Junior footy’s faux pa’s

Much is made of the ‘ugly parent’ syndrome in junior sport, but is a ‘no dad’ trend a new concern?

To mark or duck is the split second decision amid the relentless barrage of low flying scud footies during goal kicking practice.

After an unseen ‘brick’ pummelled the end of my thumb (much to the amusement of the charming little blighter responsible), another thought crossed my mind, besides one starting with ‘F’.

Why am I the only goose standing here?

Notwithstanding the single parent paradigm, other sporting drop-offs and work commitments, only a few of the 25 Grade 1 Auskick boys had fathers on hand to lend a hand (one of them being the main coach). Or more pointedly, too few had fathers willing and able to share in their boys’ wonder years of learning and loving the game.

A half-dozen or so mothers braved the chill and their children’s underdeveloped motor skills, but they did so appreciating one of the highlights of their kids’ week. Others less fortunate were dropped off for low-cost child minding purposes. So when the plaintive call went out for assistance on the cones, the mums were hardly dressed, nor conditioned, for exuberant 7-year-olds and the mid-winter slop. Cue tumbleweeds.

Yet, as a sign of the times, a 15-year-old from the local girls’ team volunteered her Saturday morning when most teenagers are loathe to emerge from under their doona before midday.

It amuses me when Auskick is hailed as one of the AFL’s great triumphs of the modern era when its Victorian predecessor, Vickick, thrived more than 30 years ago. Backpack full of goodies aside, to all intents the regimen of end-to-end skill drills, culminating in the much-anticipated game, has changed little (anyone else remember the ‘we wanna match’ chant?). Which compared to other codes’ use of inclusive game sense activities leaves room for improvement. But that’s a whole other issue and the volunteers at my son’s Auskick centre are tremendous. Auskick is still a couple of hours well spent – not to mention a pleasurable time warp recalling a spindly legged self, loving every second despite the waterlogged footies threatening to snap my wee fingers clean off. There was no shortage of dads either, back in the ‘Eighties, to hear the excited ‘did ya see my speccy and my amazing goal?’ before providing some helpful feedback and encouragement.

The importance of women in keeping Australian Rules a vibrant, sustainable football code of choice for Aussie youngsters rightly receives due recognition nowadays. At AFL level females make up roughly half the patronage, their passion burning brightly, and at grassroots level their support has never been more crucial to facilitating the sport’s ongoing viability.  Notwithstanding, a good number bemoan an overly sanitized product to ensure this remains so.

Whilst the burgeoning presence and influence of women in football is to be celebrated, one can’t help but lament what is going on within the sport, and in general society, that sees an apparent drop-off in male involvement. Are fathers so time poor?

As a regular umpire of the ‘B-game’, I find the general ability to kick the ball and grasp of the game scenario surprisingly poor. It appears many lack the presence of a father, brother (or mother) teaching them the fundamentals.

Various other theories might also be considered, and whether this is indicative of clinics elsewhere, or other sports, I’d be interested to know.

Is too much ‘screen time’ to blame? Is it the round ball has bumped the Sherrin as the lunchtime activity of choice at school? Are there now too many barriers to taking children to the Big League, where they can best conceptualize what the game is all about?

Or perhaps in terms of role models, rather than pinning the job exclusively and precariously on AFL stars, can more effort be made by the one sharing the same bloodline, if not the same abode, to grasp rather than duck the opportunity flying past?

JD junior’s kicking style is a work in progress…



About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Jeff – you capture brilliantly one of the great dilemmas of modern life. “Men” who are overgrown boys.
    Much of my working life at core revolves around this issue. Money, work, eternal adolescence, consumerism, changing gender roles – all play their part as causes – but whatever the origin it is the single biggest cause of violence, addiction, welfare dependence and all the other core social problems of our time.
    Thanks for raising it in the context of junior footy where it is so visible. As someone who was too wrapped up in himself to be a good dad to my own kids, I now find myself enjoying the time I spend making amends by mentoring other young men. Its a joy and a privilege.
    P.S. – As a lover of word play “faux pa’s” is one of the great titles for an Almanac piece. It had a completely different meaning to what I expected after I finished reading your piece. Thanks again.

  2. Great article Jeff.

    Our boys and I have just finished our first Auskick season here in Singapore with The Sharks. There was reasonable parental involvement at the weekly sessions. Maybe the ex-pat community has a different dynamic, and it is a social event for the adults too. The availability of domestic help here could also be a factor, freeing up parents.

    There were more than a few moments in the sweltering gym, attempting to “herd the cats” that are five year olds, when I thought, as a full time teacher during the week, why am I spending an hour of my weekend teaching, for free? But, of course, there are many wonderful reasons to do this. I look forward to our next season!

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Great points Jeff.

    I can’t believe any parent, esp father, could have something more important to do than regularly participate in Saturday morning Auskick.

    My role model was my father – I just do the opposite of everything he did. He must have watched me play footy twice in my whole life. I wasn’t important enough.

    I’ve watched about 1000 netball games, ten years of Saturday morning school sports, swimming lessons, gymnastics etc and I don’t regret a second of it.

  4. tony robb says

    as a former junior coach i understand what you mean in relation to mum and dad ratios. Generally the mums did the training drop off and pick and the dad, if not working, might do some game time or help out with warm ups and umpiring. i was particularly lucky to have a great and involved parent group over 7 years. That said, many parents were time poor in that they had kids at different venues stretching the taxi service. Others didn’t care. Harking back to my junior days, a senior player always coached the kids in the morning and played that afternoon. This usually got the dads a bit more involved as they wanted to have a connection with the senior players. Sadly, that was when Saturdays only were footy/netball side by side throughout the day. Another observation, do kids to kick to kick anymore after school?
    Great read

  5. Skip of Skipton says

    We have Auskick and Net-Set-Go straight after school on Thursdays before the older kids have footy and netball training. Not many dads around because they are still working, but plenty of mums attend. You could count on one hand the number of boys and girls who don’t participate.

    Saturday mornings wouldn’t work because the under 12s start playing around 8:30, or if it’s an away game then it is up and off at sparrow fart.

    Walk past the primary school any lunchtime and 20 kids will be playing a scratch match of footy, guaranteed. Footy and netball are alive and well in the country. If your kid wanted to play a sport like soccer or basketball, then you’d have to cart them in to Ballarat. I don’t know of anyone who does that though.

  6. Pamela Sherpa says

    While every parent should be prepared to lend a hand and do their fair share of helping out I don’t think they need to be there every session watching every single thing their kid does. Growing up in the 50’s and 60”s my parents were strong advocates of not invading the space of coaches and teachers .The big difference then of course was that we didn’t start playing team sport until we were around 9 years of age. I have no sympathy for parents who run themselves ragged taking their kids to sport every day of the a week. Time spent just kicking a footy or hitting a tennis ball in the back yard for example, is time shared and time well spent in my view.
    Another factor I think is that in previous times boys would kick a footy every day , before during and after school. Now there are other options and attractions.
    As a Phys Ed teacher and coach of junior and senior netball, soccer, basketball football and gymnastic teams I still think the ideal age to start team sport is around 8-9. Until then I’m a big advocate for climbing trees, riding bikes, skipping, playing in sandpits and water, building cubby houses and mucking around in the back yard.

  7. Dave Brown says

    Our Auskick is Saturday morning so I suspect you see more than your average number of dads. It all tends to be left to a handful who volunteer for all the tasks each week. When I am not wrangling my youngest as the older one does his thing, I look forward to helping out.

    From a gender perspective, I can’t help but feel that everyone’s a bit confused. Very few girls participate, plenty watch. There are plenty of mums there but they are not actively encouraged to help out with the drills or scratch matches. We should be screaming at the start each week ‘everyone’s welcome, everyone should pitch in’. The vibe is Aussie rules isn’t as inclusive as it should be just yet.

  8. Rick Kane says

    Certainly our family’s experience at Preston Bullants (boy plays U12s) is much different to what you have witnessed and described JD. Both Mums and Dads pitch in for various duties and activities. More Dads tend to help out on the training track (Tuesday and Friday evenings) but on game day there is always a wide spread of parental support. This has been the way since Tackers.


  9. Kate Birrell says


    I am a tad confused.

    On one hand involvement of women is great but at a cost to male involvement. Is that what you are saying?

    I am not sure that is how it is for all clubs. Certainly not for the club I have been involved with. Parents, no specific gender, represent our local club well. From Auskick to under 17’s there would be various gender ratip’s represented in official roles.

    Within one club, and one group of kids there is a massive variation with regard to involvement ( M or F does not matter). What tends to happen is that involvement often drops as kids get bigger and move into older age groups. This is not always because parents are unavailable, sometime parents have one two or three other kids to drop or be involved with at other games or sports.

    Parents who are not involved are never involved; but his is often for reasons that are whatever they are,….we don’t need to know.. It’s better those kids are involved than not involved….they are often the one’s who reap the best rewards.

    I don’t agree with the idea the idea that a ‘ no dad ‘ trend is in fact a Junior Footy Faux Pas, nor is it a reality.

    What I have noticed is far more dads are involved now, than were one or two generations ago. Many of those grandfathers now acknowledge that point and are now some of our most regular supporters at games on the weekend.



  10. Hi Kate,

    I didn’t actually say female involvement has replaced or is at a cost to male involvement.

    As I did say, I am commenting on my own experience and it would seem that across the responses so far there is a varied involvement or lack of presence/involvement of either gender. And I am also comparing to my own experience as a junior, which was in a different part of Melbourne.

    Certainly I agree the kids whose parent/s cannot be there are better off than not participating. My piece was making the point that the children’s experience is greatly enhanced by their parent/s involvement, particularly if they are able to encourage and assist their child (leading to greater sense of achievement and confidence). Or even just being their to watch. And so too do the parents, and in particular fathers, benefit from the opportunity to bond with their boys (or girls) in an active environment.

    The Auskick centre I am commenting on is reasonably large and the junior club it’s connected to (affiliated with a Div 1 Northern FL club) is very big and from what I have observed and what I’m told is also very well run. So in no way am I criticising the club/Auskick either, just making an observation of something I found odd and mildly sad/disturbing.

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    JD it is a interesting article and from my experience as a junior sports coach if there is a couple of parents who so called drive the bus , be the leaders others will follow if you create a environment which parents are wanted and appreciated it almost looks after itself ( kids want there parents involved )

  12. Kate Birrell says

    Thanks Jeff

    It is an interesting topic at many levels. Enjoyed your take on it and as you say there can be variations of involvement across the board…age group, demographic etc etc. And yes the best outcome is for kids to have their parents involved at some level.
    Enjoy Auskick and any junior footy years you my have ahead.

  13. Luke Reynolds says

    Very different to my experience at Sunday morning Auskick in Colac this year. Parents everywhere, plenty of Dad’s volunteering with the drills. Maybe a city/country cultural difference?

  14. Warwick Nolan says

    Love your point and your profile photo, Jeff.

    Watched South Bendigo v Castlemaine Under 12Ds on Saturday morning. Block buster. First versus second . . . (Although there are no points in this age group). Traditional rivals I assumed.

    Dads, mums, nanas everywhere. The coach of the Bloods (Tim) was a stand in for the day. Dad of hard running forward come mid fielder – number 18 it seemed. His address with the leadership group at the final break was an inspiration to every Dad, mum and nana. It went something like this . . .

    “Now the on-balllers . . . very important . . . Now Chloe . . . Chloe? . . . Where are you Chloe?

    “I’m here”.


    “Right in front of you”

    “Oh Dear. Sorry Chloe”

    “Don’t you know what she looks like?” contributes a wee voice from the pack.

    “Hey! Fair go!” pleads the coach. Looking up now at the Dad’s, mums and nans, “You are all in red and white, you all have helmets on and you all havre oranges in your gobs!!”

    Touché Tim.

  15. Jeff; another well-written article. Maybe you should do some investigative reporting on the ‘kids with no dads’ at your footy session to find out how many have an older sibling whose ‘missing dad’ has taxied elsewhere to play sport (given where you live it could be soccer). One reason the skills might not be as developed in kids these days is lack of opportunity to practice-you are talking about unco 7 year-olds. Growing up in the 60’s-70’s there were reasonable sized back yards and little stranger danger to worry about, so we could practice at home (until a scud went through a kitchen window) or wander over to a nearby school oval to ‘have a kick’ until nearly dark. Now many kids have little backyard space and can’t venture beyond the front footpath without supervision. My concern is the potential for a sport participation ‘cliff’ as the young members of our society become more and more distracted away from participating in sport. Will their kids be as encouraged to play footy, soccer, netball, whatever, as we were before the age of tech toys and both parents working?

  16. Thanks BJ.

    It would be an interesting study and as I mentioned I suspect in some cases there might be busy parents attending to other siblings’ activities. Your point about lack of backyards and unwillingness to let kids play at local parks without supervision also has a lot of merit. There was a good article in The Age last weekend about the negatives of having over protected kids.

    It’s worth noting that most of the more coordinated kids do have their Dads either watching or helping out.

    My background is sports development (facilitating participation) and my future (as of Monday) is with the Children’s Protection Society (in comms) so this is certainly a topic that is of great interest to me. No doubt I’ll be learning a lot over coming weeks about the variety of challenges facing families across my part of town.

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