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A league of their own

AFL Schools offers Australian students an equal parts challenging and rewarding in-class and on-field football program.

There are very few things that unite Australians quite like a game of Aussie rules football. The anticipation that precedes an important match is unrivalled in the history of Australian sport. The excitement and energy of game day is palpable as the stadium fills with fervent fans and teams take their positions. From that first quiet moment when the crowd holds their breathe and the whistle blows, what follows is a symphony of cheers, chanting, and pure emotion that drives the spirit of the game and elevates players to local hero status.

For young people, the thrill of the game of football can be enjoyed by attending matches, choosing a favourite team, wearing team colours and participating in the family and community aspect of Australia’s football culture. Children can find an idol and a mentor in their favourite sports heroes, experiencing their successes and failures alongside them, and learning about resilience and perseverance.

Naturally, when a child establishes a loyalty and connection to their favourite team and most iconic sports heroes, this can lead to an interest in learning the rules of the game, and the best way for children to get an understanding of the rules is by getting out on the field and actually playing it. Nothing encourages children to aspire to more in life and dream big quite like learning the game through hands on experience, reinforced by professional coaching from those who have lived and breathed the game – and that is where AFL Schools comes in.

The legacy of AFL Schools

The Australian Football League (AFL) is the premier professional Australian Rules football league. Established in 1897 in Melbourne, the AFL has grown thanks to decades of athletic excellence and stewardship to become the largest and most popular football league in Australia. The AFL showcases the best in Australian Rules football, combining athleticism, skill, and competitiveness, making it one of Australia’s most beloved institutions in the world of sports. Apart from its on-field action, the AFL also plays a significant role in shaping and influencing Australian society. The league actively promotes social inclusion and diversity, advocating for gender equality and Indigenous reconciliation. It also supports a variety of charitable initiatives, making positive contributions to the community at large.

As an integral part of the Australian Football League, AFL Schools represents the longstanding legacy and tradition of Australian footy united with a commitment to fostering excellence in both academic and athletic abilities in students of the game. By offering schools a comprehensive and holistic football curriculum that includes teacher training, in-class learning modules, and on-field coaching, AFL Schools strives to cultivate a life-long interest and passion in students for the game of football.

AFL Schools – AFLW Ambassadors Program

Students of the game are encouraged to be intellectually curious, participate in in-class and on-field learning exercises and engage in critical thinking as they learn about strategies for gameplay. To supplement these lessons, AFL Schools offers a host of materials and resources to help guide teachers when delivering the curriculum, which is aided by on-site support from AFL School Ambassadors who play professionally in the league. AFL Schools Ambassadors enjoy a balanced career as a professional football player and teaching as part of the AFL Schools program, visiting schools across Australia to equip teachers and educators with the tools required to coach football.

“It’s a privilege to be able to marry my two passions – AFL and education,” says the Sydney Swan’s Ms Lisa Steane. “Being an AFL Schools Ambassador takes a lot of time management and flexibility from both employers. I tackle this by making sure that I prioritise my time while I’m at school and am planned and prepped in advanced, which then allows me to be fully present while I’m at footy.”

Ms Steane notes that her time teaching has been rewarding both personally and professionally. “Teamwork, leadership and communication are three key skills that I’ve developed in both my teaching and football careers,” she says. “Being able to develop them in a football environment has strengthened my confidence as an educator, particularly, when I transferred them from teaching at the primary level to high school curriculum.”

Sydney Swan’s Ms Lisa Steane is an AFL Schools Ambassador.

For Gold Coast SUNS’ player and AFL Excellence Coordinator at Miami State High School, Ms Lauren Ahrens, becoming an AFL Schools Ambassador has been about seizing those teachable moments and watching her students grow their potential as they progress through the program.

“I love integrating what I’ve learnt as an athlete and a teacher to give students the best possible experience to reach their goals and strive for more at school,” Ms Ahrens says. “With our female numbers in the AFL program increasing I’m really enjoying seeing the girls’ growth. We have limited time that I can spend one-on-one with each of the girls, however, that has been enough time to establish trust and build a relationship with them. It makes me happy to see how enthusiastic they are to learn and improve. They all really put their heads down and want to get the most out of everything I’m teaching them.”

Gold Coast Suns’ player and AFL Excellence Coordinator at Miami State High School, Ms Lauren Ahrens.

Port Adelaide player Ms Angela Foley has been teaching at Seymour College and grown the school’s football teams from two to six including more than 100 girls in the program. “Seeing the joy on students’ faces when they learn to master a new skill or even just give something new a go – that is what I love about teaching,” Ms Foley says.

“Women’s sport is really stamping its feet at the moment in Australia. It is exciting to be a part of it both as an athlete but also to have the opportunity to nurture, guide and inspire students at the school level as well. For girls to see that the sky is the limit for females in sport now and they can make a real career out of it, not just as players, but also in the media, administration and on coaching pathways as well.”

Angela Foley, AFLW Schools Ambassador and Port Adelaide FC player. Photo credit: Matt Sampson.

A healthy generation of students is a happy one, which is why AFL Schools places an emphasis on encouraging physical fitness in young students to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle that will prepare them for success on future educational and career pathways. Football encourages cooperation and team spirit among children which is aided by the development of communication skills and leadership qualities The game also promotes healthy competition and teaches children to respect rules and their opponents.

Ms Gabby O’Sullivan from the Fremantle Football Club says becoming an AFLW Schools Ambassador has meant the world to her in terms of providing a platform to educate others about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of the game, as well as bringing joy and fulfilment to her life.

“Teaching is a great outlet for me away from footy. It allows me to have multiple focuses and connect with people from all different backgrounds. Apart from the ‘street cred’ I have with my students as a footballer, I have been able to inspire students who are keen on pursuing sport as a career on what it takes to be a professional athlete,” says Ms O’Sullivan. “The involvement and engagement with footy has seen massive change in recent years, particularly, following the establishment of AFLW in 2017. I have seen a huge increase in specifically young girls picking up a footy as well as more conversation around female sport.”

AFLW Schools Ambassador Gabby O’Sullivan from the Fremantle Dockers.

The success of students is measured not only by their academic achievements but also by their personal growth and character development. The AFL Schools program offers an equal parts rigorous, challenging and fun football curriculum that covers a broad range of subjects and welcomes students from diverse backgrounds, with different skillsets and unique individual needs to learn about the game.

Hawthorn Football Club’s Ms Kaitlyn Ashmore was “absolutely stoked”, to get involved in the AFL Ambassadors program, allowing her two loves of football and teaching to collide.

“Footy promotes healthy active living and it also builds confidence. Students prone to being more shy benefit a lot from the AFL Schools programs because it puts them into a situation where they have to step outside of their comfort zones,” says Ms Ashmore. “As a teacher, it’s allowed me to grow my leadership skills through managing different situations with students and helped me to communicate more effectively both on and off-field.”

Kaitlyn Ashmore, AFLW Schools Ambassador and Hawthorn FC player.

Everyone Matters: An inclusive school football program

AFL Schools strives to create a supportive and inclusive environment and foster a sense of belonging and community for students. Football is an inclusive, community-based sport that welcomes everyone to learn about leading a healthy and active lifestyle, build teamwork skills, and work on the principles of discipline, endurance and core strength abilities that are part of playing the game.

Everyone Matters is a teaching and learning program developed by the AFL for primary aged Australian students from Foundation to Year 6 and includes both classroom learning modules and on-field gameplay and activities that have been designed to encourage an appreciation for Australia’s diversity. The Curriculum-aligned modules educate students on the ways that the AFL celebrates diversity; from Indigenous games and multiculturalism to AFL Blind and AFL Wheelchair; as well as fostering an understanding of inclusion, acceptance, individualism and cultural diversity.

This unique format of these lessons includes two in-class sessions to showcase how the AFL celebrates diversity and can be the vehicle to become more inclusive. This is followed by two practical on-field sessions which allow students to begin applying their learning in a real-world context. The lessons are structured to reflect ‘best practice’ for teacher delivery; including effective teaching strategies, engaging activities and interactive videos to engage students. These lessons can be delivered as stand-alone lessons or taught in succession as follows:

  • Stage One: Indigenous games (Foundation-Year 2)
  • Stage Two: Inclusion/International (Years 3-4)
  • Stage Three: Inclusion/Disability (Years 5-6)

These free modules can be accessed via: www.play.afl/schools/teacher-resources/off-field-in-class/everyone-matters/

Promoting physical fitness, health and wellbeing

Physical education is of utmost importance for children as it plays a crucial role in their overall development and well-being. Engaging in physical activities at a young age not only helps improve their physical health but also enhances their cognitive, social, and emotional skills. With the increasing prevalence of sedentary lifestyles among children, physical education provides them with an opportunity to engage in regular physical activity and combat the risk of developing various health issues associated with weight and childhood obesity. Regular physical activity promotes a positive sense of emotional well-being. Playing football can serve as an outlet for stress, anxiety, and pent-up emotions, resulting in better mental health. Regular physical activity releases endorphins, which uplift mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also provides children with a sense of accomplishment, self-discipline, and resilience.

Furthermore, physical education contributes significantly to the cognitive development of children, by improving brain function, memory, and concentration, enhancing academic performance. By participating in the AFL Schools curriculum, children will acquire invaluable problem-solving and decision-making capabilities, contributing to an overall improved cognitive functioning.

By promoting healthy habits and informed choices, AFL Schools aims to instil a lifelong commitment to physical fitness, health and wellness in young people. By nurturing the intellectual, physical, and personal growth of students, schools can create a strong foundation for academic excellence.

Membership Program

The AFL Schools Membership program is a free program that provides over 5,000 teachers Australia wide with exclusive access to:

  • AFL Schools National Grants Program
  • Priority access to teacher resources
  • AFL & AFLW player appearances
  • Termly AFL Schools ‘On the Mark’ newsletter
  • Opportunity to be nominated for its Teacher of the Year awards
  • Ticketing offers
  • School rewards for high engagement with AFL programs and competitions
  • Membership to the AFL Schools – Teacher Network Facebook Group

Schools can join the AFL’s growing teaching community today for free by visiting:

Grants to support the delivery of AFL in your school

AFL Schools is proud to have dispersed over $100,000 worth of grant funding into schools around Australia so far in 2023. The program has been established to:

  • Empower and equip schools to run quality AFL programs
  • Help provide a fair and equitable opportunity for all schools in Australia to participate in AFL schools programs and competitions
  • Remove existing barriers that may prevent schools from being involved in AFL schools programs and competitions
  • Schools can apply for grants within specified time periods across the following five streams:
  • CRT Cover: Full day ($450) and half day ($250) CRT relief grants available to support teachers to attend an AFL Professional Learning session or school competition/gala day.
  • Guernsey/Jumper subsidy: $500 subsidy available to help cover the cost of a new set of guernseys/jumpers for school teams.
  • Event Attendance support: $300, per team, per competition to support school teams participating in AFL competitions and gala days
  • Goal post padding subsidy: $500 to help cover the cost of a new set of goal post pads for schools with existing goal posts
  • AFL starter equipment pack: Base level AFL equipment pack for both Primary and Secondary schools

To learn more and apply for a grant, visit: www.play.afl/schools/grants/

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