With the AFL starting their season with a cracking opening round of games, that seems in many cases to have divided tipsters, and other leagues around the country in full swing, it is worth sparing a thought for where all this begins, especially playing careers.

This weekend sees the start of junior football, at least across Melbourne, and in many great and traditional suburban leagues, kids will be running out again for the first time in the Home and Away season.

In the Yarra Junior Football League, a strong league that takes in Tackers to Colts (i.e. under 9s with no tacking to serious U15/16 level), games kick off this Sunday morning. All over the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, there’ll be oranges being cut, boots being tied up, mouthguards being nearly forgotten and parents remembering what exactly an umpires escort has to do, not to mention the challenge of a scoreboard attendant remembering their 6 times tables.

Junior football is a wonderful reminder of what makes Australian football great, especially the community atmosphere and spirit of volunteering.

It is also a window in to the minds of young football supporters, with many seeking to mimic their idols in their actions (both positive and negative) on the field.

This year, I make the leap from Team Manager to Under 12 Coach. My two year stint as Team Manager started with a call from the assistant coach (who saw me coming a long way back and fooled me into taking on the job) explaining it being just sending the odd e-mail and loading the scores into the website.

Junior football organisation makes military incursions look haphazard and disorganised.

Junior footy can’t happen unless you have a parent to run the boundary, be a goal umpire, an umpire’s escort and timekeeper. You’ll need a runner and trainer, someone has to do the oranges, and if you are the home team, a scorer and an interchange steward.

Coaches, Assistant coaches, trainers and runners all need identifying bibs, goal umps and interchange people old fashioned white butchers coats (and flags), and cards and pencils. Boundary umps have to have white tops and preferably a whistle.

If you are the home team, you’ll need two game balls and have to make sure the opposing team knows where their sheds and dugout are.

Most importantly, all players need to be on the team sheet and have signed their names pre game. Now, I can tell you that getting 24 11 year olds to all sign their names properly while the coach gives last minute instructions is a challenge for any calm individual. The Dalai Lama himself would be pouring gold coins into the swear jar if he saw the slow calligraphy and lack of joined up writing from some of them.

E-mails need to go out with directions to the ground, what colour shorts this week and you have to remember who was player of the day last round as they’ll be this week’s captain.

(So, the odd e-mail my foot Gary, thanks for that two years ago!!)

But now I have graduated to Head Coach, and I have a metallic whiteboard and a soon-to-arrive Level 1 certificate from the AFL to prove it.

Steady progress since Under 10s have seen the team progress from Division 5 to Division 1, through two mid-season elevations and two successive minor premierships. Having won a nail biter in the big one last year, they were elevated to the Gold division, in scenes not unlike the Championship playoffs at Wembley to see who goes into the EPL.

We kick off with a tough game, against a strong club who were runners up last year in Gold. My words to the boys will be that we are coming off a GF win, and have nothing to fear.

I am tempted to count the clichés I come up with, and who I appear to imitate most. Will I be the Zen like Paul Roos, the overly technical Neil Craig, the ‘defend the players at all costs’ Clarko, or a not seen yet attribute of the new breed in the AFL this year.

I sincerely hope I remember that I want to boys to have fun, set themselves little goals for the season and learn to be accountable. Their goals can be whatever they like, from kicking on their non-preferred to making new mates, but I believe that will drive them personally at what is the cusp of the entry to senior school for most of them.

I have got myself organised, with training drills ready for the last pre-season training night, notes on each boy for the jumper presentation tomorrow night, got the home label maker to put every boy’s name on a magnet and instructed my 2 assistant coaches what I will need them to manage on game day.

Club policy is each boy must get at least 3 quarters play, and I am determined to rotate the forwards to learn the defence side of the game. I will share with them David Neitz’s early success as CHB, whilst looking around for any non-Melbourne supporting 12 year olds to wonder what the old bloke is talking about now.

Junior football is frustrating, highly organised, tense, awkward, taken overly seriously by some clubs and parents, a breeding ground for champs and a graveyard for others at this age.

It is cold and muddy, often an inconvenient delay for some kids before they can get a hotdog and drink, and arranged by parents between basketball, kid parties and the fading semblance of a social life.

It tries the patience of adults, makes kids wonder what the fuss is about, and brings smiles and tears alike to many faces, on both sides of the fence.

It is all this and more. It is simply fantastic, and I can’t wait unto Sunday.

For true footy fans in the burbs, there’s the VFL, Amos and high quality leagues like the EDFL, or strong country leagues like those in northern Victoria.

But if you are driving around the eastern region of Melbourne on a Sunday, and you see loads of kids running around, with parents arranged in bibs or traditional goal umpire garb and the smell of pies wafting from a canteen, drop in.

You’ll love it.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Sean,
    I’ve never coached, but done a lot of umpiring and various other jobs at my sons’ football clubs, so your account resonates powerfully. I’ve also been mightily impressed by the scale of commitment required to operate local level footy from junior to open age. Good luck with your season, and I hope you enjoy it as well as the players. You sound like the kind of coach, we’d all want our kids to have.

    I was mildly surprised to find yours and other juniors beginning this week-end, and then having a break between rounds 1 and 2. With Easter and the start of the school holidays, it seemed more logical to wait till the post-Easter week-end, when holidaying parents and school age children would be expected to be back home for school resumption the following day.

  2. Thanks for that. Kind words which I will try to live up to.

    The timing of Easter seems to be part of that, but it is frustrating to play then have an immediate break for training and games. We lost three players for Round 1 due to school holidays starting on the weekend.

    We lost, but a great learning opportunity for the boys and as they had been so successful in the last two years, being on the receving end of some of the lessons they had dished out in the previous seasons was a good life lesson.
    They were brave and their final Q, when heads could have dropped being so far behind, made me proud.
    You need to remind yourself they are 12 year old boys. They bruise easy and through 24 of them, have very different skills and motivation.
    All in all, it is great fun, but you need to remember it is about the boys. All too often, I see parents living through their children and coaches thinking they are on stage.
    Loved moving names around on my metallic whiteboard though!


  3. John Butler says

    Sean, I started with a bunch of young cricketers, some of whom were 8, but I think common principles apply. If you keep it fun, most of the other important stuff will follow.

    And damn. No whiteboards in cricket.

  4. JB

    I’m all for fun, but No whiteboards with magnets? Next you’ll tell me you don’t get to use a whistle to get their attention!!


  5. Nice one BT. You caught the sights and smells, vividly again

    Keep em coming

  6. Well you’ve summed it up perfectly….I didn’t read this until now…. To busy doing much of the associated stuff above. I caught up with my sons TM today as I am filling in for her this [email protected][email protected] the number of forms that need signing. I took 2 A4 pages of notes. A pink, a green and a white form, and that’s just for the umpires report. I’ve also got a list of names for parents on duty….most I don’t know, so it’ll be fun trying to find them.

  7. Kate

    Good luck. Junior footy survives on great parents willing to help. Even now at U15 level, you still need everything you need at U10s, so an excel spreadsheet of parents rostered on to duties is vital.

    Then you’ve got those who can’t do the boundary ump running to factor in, those that always seem to just be an umpire’s escort, people who struggle with a scoreboard…

    Add to that remembering mouthguards and who can and cannot play and it is a mess of organisation.

    Since I wrote this, you also need a ground manager. Bibs for everyone. It is a relief occasionally just to watch without a job to do.

    Most week’s now I am boundary ump. I don’t envy or crave the TM role. You’ll be fine, hope the win and you manage everything fine.

    Keep the paintings coming too

Leave a Comment