Starkick kids shine at NAB AFL Auskick

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The idea of having disabled or special needs children playing AFL or any sport isn’t new, however Coolbinia Bombers JFC in Perth WA, have looked at the issue and taken a whole new approach on how to embrace and welcome these children and their families into their Football Club.

The concept for Starkick was launched in December 2014 by the Coolbinia Bombers JFC in Perth WA. The aim of the initiative was to cater for Special needs children who by circumstance or choice could not join into their existing football programs. 

From the outset Starkick has had 3 main focus points that have guided and continue to drive how the program operates;

  • Community 

This is a program run by the Community for the community and their Starkick team is considered just like any other team at the club - parents and volunteers will be the coaches, the jumper washers and the canteen helpers. It’s the same framework used by thousands of junior clubs all around the country. The Coolbinia Starkick team is no different. To succeed long term they needed club and community ownership of the program.

  • Inclusion

The Starkick team needed to be embraced and made to feel an integral part of the club from day one. “We did not want to see an isolated group training by themselves on a Friday evening with no one else around,” said Rob Geersen, Starkick Co-ordinator. “We wanted a team that could experience the wider benefits that come with belonging and being part of our Football Club.”  

With that goal clearly a focus their existing NAB AFL Auskick Centre provided the framework to enable Coolbinia to achieve total inclusion.

  • Equality 

Everyone is equal. 

“We wanted the children and their families to be treated exactly the same as everyone else,” said Tom Parker – President.  “That meant,  No special handouts or dispensation. We could have found a sponsor to cover all our costs, but that’s not part of being treated the same. So all Starkick players pay the same club fees, receive the same club merchandise and are invited to all the same club events as everyone else - everything we do at Coolbinia we aim to do as one.” 

Promotion: 

With those three guiding principles in mind, over the summer promotion of the initiative began. The club had no idea of demand or if they would even have any uptake at all.

“We knew we wanted this to run as part of our NAB AFL Auskick Centre so we targeted boys and girls 5 – 12 years of age to work with that primary school age bracket,” said Rob. “We visited and spoke with Principals at Special Education Schools as well as disability providers to try and help us get the message out to families that this program was going to start.” 

In December 2014 the club had just 1 child signed up, by their first session on the 19th of April 2015 -  38 children had paid and registered as part of the new Starkick group. Families are coming from all over WA just to be involved. 

“It’s so obvious to us now parents were just looking for opportunities for their children to be involved in a community club,” said Rob. “We have parents making 100km, or 2 hour round trips each and every Sunday morning. One family is even flying with their son from Newman every few weeks. I find that very humbling the lengths these families go to for their children. They certainly are special people” 

Support: 

It was identified during planning that a lot of the children coming to the club would require one-on-one assistance to enable them to achieve their goals.

“In our Starkick Team we have children with vision impairments, physical handicaps and Autism that need a carer to help them participate each week,” said Rob. “We also were mindful that we wanted a framework where the families could come along to the club, stand back a little, chat to other parents and just watch their child playing sport just as any other parent or grandparent could. We wanted the day to be as enjoyable for them as it was for the kids”

As part of their planning, the club reached out to local community groups seeking volunteers. They now have a team of 23 external volunteers coming to the club to assist the children each week.  These volunteers work under the parent coaches to provide that extra support some children need.

“Our volunteers might need to just fetch a ball for an immobile child, or act as a guide for a blind child” – said Rob. “Along the way they are also building relationships with the kids and helping make them all feel special”

Parents it seems feel the same way.

“Thank you so much to "DAVID" - Christopher's helper. Chris may not have shown that he was having a wonderful time as it was extremely stressful for him with all the people and noise however he has not stopped talking about you and coming back next weekend. Chris is even practicing by himself catching the ball and bouncing it of the trampoline net and has surprised everyone by actually catching it. Thanks again from a very appreciative mother.”

Jennifer Maynard (Parent)

The Games: 

The Starkick Team has been integrated into Coolbinia’s existing NAB AFL Auskick Centre. So they train and play games under the same AFL sanctioned format. 

“With a bit of relaxation of the rules when I umpire games, it all runs much the same as any other group,” said Rob. “My role is to make sure each child goes home having touched the ball and with a smile on their face, how we do that doesn’t really matter.” 

Using the NAB AFL Auskick centre has also enabled the club to achieve two of its main goals of community and inclusion. 

“For these children coming to our club alongside 200 other children and their families each weekend creates an immense and powerful feeling of belonging,” said Tom.  “I’ve been around football for a lot of years but to see the pure joy and pride on the faces of these kids playing our great game is something very special, its just fantastic.” 

The families too have embraced the program. With comments like these it’s obvious the club are doing something right.

“Well what a terrific morning! Bennett has been on a "high" all day!  Just a little background, we tried NAB AFL Auskick two years ago but without the set-up you have, Bennett found it really stressful trying to participate and was often in tears. We all just want to "belong" and that is how Bennett felt today, part of something cool. As a parent of a kid like Bennett -this was "gold" for us! Thank you so much!”

Daria and Richard Rogers (Parents)

and this

“I can't believe how much this club has given us in terms of fun and inclusiveness!! Thanks again to all the special people involved to make this happen for so many kids who without this club wouldn't have had the opportunity to play!”  

Elle McConnell (Parent)

The Future: 

The club have a lot of exciting things planned for their Starkick group. One of those being a session  they are calling - “Buddy Day”

“Buddy Day is a day where the club’s Year 10 team will be given the responsibility to run a Starkick session,” said Rob. “The concept being a ‘kids helping kids’ approach where under the supervision of the parent coaches, the older kids will take training and Buddy up with a Starkick player for the day. In doing this we hope to break down some barriers, as well as provide the older children with a few important life lessons that they can take into adulthood.”

“Further down the track, we’d like to expand the Starkick program to possibly a youth age bracket of 13 – 17 year olds, so a pathway exists for them to stay playing Footy at Coolbinia,” explained Rob.

Stepping Stones: 

As any football coach will attest, you always want to see your players achieve their personal best, for the Starkick coach that is no different.

“In time and with the right support, I hope to see some of these kids migrate over to our mainstream teams,“ said Rob. “That won’t be possible for all, but hopefully Starkick will be a stepping stone for a few of these children as their confidence grows. To plan for that day we are already liaising with our district JCC regarding accommodating appropriate and flexible “play down” rules for these kids with disability. Working together I am sure we can accommodate those that need to play down one or even two years which may allow some of them to participate in a meaningful way.”

“It may be only one Starkick child that plays one game in a mainstream team and he doesn’t like it and comes back to Starkick, but if we can get to that stage it will be a very special day,” said Tom. “It’s just another reason why integrating this team into our wider club fabric was so important”. 

Finally from those on the ground:

“As a coach and co-ordinator of this group I am extremely proud of what our club and our community have achieved. It’s taken a lot of planning and work to get where we are today but to see the smiles on the children’s faces after their first game made it all worthwhile. I know this concept will not suit every community club in Australia, however my hope has always been that over time other select NAB AFL Auskick centres around Perth and the nation will take up this initiative so these kids one day get to pull on their jumper and represent the club against other clubs, just like every other child does”

“My one piece of advice for any clubs considering taking this on – take your time and don’t rush, do it once and do it right.” 

Rob Geersen
Starkick Co-Ordinator

“As President of a junior football club, you get the benefit of working to provide a safe and fun environment for kids to come down and kick the footy. With the Starkick program, we have just broadened our reach. Footy is one of those games that can bring great joy irrespective of ability. Our club and our community have become a better place with our Starkick team being part of the club. We have worked really hard to set up the framework to ensure Starkick will be a part of this club forever and each year kids of all abilities will come back to the Coolbinia Bombers to enjoy playing the greatest game in the world! “  

Tom Parker
President

For more information please visit www.bombersjfc.asn.au or www.facebook.com/bombersjfc

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