As we wind down from the recent AFL National and Rookie Drafts, the focus now turns to preparation for the 2016 season.
Particularly for the crop of new draftees, as they’ve now joined their new teammates and commenced their first preseason as professional footballers.
But while for these guys footy becomes an all-consuming lifestyle, it’s important for them to never lose sight of the fact that it is still just a game, just as it is for the more than 9,500 players that turned out for the SMJFL in 2015.
And next year, as with every year prior, there will be another group of teenagers yearning for a shot at the big time. However, as admirable as that goal is, we must put into perspective just how difficult it is to succeed at the elite level.
Out of the whole of Australia, just 61 teenagers were drafted to an AFL club at the National Draft a fortnight ago.
And that is only the beginning. The harder part is making a name for yourself in the big league.
Doug Robertson of the Adelaide Advertiser reported back in August that the average length of an AFL career is just six years. So let’s look back at the draft of six years ago (2009) and see how that group of youngsters faired.
A total of 68 new players were drafted that year and so far just 10 have managed to notch 100 matches or more. The total average games played of that draft crop is just 45 games.
Further, 30 of the 68 players are no longer on a senior AFL list. Of these 30, nine failed to play a single AFL game while 16 played fewer than five matches. Altogether, their average is 11 games played per delisted player, with nobody reaching the 50 game milestone.
And of the 38 that are still on an AFL list, 13 have been moved on to a second AFL club and 11 have played fewer than 50 games in their six seasons, which shows just how difficult it is to make it at the elite level.
AFL can be a ruthless industry at times and clubs tend to have a high turnover rate as they strive for maximum performance. Clearly, then, you have to be something pretty special to be the next Nat Fyfe or Scott Pendlebury.
But these facts should not serve as a deterrent to playing footy. Rather, by putting these into perspective, it should help both players and parents manage their expectations of how far they can take their football careers.
The SMJFL does have pathways in place to help elite talent reach the big time, including Interleague squads and TAC Cup academies. But given AFL is a goal achievable to only a select few, this shouldn’t be the sole reason a junior footballer takes up the sport.
At the SMJFL, “it’s about the kids” and the League’s focus is on ensuring all players can enjoy playing the game. It’s about giving all kids the opportunity to make lasting friendships, learn new skills, get active and above all have fun.
So missing out on selection in the Under 14 Interleague team shouldn’t be the be all and end all for a junior footballer. After all, our recent draftee Mitch Brown was cut from rep squads at both Under 14 and Under 15 level, and never played a junior representative game throughout his then MSJFL career.
Without the pressures of striving for a professional career, kids can take a step back and really enjoy playing the game with their mates. After all, this is what junior footy is all about.
SMJFL General Manager Jake McCauley said that both players and parents should be realistic about the chances of playing AFL football and should play for the love of the game rather than being disheartened by not making a certain grade.
“Not every junior player will make the Interleague or TAC Cup team or become the next AFL superstar, but we want everyone to love playing the game regardless,” McCauley said.
“At the SMJFL ‘it’s about the kids’ and we want to keep ensuring that all players can enjoy the game by playing against players of similar ability; and all within the confines of a friendly, supportive and inclusive environment.”