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Why volunteers are the lifeblood of our game

Playing soccer

Taking place between Monday May 17 and Sunday May 23, National Volunteer Week (NVW) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers. NVW recognises the significant contributions of over six million of them throughout the country, with over 600 million hours reportedly spent helping others each year.

Since 2014, Australia has seen a 20 per cent decline in the number of hours volunteers give – during COVID-19, two-thirds of volunteers stopped working. In this modern era of uncertainty where time is as important a commodity as it’s ever been, collaboration should be a priority amongst Australians. Particularly in how we adapt to the lives of volunteers and engage volunteers to continue their incredible output and contributions.

The last few years has seen Australia as a nation dealing with drought, devastating bushfires, floods and a global pandemic. Whilst many of us stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers dedicated their efforts to delivering essential services, organising food packages and providing care, comfort and plenty more in support of Australians. Through crisis Australia persevered and this resilience was built off of the collective strength exhibited by our nation’s volunteers.

Many people in the last year saw their mental health take a significant hit, particularly in a year where isolation and loneliness were forced upon us, adding to financial stress, anxiety and fear. Volunteering can be a tool which facilitates not just a reconnection with others, but a reengagement with the world around us and the community spirit that drives our local competitions that are the building blocks for many of our sporting and social aspirations.

Those interested in contributing to football off the park would have benefitted by the experience of contributing to a local grassroots club where the reward is ensuring the game that we love is played week in, week out.

Truthfully, university students are best placed to gain authentic experience in a grassroots football environment, with roles on offer across the board in media, health, finance, legal and coaching capacities among many others. The manner in which obstacles are overcome in grassroots football is like nowhere else, and it is a substantial learning curve for those willing to give their time to the game.

In honour of NVW, Football Victoria, Football Queensland and Football NSW have all published articles this week which aim to put a spotlight on the tireless work of individual volunteers across clubs in their respective states. Each story reflects the positive impact of volunteers for Australian football – from Jasmine Hirst’s contributions towards growing the game for women and girls as Vice President of Darebin Falcons Women’s Sports Club, to Buderim Wanderers’ Brigitte DeCourcy being named as the April recipient of the Volunteer of the Month Award for her efforts that date as far back as the 1980s.

These stories stir a myriad of memories that one will undeniably have from playing football in their youth, whilst ensuring a newfound appreciation for the volunteers we’d encounter growing up who put their heart and soul into the clubs they loved.

Youth football

Football has seen a downturn of volunteers in the last year, with Football Queensland’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Cavallucci noting last month that “research by Volunteering Australia suggests that an estimated two in three volunteers stepped away from their roles in 2020 due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.” Obviously, this is wholeheartedly understandable, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects across Australian football.

Volunteers are an essential part of the Australian football family, with contributions being made to the everyday running of clubs and organisations right across the country at grassroots, semi-professional and professional levels of the sport. Campaigns such as Football Queensland’s Good2GiveBack initiative demonstrate a push towards recognition and respect of volunteers, those of whom were the reason why we have the memories of weekend football that we all do.

Saturday and Sunday league football harkens back to memories of being driven to games by your parents. Of sharing the responsibility of washing the team’s jerseys between each player. Of your parents – some louder than others – issuing you on through a haze of discombobulated moments of play and opportunities to win the second, third, fourth and fifth ball that deflected in between you, your teammates and the opposition.

And it was often these same parents who took on the role of coach, team manager, trainer, barbecue wrangler (or accompanying jostler) and canteen attendant. Volunteering and initiative are intrinsically tied in with the idea of community. The building of collaborative spirit, through a dedication to assuring one’s love for the game is fostered in the same way for their kids, is pivotal to developing the next generation of Australian footballers.

Football NSW and NOVA Employment renew long-standing partnership

NOVA Employment Renewal FNSW

Football NSW has announced that Disability Employment Service and Registered NDIS Provider NOVA Employment, has renewed their long-standing partnership as the presenting sponsor of the annual Football4All Gala Day.

Established in 2008, Football4All is an initiative led by Football NSW aimed at providing people with a special need or disability an avenue to enjoy ‘The World Game’ with family and friends.

Run by Football NSW’s member Clubs and Associations, the Football4All programs provide inclusive playing opportunities in a safe and secure environment. All 44 programs from around NSW vary in their offerings depending on the players within, however all initiatives highlight the significance of inclusion, health promotion and skill development.

The partnership renewal sees NOVA Employment return as the naming partner for the NOVA Employment Football4All League and NOVA Employment AWD Futsal League in addition to the NOVA Employment Football4All Gala Day for both 2021 and 2022.

Football NSW Chief Executive Officer Stuart Hodge was pleased to have secured an extension of the partnership with NOVA Employment.

“NOVA Employment first joined forces with Football NSW back in May 2012. The almost decade long partnership has been crucial in our ability to support and grow our inclusion programs in New South Wales,” he said.

“We look forward to working with Martin and the NOVA Employment team over the coming years.”

NOVA Employment CEO Martin Wren echoed Hodge’s sentiments.

“We really enjoy being part of Football NSW’s Football4All program and feel privileged to be on board again for 2021 and 2022,” he said.

“NOVA Employment encourages participation in team sports and Football4All provides a safe, fun environment where lasting skills and friendships can be developed.”

NOVA Employment is a not-for-profit charity that aims to achieve the employment of people who have a disability in award wage work within the general community. They offer specialist job seeking assistance, post placement support and work exclusively with people who have a disability.

The NOVA Employment Football4All Gala Day will take place at Valentine Sports Park on Sunday June 27, 2021.

Is it time for a national agenda regarding Futsal?

Futsal has played a role in the development of famous football players. Is it time for national agenda regarding this format of the game?

Futsal has played a huge role in the development of some of the most famous football players on the planet. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar are three of the biggest names in game, who all honed their skills playing the small-sided game.

Even in Australia, one of our top talents – Celtic and Socceroo’s Tom Rogic – was an avid player throughout his youth. The country is currently without a national team for men or women, and those within the game argue that without a national agenda for futsal, Australia may fail to develop players of this calibre going forward.

According to former Futsalroo and South Melbourne Legend Fernando de Moraes, one of the biggest benefits to player development is the number of touches on the ball they receive, and this is an essential part of developing a complete and technically talented footballer.

“I’d say futsal isn’t important. It’s essential. It has to be a part of their development. The technique developed from playing futsal, you won’t get that in outdoor football. The technical skills, the small touches of the ball, the quick thinking. In the full-sided game, you don’t get enough of that sometimes,” he said.

Anthony Grima, head of commercial and futsal at Football Victoria, is at the heart of the development of the game within Australia. He believes that Australia needs a national road map for futsal to get the best out of the game.

“A roadmap for Futsal is crucial for the future success of the sport in this country. It would lay the foundations for the sport nationally and provide an aligned Futsal framework for all states and territories to follow,” he said.

“Priorities such as governance, grassroots and pathway programs, player, coach and referee development, Futsal national teams, a national Futsal League and more.”

De Moraes believes without a path for young players to compete against the best opposition, the game is losing out on developing players. Football Australia’s former iteration of a national futsal league, the F-League, is now defunct.

Fernando De Moraes playing in the F-League

“It all starts from if you don’t have a professional or national league, even a semi-pro league. If you have a pathway for the kids who want to join futsal in competitions around the country, these amazing kids can succeed. But obviously, there is no pathway for them. They get lost,” he said.

De Moraes is no stranger to international futsal, having been capped 29 times by his country. In the past futsal has operated on an ad-hoc basis, with national teams suffering from a lack of support and organisation. National teams were sometimes organized as representative sides without recognition from the professional bodies in Australia, especially for women.

“It was always a get-together one or two months before the competition, we’d train together maybe two times, and then we’d go overseas to play the tournament. To have a program, so you can organise sooner, get yourself ahead, and develop players would be brilliant,” de Moraes said.

According to Grima, the sport has suffered without a centralised and focused vision, however, success can be created by listening to the stakeholders of the game.

“There has been a lack of certainty over what role governing bodies should play in Futsal and what leadership they should provide,” he said.

“After the extensive consultation we did here in Victoria in 2019 with the game’s stakeholders – and getting a deeper understanding of best practice principles – it is clear that the sport must be aligned.”

Grima explains that while the game faces issues, Football Australia, and the state federations, have signalled improvements in the games pathways, while calling for a national agenda for the sport.

“I am delighted that Football Australia included futsal in Principle IV of the recently released XI Principles – for the future of Australian football. They call for the establishment of a national agenda for futsal and beach soccer and to investigate the creation of new products to grow the game. This is fantastic to see,” he said.

“Here in Victoria, like Queensland as well, we recently announced our futsal strategies and have stepped up our dedication to unite the sport and invest in the resources needed to govern Futsal in our respective states. Other states including NSW and ACT have long been dedicated to Futsal.”

The Futsalroos are currently inactive. Grima thinks there is a huge opportunity to launch a women’s national team under Football Australia.

“The FIFA Futsal World Cup is being held this year in Lithuania, it would have been great to see the Futsalroos participating,” he said.

“I believe there is a huge opportunity ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to introduce a national women’s team for Futsal as well. What a great legacy hosting the World Cup would bring here for Futsal as well.”

De Moraes believes that with the support of the state federations, futsal could become a huge part in developing players for the national team.

“Futsal is a great sport to develop players in this country. The amount of talent that gets lost and doesn’t end up playing because of a lack of opportunity is a missed opportunity. To make futsal a part of football, with the federation’s support, would be great to see.” he said.

Football NSW announce HG Turf as Official Supplier of Hybrid Grass

HG Turf Partnership FNSW

Football NSW have named HG Turf Group as their Official Supplier of Hybrid Grass.

HG Turf Group are the market leader in Hybrid Grass solutions. Since 1999, their Hybrid Grass solutions have improved the quality of sport fields across Australia and New Zealand, with some of their most significant installations including: ANZ Stadium, Bankwest Stadium, Eden Park, the Gabba, MCG, Optus Stadium and Sky Stadium.

In addition, international sporting events such as the 2000 Olympic Games, 2015 AFC Asian Cup, 2006 and 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2003, 2011 and 2019 Rugby World Cups have also used HGTG’s Hybrid Grass.

Over the years Football NSW and HG Turf Group have developed a strong relationship, with the latter building two FIFA certified synthetic turf pitches at Valentine Sports Park (VSP) in 2014. Since their establishment, these synthetic turf pitches have been heavily utilised and have increased the capacity of usage of the facility.

In an effort to improve the durability and performance of the natural grass pitches at VSP, HG Turf Group approached Football NSW with a Hybrid Grass solution – SISGrass®.

SISGrass uses needles to push artificial grass fibres into natural grass. The resulting mix of 95% natural grass and 5% artificial grass improves the stability and durability of natural grass, providing up to 3x more playing hours. It also improves the playability of the natural grass, with optimum ball roll and ball bounce, and ideal footing when turning and sliding.

Football NSW Chief Executive Officer Stuart Hodge welcomed the partnership with HG Turf Group.

“The SISGrass® hybrid solution synergises with the NSW Football Infrastructure Strategy and the key pillar, ‘improve existing venue capacity’. Maximising the carrying capacity and activation of existing Football pitches and venues is a key objective,” he said.

“With the installation at Valentine Sports Park, Football NSW Associations and Clubs, as well as local Councils, can inspect our venue to see the SISGrass® technology and its benefits first hand. We look forward to working with HG Turf Group to introduce their products to the wider football community.”

HG Turf Group Owner and Director Hamish Sutherland expressed his appreciation of Football NSW for the opportunity.

“We are very fortunate to be partnering with Football NSW again. Football NSW advances football in so many ways, and the installation of SISGrass® at Valentine Sports Park has created a new standard for natural grass pitches,” he said.

“By protecting the natural grass, SISGrass® delivers increased usage, durability, consistency, and better play, all year-round. Associations and Clubs can also enjoy the benefits of SISGrass®.”

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