner.

I am not saying junior football does not have issues with on-field violence or poor spectator behaviour, but I must defend it through personal experience.

I could count on one hand the times I have been disappointed in the behaviour of a coach, players or spectators. On one occasion that I was, I followed the official procedures to voice my concerns and the outcome was exactly as I had hoped.

My personal view is that the coach is the person who has the most influence on the tone and behaviour of the match.

The players will play and behave in the way in which he instructs and rewards, and as a consequence parents are more likely to follow the coach's lead.

That is why coaches are incredibly important at all levels, but never more than in junior football, and that is why they have an enormous responsibility to the game and their players. It is also why coach education is essential.

In this modern age where media coverage of AFL football is at an all-time high, junior coaches and their players watch a lot of AFL football and at times try to emulate what they see at that level.

Generally they follow the good aspects of professional sport, but sometimes they copy those facets we don't want them to.

For junior coaches there are inappropriate leads they can follow from the AFL, such as applying a tag, instructing players to be overly physical when they tackle, or to attempt to apply a forward press. Coaches need to coach age-appropriately.

Sometimes young players see their AFL heroes bumping and pushing their opponent off the ball or tackling excessively hard and driving opponents into the ground or sling tackling. You could argue AFL football doesn't need this, but junior football definitely doesn't.

The discussion that has flowed from the incident involving Roos became an excuse for some to start labelling junior football around the country as violent and rife with poor spectator behaviour.

That is simply unfair and an injustice to all the great people who administer those competitions and to all the wonderful parents who are involved in their children's sporting endeavours. They should be applauded for what they do for the game and not grouped with the small minority who do the wrong thing.

It is also an injustice to the thousands upon thousands of young footballers who play the game every weekend in the right spirit.

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