My three foot scallywag, young Jack William Dodson, leaps out of his bed at 6am with an enthusiasm not seen since December 25th. Mum and Dad hide under the doona, desperately clinging to the faint hope of a Saturday morning sleep in. The tiny size 13s pound down the hallway, the bedroom door flings open and Jack announces that it is time for Auskick!
I haven’t checked the Auskick manual, however, I’m pretty sure a 4 hour warm up is not required. With the possible exception of Nick Riewoldt, nobody arrives at the ground 4 hours early. Jack in not thrilled when he is ordered to the mess hall for Vegemite on toast.
Time drags. As the clock hits 9.45am Jack’s Bulldogs socks are pulled above knee height, his little laces are tied in symmetrical knots and he valiantly tries to pull up his shorts (which are baggier than the ones Eddy Betts wears). We are ready to leave Dodson HQ.
I pause for a moment. This is the start of something. My little scallywag’s first foray into the great game of Australian Rules Football. Will it end with him drinking from the premiership cup at the G, or perhaps given his genetics, his adventure will see him struggling to hold down a half-back flank in the D grade local reserves? It doesn’t matter. I just hope he enjoys the ride.
We make the short stroll from Dodson HQ in the suburban Melbourne surrounds of Seddon to the picturesque Hanmer Reserve. Mrs D and scallywag number 2 (2 year old Harry) are along for the ride. As a diehard Swan, I try and walk two paces behind the boys who are both in Bulldogs kit. In my defence 94% of houses in the western suburbs are still flying Dogs flags since September. I can’t afford real estate in South Melbourne unfortunately. A young whippersnapper in a Carlton jumper flies by with mouthguard in. Contested work in March? Perhaps the old man is a dentist?
Prior to Auskick I’ve essentially taught Jack everything I know about Football:
- Kick long
- Dispose of the ball quickly and make it someone else’s problem
- Wrestle like a dinosaur at boundary throw ins
- Coloured boots are a passing fad
- If playing poorly, do not arrive first at a huddle
- Wearing long sleeves compensates for lack of muscle definition
- Ignore all leads if you are a 2% chance of kicking the goal yourself.
Jack did look at me quizzically the other day when I gave him the ‘when it’s your turn to go’ lecture. As my Dunlop Volleys hit the pavement it dawns on me that it is not 1986 anymore. I may need to re-think my coaching ethos.
Don’t get me wrong, I do have football ‘cred’. I did tear Cameron Mooney apart in an under 11s match in Wagga Wagga – our careers took different paths from that day forward. I did make a comeback two years ago at 36 years of age. A dozen hit outs and 4 handballs was suitable ‘reward’ for fracturing my shoulder in the first quarter. The mid-life crisis box was at least ticked early.
Organised chaos is the only way I can describe things. A good turn out with probably 120 plus kids. Middle aged men kick stab passes and test hamstrings that haven’t seen live action since Brut Aftershave was fashionable. Dogs roam. Babies cry. Adults mingle and chat with a calmness that is not seen during the working week. Jack gets hold of what can best be described as a reverse torp and gets me you know where. I go down quicker than Lindsay Thomas. If you don’t wear a mini footy on the body today, you are not trying.
Plenty of girls in attendance which is great. One youngster proudly wears a Melbourne AFLW top with the number 6 of Daisy Pearce on the back. Hopefully the numbers will continue to grow from here.
The siren sounds. Not just any Siren. A real football siren. Jack looks at me with nostrils flaring and proclaims it is ‘Game on’. Gee, I hope he doesn’t give any of the other kinder kids a hip and shoulder to start proceedings.
The kiddies sit cross-legged while the centre coordinator gives us the lay of the land. There is panic as we are informed the coffee vendor is AWOL with a sick kid today. Apparently council has put the kybosh on the centres famous bacon and egg rolls. The natives are restless. You have to respect the swarm of red shirt volunteer coaches and administrators gathered on stage. Without them there would be no Auskick. Apparently we are short on supply for kinder coaches. I put my hand up. It seems the right thing to do.
16 eager young kinder Auskick novices all take a knee in front of Rob – the coach for today. Jack towers above his new teammates (I have height and receding hairlines in my gene pool) and puts his ‘listening ears’ on. Soon balls are flying everywhere as the little tackers throw balls in the air and attempt to clap twice before catching. Parents watch from close range.
Half an hour passes by as a series of core skills are taught with patience and encouragement. No tears until Jack accidently bumps into a young chap in a Hawks jumper and he spills to the turf. I’ve engrained a pretty strong dislike of the Hawks into him, however, I’d like to think it was an accident and not a deliberate act. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Organising 16 kinder kids to line up in three groups seems a simple task. Eight minutes later I understand it is not. A handful of parents act as traffic cops as kids just want to feel boot on leather. Jack is loving every moment. New mates are found and skills learnt. The shyness and apprehension of being in a large crowd has dissipated. He is in his element.
It is fascinating to watch the kids interact. It reminds me of what pure joy looks like. Somewhere along the line you loose that ability to just ‘play’. I hope these kids hang onto it for as long as they can.
To my surprise I find another parent who worships at the temple of the red and white. Nick is old South Melbourne stock and we pass the time lamenting the loss of Shane Mumford and the diminishing return of Kurt Tippett. It is not only the kiddies who are forging new friendships.
In a flash, Rob calls full time on session number one. We are done. Jack doesn’t want to go home. Home isn’t as exciting as this! The smell of fresh snags hangs over Hanmer Reserve and we make our way up to the line. Jack is tickled pink with his bounty and Mum wipes sauce from his cheek (as Mum’s annoyingly do) as we stroll home, smiles wide and legs sore.
Later that night as I tuck Jack into Bed he proclaims that this in fact has been the ‘best day ever’. High praise in deed from the little scallywag. I never thought we would top the day he met the Ninja Turtles at Flemington Race Course.
It’s been a great day. The start of something. Where it goes nobody knows? However brief or long I know I’m a bloody lucky man to be along for the ride. The countdown to Week 2 has begun.