The introduction of ladies league tag into the the local football competitions is a sign of the way women's sport is becoming part of the mainstream.
The introduction of ladies league tag into the the local football competitions is a sign of the way women's sport is becoming part of the mainstream. Adam Hourigan

FUTURE CV: League tag grows in evolving sporting landscape

SPORTING clubs have been evolving and the growth in women's sport is driving change.

Demographer Bernard Salt was quick to point out the effect an older demographic could have on the viability of sporting clubs and said he thought there could be tough times ahead.

"I would imagine the area could be struggling with football teams. I have seen that in western Victoria where there is an outflow of youth and all of a sudden two football teams have to merge...to remain viable," he said.

However, there are positive signs for many clubs and broadening the involvement of everyone from kids to their parents and the wider community was something Yamba Breakers football club have been striving to achieve.

Action between the Grafton City Slickers (blue) and the Yamba Breakers (black) in the CL 12's at Rushforth Park on Saturday.
Action between the Grafton City Slickers (blue) and the Yamba Breakers (black) in the CL 12's at Rushforth Park on Saturday. Mitchell Keenan

Club president Dan Griffin said sometimes an attitude developed within clubs that fostered a reluctance to invest in youth as they "would just leave at 17".

"Let's acknowledge they are going to go away and get some life experience and let's celebrate that," he said.

"But let's give them the best possible opportunity while they are here so that when they come back the first thing they want to do is join up again."

Mr Griffin credited the growth in his club to the increase in participation levels among women, something which he said was happening not just across the Clarence but the country.

"You see it in league and also you see it in union. It is just amazing that that door is opening and I think that changes everything," he said.

"It changes the culture in the club, it changes the pathways for the younger players and it will only grow sport."

In the Clarence Valley women's sporting sides were increasing in rugby union, league tag and AFL.

It meant the Grafton Tigers were able to field a women's side for the first time in conjunction with Northern Beaches. The growth at a club level coincided with greater exposure of women's sport on TV and professional leagues in the major football codes.

The South Grafton Rebels have also gone to great lengths in recent years to build their Ladies League Tag sides and not only had a raft of junior girls at the club but were celebrating individual representative success.

Action from the qualifying semi-final between South Grafton Rebels and Sawtell Panthers in ladies league tag at Frank McGuren Field.
Action from the qualifying semi-final between South Grafton Rebels and Sawtell Panthers in ladies league tag at Frank McGuren Field. Adam Hourigan

"It is great for the game and it is great for the community. It is really developing and in group two alone there is so much talent in the competition. And we have of course had Shellie Long picked in representative sides," Rebels president Brendan Breitnauer said.

However, the strong participation rates were not the only marker of success and at the heart of every club was a solid base of volunteers. Mr Griffin said creating a good club culture was pivotal to "leverage" more from parents.

"When parents turn up at under-6s we get them on the field and we tell them they need to work in the canteen, we put it on them," he said.

"We don't want people to do the drop and run, we try and pull them in."

The ageing population coupled with the Clarence Valley's identity as a retirement destination meant more people without familial links.

"If you are a tree changer and have left all your family somewhere else - how do I know that you have an affiliation with football?" he said.

But Mr Griffin recognised this meant clubs had to be on the front foot when trying to grow their volunteer base and by taking a collaborative approach they could enhance and grow those important community networks.

"If you really want to find the organisations that can have that impact in a community, it is groups like football clubs and CWAs and community gardens," he said.

"That is where the interactions are and that is why I put so much energy into it, because I look at it as something for my kids."



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