NINE out of 10 junior footy teams across the south-west are forecasting they have sufficient numbers for next season but officials are reluctant to describe the figures as healthy.
AFL Victoria’s Western District commission yesterday released findings of its first region-wide survey about the state of junior competitions.
Data supplied by clubs from the Hampden, Warrnambool and District, Hamilton, Portland and Casterton-Coleraine leagues paints a picture of reasonable numbers but teams are far from overflowing with players.
Commission general manager Lachy Patterson said the survey, which would become annual, was the starting point to gauge and better shape the future of junior football.
“From the data, it shows the numbers are not as diabolical as some people might have thought,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do to increase those numbers at every age group.”
He was reluctant to say numbers were healthy because it was the first time the exercise had been completed.
“In the past it’s been hearsay. These are numbers the clubs have given us and they show it (junior footy) is in a viable state. I don’t think it’s healthy until you have a surplus of players. We have enough players to create viable competitions.
“I think a healthy competition would mean you don’t have to do any work.”
The commission, which is not releasing specific numbers until after it meets with individual leagues, said clubs in both the Hampden and Warrnambool and District junior competitions were generally forecasting sufficient numbers for next season.
But a handful of clubs were struggling in one or two grades. He said those clubs would receive support from football development manager Alan Thompson with programs to help boost numbers.
He said there was no need for structural changes to the Hampden and Warrnambool and District leagues’ junior competitions.
Without pre-empting discussions with the five junior leagues surveyed, some changes might be needed in other parts of the south-west.
“Discussions may involve suggested restructure of certain competitions, but may also include more achievable club-based recommendations around pathway development and increased senior club support and responsibility.
“One obvious conclusion from the data collected is the extremely strong link between a club’s Auskick centre and the flow-on effect that has at junior football level and subsequently senior football.
“Our football development managers (FDMs) will be able to work closely with those clubs who mightn’t currently have that grassroots link or who need assistance is improving the program’s current success.
“Unfortunately there is no silver bullet that will fix the issue we have with changing regional demographics and individual’s access to other interests.
“However, what we can do is use the data to work closely with leagues to provide junior footballers with sustainable, competitive and enjoyable competitions across the region.”
He said designated junior development officers at each club were critical. The survey revealed less than 30 per cent of clubs had a junior development officer.