Kicking Goals in Samoa


This article recently appeared in the international Magazine for Volunteers abroad published by VIDA

(Ausaid Volunteer program) Volunteers for International development abroad.This article gives us an overview of Michaels role and his background in the code.

VIDA Volunteer Michael Roberts tells us how he's developing the sport of Australian Rules Football in the pacific island nation of Samoa

 My primary role with AFL Samoa is to assist in the overall development of the sport through school-based programs and promotional activities to raise awareness across all ages and population segments. It has been my role to initiate and design programs suitable to the market to increase participation in Australian football. 

On a daily basis it is my role to promote the game throughout Samoa and the pacific. This includes holding clinics at schools or developing the administrative frameworks necessary for the continual growth of the sport in Samoa and the sustainability of programs, procedures, timeframes and events being put in place.

This school term has seen us running our first ever targeted primary school program called AFL Healthy Kids. It's a program that introduces youth to the sport and develops ball skills, fundamental motor skill and body awareness, complemented by the eventual introduction of AFL specific skills and the opportunity to play in our modified primary schools championship.

In addition to the skill based participation  students also receive a student workbook that is produced in partnership by the Samoa Ministry of Health and AFL Samoa which has fun locally applicable games and activities that both support health and AFL game education.

The junior participation program in Samoa is achieving a far greater response than we ever anticipated. Over 1000 students participated in our primary school program in its first term with similar numbers for term 2. Unfortunately a lack of staff and resources meant that in term 1 we were unable to include five other interested schools into our program.

Term 2 also sees us begin our national schoolboy's championships which has been a highlight of the Samoan AFL calendar for many years. Eight high schools will compete for this coveted trophy, this number only being limited by the number of staff required to coach teams and umpire matches during the tournament.

The sport is showing serious growth potential as an increasing number of staff from schools and senior players show an interest in undertaking further training to assist in the development. I have also recently agreed to coordinate an AFL module into the sports science course at the National University of Samoa which will assist in the recruiting of young enthusiastic coaches and umpires with tertiary qualifications in the sports field.  

The delightful nature of the kids that I work with is but one of the feel good parts of working in Samoa, where achieving work goals are much slower than we would be used to back in Australia. I like relaxing don't get me wrong but `island time' is another dimension altogether and a common question to many a friend is whether the designated meeting time is on Samoan or palagi (European) time, so you can arrive at the correct time rather than hours before anyone else shows up.

The rewards for me are simple like seeing the look on a young girl's face as she kicks her first kick or seeing kids develop better hand skills over a ten second period makes you just feel good! I feel like I'm coaching world class netball players one day, rugby the next and Olympic sprinters the day after as these kids are so naturally instinctual, with reflexes and awareness skills far exceeding children of the same age in Australia.

Unfortunately most primary aged children and even those in early high school have never experienced formal coaching or proper organized sport or sport programs. They miss out on structure and early intervention in skills, team and general sports preparation that children in Australia have from a very early age eg. in-school sports curriculums and access to a huge variety of sports, games, teaching and equipment.

I have been involved in AFL since my conception and am a proud Victorian and supporter of the Collingwood football club. Growing up in regional Victoria and playing a lot of junior and senior football I always knew that I wasn't much of a player but I could read the game very well, I decided that I wanted to be a coach and have pursued that goal to the ends of the earth.

I have worked for the AFL and closely with some of the finest junior players and senior clubs in various regions within Australia but the opportunities to progress in this environments is difficult. This led me to consider volunteering which I felt would give me the opportunity to prove that I have a large range of skills enabling me to work in a demanding and under developed country to achieve goals that would be to the benefit of sport for young people and to the development of our game for which I have committed much of my life.

It can be quite embarrassing walking down the street or into a school to the chant of your own name or the full rear tray of a truck screaming your name and giving the thumbs up or a mimic of a goal umpire waving his flags, I have priceless images forever etched in my memory of the humor and knockabout way of the people who at first called me `palagi' but now call me `coach'.

"I say watch Samoa over the next ten years and you will see some of the finest sports performers in the world". 

Michael Is the National Game Development Manager for the code in Samoa and will be in working in Samoa until July 2008 when he will accompany the National Bulldogs to the World cup of Australian Football in Melbourne Australia. He has been here for 1 year so far.


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