Is Australia losing its competitive spirit, or simply following a worldwide trend?
The recent Roy Morgan Research data revealed that only one in five Australians over the age of 14 regularly play competitive sport, a figure that is down 27% from fifteen years ago.
This is extremely worrying to many who are passionate about the clubs they have grown up around and are still proud to be a part of. Yet their plight is not unique. This is a trend across many countries, and established sporting clubs are closing their doors.
The numbers of volunteers, who are the lifeblood of a community club, are and have been dwindling for the past ten to fifteen years. Every club relies on good spirit, commitment, enthusiasm, benevolence and the dedication of these club stalwarts to survive of. People who paint the lines before the players even show up for their game. People who sweep the changing rooms, fill the water bottles, wash the kit, make sure there is toilet paper in the toilets. Many jobs that are simply taken for granted.
To make matters worse at some clubs the players’ demands have become higher. In other instants the requirement for coaches to become, or maintain accreditation has become another financial strain, as coaches, or often their wives, demand that they be compensated for that cost, and now be paid for their time.
Sponsors now gain little from ploughing money into their local club, because loyalty has become a thing of the past. It used to be that Real estate agents and Car dealers could rely on players from the various clubs they supported to call them first when they wanted to sell a house or buy a car. That is not happening as much now, and many “sponsors” will tell you that they are donors rather than sponsors, as the return on their investment is negligible.
Sadly the community spirit that kept many clubs going has been eroded by the number of players rotating through the clubs. Some chasing glory and trophies, others an extra $50 in their wage packet. Loyalty to a club is rare these days. Yet without that loyalty it is hard for coaches and clubs to build a team, and a community. Without loyalty by the majority the fabric of the club as a whole ends up being eroded.
Too often today, once a team has been announced for the weekend players grab their bags after training and head home. Some do not even wait to hear the teams announced.
We have seen in recent weeks a number of clubs complain that the away team has not come into the home team’s bar for a drink post game; it does not have to be alcoholic, just a soft drink. This is most unusual as part of the reason for playing sport is the camaraderie that blossoms from the competition. To make matters worse the home teams on some occasions have prepared food for the visiting team, and they have left without eating it.
A great deal of criticism on this point was levelled at Perth Glory’s NPL team. First of all it is important to remember that many of these players do not have driving licences so they are in the hands of others when it comes to getting to the ground, and when they leave. What is sad is that the coaching staff or the club itself has not advised parents that the players are expected to go into the visiting clubhouse post match and stay behind for a while. This would help promote the Perth Glory brand. It would also give those young players who are fortunate enough to end up with a professional contract an understanding of their obligations once they become a public figure. Surely this is all part of the grooming process, and making these players the complete package? Maybe the club needs to look at taking this young team to games on a minibus. Having all players meet at a set place, drive to the game as one and leave as one. Then have the parents collect them at an agreed point. Certainly this, you would think, would build a team spirit and a togetherness.
There are some who put the declining numbers playing team sports, or even individual sports, and being part of a club down to the demands placed on our time in everyday life. Yet one feels that this is far too simplistic.
Could the reasons lie in the fact that many sports have illusions of grandeur? They see the money being thrown around at the elite level, and want to play at being a part of that scene? Why else would club’s make decisions to pay players money that they simply cannot afford?
Fuelling this fire are parents who believe that their child is the next superstar, who will soon be earning tens of thousands of dollars per week. When that child fails to succeed at one club they up sticks and move to another. The club and the coach being the ones at fault. Yet the truth is simply that their child is not good enough. What they also fail to realise is that the constant moving of clubs is also not conducive to giving the child the best chance of success, as each move destabilises the development process, as each new coach has a new view on how and where they want that player to play.
If you look at many of the clubs that are financially viable, and are still in a strong position in local sport you will find that some do not pay their players a cent. Instead they help them find jobs, often jobs with employers who are sympathetic to their sporting aspirations and will allow them to knock off early on training nights. Some will help them find accommodation or a car. Rather than paying them a weekly wage, the club through its network helps give these young players a start in life. Being helped to find employment, and working for someone who supports the club not only helps them fit in at work but it also builds a loyalty to the club that will last a lifetime. All of us remember those who showed faith in us and gave us a chance in life.
This writer was sad to read that a cricket club in England against whom he played every year had folded. The club lost 26 players to other clubs and could not find the volunteers required to keep the club afloat. They pulled up stumps for the last time after 77 years in existence. Now, not surprisingly the developers are circling to put housing on this picturesque corner of the West Country.
The same is likely to happen in Western Australia. Councils look to raise money to cover their rising costs and high rise living offers the density to bring in revenue in a small area. Sporting clubs and green space for sport are the prime targets. What many of these councillors fail to acknowledge is the part that these clubs have played in the community and how vital they are to the community moving forward, especially in light of the figures in the Roy Morgan Research.
There are still many great sporting clubs throughout the state, promoting and showcasing a number of sports. These clubs are the heartbeat of the state in a sporting context. They unite communities, they provide a refuge from the hard times and give people a sense of belonging. They have the ability to give lost souls a home and the chance to be a part of something special, they help old bodies stay active. They teach us to think of others and not just ourselves, and if we are lucky will give us moments in victory that will last a lifetime.
The next time you watch a local game of sport, of any age, stop and think of the part that club plays in your life, or the life of your child, and how much poorer life would be with out it. Take the time to try and help, by picking up litter and putting it in a bin rather than walking past it when heading back to your car. Buy a soft drink at the bar. Every little gesture goes a long way to helping keep these clubs alive.