The Numbers Game (Part 2)

It’s hot down on the ground, but our shack is on stilts. I’m sitting in dusk above green ants and dogs barking, listening to the gentle hiss of fruit bats and cane fields, using beer to sculpt off the day’s edge.


The nature of team sports baffles me. I love it, of course. Always living alone on a mountain somewhere, working in the bush, usually alone, playing footy has walked me through countless doors.


Been my community, family, friends.


Now, though, I’m using my bush jobs to show my wife a nation. Tree arboring in tropical Far North Queensland, most everything is League, which is fine. Any activity is gold. But it’s got me thinking. Can League dominate a town’s culture like Aussie Rules when there are only 13 players allowed on the field? If they have reserve teams, like the Australian footballers do, they are still about 10 players down. 20, if you include the opposition. That’s a lot of families. Numbers like Aussie Rules has requires more officials and organisers. Especially if you multiply that ten by various grades of juniors – I would imagine our native game envelopes a town more.


Then again, a smaller town Aussie Rules team might be more prone to fall over if numbers get low.
How does the body type required affect numbers of players, if not support? I wonder how those numbers affect the dynamic of the group? With far more players do the Aussie Rules mob have to make a bigger effort to be more inclusive? More tolerant of types?


Many clubs of any code have an inner clique. I’m inclined to think it’s easier to form breakaway groups within the team in Aussie Rules, maybe be less inclusive as a whole?


How does having fewer or more numbers affect the way they go out? Their club functions? The viewing numbers?
Cricket is played by 11, in summer, when most families are down the beach. Many a country oval is filled with a handful of the best mob you’ll ever meet, but only one or maybe two partners watching from the other side of the rope – and that’s it. Sometimes you see the local cricketers in their team colours, (white and a two-tone cap) at the local pub on Saturday night, still going strong. They have a great bond I’m jealous of. But it doesn’t transcend to nods from the local butcher, and winks from the checkout attendant. There’s women’s cricket in some places, which is brilliant! But for the most part, it’s a bloke’s world.


Then there’s the solo sportsman or woman, who does things because. Just Because. Yet, if they are any good at it, they cultivate a team around them. Trainers, gym partners, various coaches, sparring opponents. There’s a bond in that, for sure! Would that link help you with your motivation? The peer pressure of your mixed martial arts gym? Your tennis club? Does that stuff ever extend to the local community, or does the community member have to go to it?


If you start to succeed you give the whole community pride. Even if it’s a sport they don’t follow. You give them a smile when they see you at the store, at the pub. By winning, you give. But what if you just get by? No less a reason to do anything. Giving your all is the only real worth. Or even simply enjoying the process. Who knows? But how does the town react?


Who has the most biddies doing a chook raffle for them outside the supermarket on a Saturday morning? What gets the kids involved? The local school, the people who don’t care about sport in general?


All I know for sure is, you take a sports club, or even simply the juniors, out of a small town or suburb, and if feels like something has caved in. There is a hollow that the next generation, without regular peer interaction, and family involvement, just don’t know how to fill. In social skills, in communication, in the desire to be active, to do.


Sitting on my porch, having a sip in the breeze that swirls just above the relentless muggy heat, I think about these things while our baby sleeps.


Even if we had one, it would beat watching TV.




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  1. Mark Duffett says

    Where’s a sociology PhD student when you need one? Reckon you’re onto something. Good to see you back, Old Dog.

  2. Malby Dangles says

    This is a wonderful post Matty
    As an urban dweller I can’t really comment on my experiences the effect a local club has on the wider suburban community.
    I know though that as a parent of a sports mad kid that I’ve met a few people I would have never crossed paths with. Coaching basketball was tough but I like to think that it helped me learn something about myself and that the parents were incredibly kind towards me. I think the kids might have learned something too. You get to appreciate the work that The people involved in clubs who do to keep things going. They are worth their weight in gold
    When playing in th me intergender pub league in Melbourne I was struck by how many people loved playing and for some helped them get through some tough times.
    Anyways hope the footy goes well up north mate

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