FOOTBALL officials have launched the first region-wide bid to truly understand how many juniors are playing the game in south-west Victoria.
AFL Victoria’s Western District region commission this week sent a survey to member clubs asking for candid feedback about their numbers at under-age level.
The responses, due on July 28, will lay the foundation of a wide-ranging report detailing how dire — or otherwise — the plight of junior football is in the region.
The commission has access to player data via online records and much anecdotal evidence of clubs’ struggles to field under-age sides.
But it wants specifics about how many players they claim as their own, how many play on permits and how many they expect to have in 2015.
The final question, the most important of the 15, asks for ideas to make under-age competitions more sustainable.
Commission general manager Lachy Patterson said the survey was the first attempt to get a comprehensive picture of junior numbers across the region. “I think it’s been done by individual leagues. I know at the start of the year we had a discussion with the Mininera league and we asked the questions of them,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s been done as an overall look at the region. In that regard it’s quite exciting. I’m looking forward to having a look at the numbers.”
Patterson said he wanted clubs to be frank with their appraisals of whether they had strong junior ranks or whether they were in trouble.
He believed those outside regional areas were struggling the most. Mininera and District Football League (MDFL) clubs in particular were lending each other players simply to get matches happening.
“The attitude in the Mininera league this season has been unbelievable, the way they’ve shared players and played games where it’s been 13 or 14 a side,” he said.
“Those kids are still playing footy. But our goal is to make sure kids are playing the best footy they can; a sustainable, competitive game.”
MDFL president Ruth Brain welcomed the survey, saying it would “certainly help us know where we stand in the future with numbers”.
But she was unsure what the responses would mean for the league. Five of the 12 clubs either have no under 16s or struggle to field a full side each Saturday.
Brain feared MDFL clubs would have to merge their junior sides in coming years. Another prospect was clubs competing in the Hamilton junior competition.
“Especially in smaller areas, the local football is the most important thing. People can get out, socialise, air their problems, air their worries and find support,” she said.
“You take the kids away from your Saturday competition and you take away that whole family nucleus.
“Where else can you go where the whole family plays their sport together on the one day at the same venue? That’s something we really need to preserve.”
Patterson said the commission planned to speak to leagues and host an end-of-season junior football forum.
“We’ll sit down and get an independent facilitator in, say these are the ideas we’re looking at, what are the pros and what are the cons,” he said.