AFL Yarns: Barriers for Aboriginal players

June 18, 2019

So it’s no secret I love my footy. Growing up in the Kimberley was the place to build that passion, but also the place that puts many barriers in the way for you mob who want to chase a football career.

Even as an adult with years of experience in the Clontarf football program, I had trouble figuring out my next step in my coaching career with the barriers that I faced. I have the experience and network now to support me to chase my AFL dreams… but young, inexperienced draft hopefuls do not.

Some mainstream, city critics misunderstand us mob and our football situation. Some people say “they have natural talent but can’t hack the city”, “no discipline”, “lack of commitment”, “won’t be long til they are drunk or in a fight” or that we are “a PR nightmare”. Those people don’t understand how much discipline and commitment bush players have had to have to just get to where they are. They don’t understand our culture or our barriers. The negative stereotypes are Aboriginal AFL players needs to stop.

To become skilled AFL players some of our mob have to overcome:

  • Geographical distance
  • Lack of access to trained and experienced coaches

Then there are the barriers to get noticed:

  • Access to recuiters
  • Education
  • Language (ESL or Aboriginal English)

When drafted our elite AFL players have to overcome personal barriers such as:

  • Culture shock
  • City ‘life skills’
  • Media awareness
  • Learning styles
  • Coping strategies and resilience
  • Tall poppy syndrome
  • Language
  • Stereotypes
  • Racism

They need to juggle their elite sporting commitments with their cultural and family commitments:

  • Cultural commitments
  • Family commitments
  • Connection to Country
  • Mortality rate- attendance at funerals
  • Expectations
  • Coping with family and community expectation about their success
  • Humbug

So if you happen to be a recruiter or a coach or someone in a football club make time to do cultural awareness training but then understand that all our mob are different. We come from many Nations in Australia and how someone who grew up in the city might feel about something will be different for someone who grew up in the bush, the perspective that one Aboriginal person might have on something can be interpreted differently to someone from another language group and cultural lense.

My best advice for professionals in the AFL industry is to go out on Country with your new recruits. See their background, understand their family dynamics, make time to learn their culture.

Next best thing you can do to support your Aboriginal players is hire a mentor or advocate to help yarn through some of the barriers that come up with your players. You might find that some of us mob are more likely to be shy or shame about talking about some of the barriers that we face.

Make your club a place with a positive and inclusive club culture so that your rural and remote Aboriginal players feel like they are in their second home.

I’m always happy to yarn AFL and how to support players. That is my role with Garnduwa WA at the moment- supporting young AFL hopefuls through the Kimberley Spirit Pathway Program- so contact me to yarn about how you can better support the mob at your club.

Check out the Aboriginal player map… just from the men’s AFL!

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