DC’s Saturday Morning Footy
2013 Annual Report of the Baltimore Washington Eagles youth Australian football program
Over 8 season, the Saturday Morning Footy has become an established and growing youth sporting program in Washington DC. The program caters to Australian military and foreign service families on detail to Washington DC, the local Australian expat community and local families, many of whom had barely heard of the game before coming out to have a kick. The program is centered around the very successful AFL Auskick program which provides a fun and safe introduction to the great game of Australian football for boys and girls aged 5 to 9.
We didn’t have a lot of luck with the summer sessions of the Saturday Morning Footy in 2013. It was one of the wettest summers on record which meant that three of the planned six sessions were rained out. Most unfortunate was that the first session was rained out. The first session has traditionally been the biggest and it is obviously the session that generates the enthusiasm for the rest of the summer. Despite the wet summer there were a number of positives including the establishment of a number of parents and volunteers as coaches in the program. It was also very gratifying to see a large number of parents getting involved in the program, even those without much knowledge of the game.
Table 1: Summary of participation for Saturday Morning Footy
Number of Sessions
Average Number of Participants
Total Number of Participants
Table 1 shows that the overall number of participants was back down to the 2011 levels. This was due to the large number of rainouts which dropped the number of sessions to 2008 levels. Despite the rain out of the first session, the average number of participants remained steady. The table also shows that average age of the participants has remained relatively steady. This seems to indicate that the program continues to draw new participants at the younger age groups, while existing participants steadily move through the program. The number of girls participating in the program has also risen over time, although the proportion has remained relatively steady at 20%.
Table 1 does not present information on the two other sessions that were held over the year. In early December of 2012 we held our Winter Camp and in March of 2013 we held our Spring Open House. Both sessions attracted just under 30 participants, this despite the fact that DC in December can get pretty cold.
As with 2012 we again planned to have 6 summer sessions in 2013 making a total of 8 planned sessions for the year. While in 2012 we only had one rain out of the summer sessions, in 2013 we had three. In each case Arlington County closed the fields due to the wet weather. The planned first session was June 8, which was about a week earlier than we had started in previous years. This is notable because the first session actually overlapped with youth soccer and baseball seasons, yet Arlington County was willing to provide access to fields for the session. Another indication that the program has become established enough that the County is willing to make some concessions.
The first actual session was on June 15 and was the biggest session of the year with approximately 50 participants. This session, as with all three of the summer sessions were held at our usual location of Bluemont Park in Arlington. The first session is a relatively general session where we introduce the players to the basic skills and rules of the game including kicking, handballing and marking. The second session saw a drop in numbers with about 40 participants in the first session after the beginning of the summer vacation. This was the “Specky Session”. A “specky” refers to a “spectacular mark”, that is one of the high flying catches which is unique to the game of Australian football. In this session we use tackle bags, shields and ball bags to help players learn how to use another player as leverage to take the mark and work on their timing with the ball. These drills also have a number of safety aspects. They help teach players how to protect themselves in a marking contest and how fall and land when coming down from a marking contest.
After two more rain outs, the last session took place on July 20. The session had about half the number of participants as the first session. This drop off in attendance generally reflects the fact that more families take summer vacations as we move towards the end of the July. However, this year things were probably not assisted by the fact that there were no sessions for the previous three weekends, two due to rain outs and one because of the 4th of July holiday. Despite the smaller numbers the last session is always a lot of fun. This year we began the tradition of ending the summer SMF session with a match between the parents and coaches on one side and the players (with some assistance from current Eagles players) on the other side. The players and parents really enjoyed the format, although at least one of the players was pretty upset when his mom’s kicked a few goals.
If you walked down to Bluemont Park in Arlington Virginia on a Saturday morning in June or July, you may mistakenly think you were in a Melbourne suburb. The lack of Collingwood jerseys or the 90% humidity may give away the location. But with kids and parents running helter skelter and footballs flying every which way, it just could be Melbourne.
Saturday Morning Footy runs a fairly stock standard AFL Auskick program for boys and girls aged 5 to 9. The Auskick program is a wonderful platform for introducing the great game of Australian football. Before the session officially begins, players and their parents are encouraged to have kick and get warmed up. Each and every session begins with an introduction to basic skills of kicking and hand passing. Given the diversity of backgrounds it is important for the coaches to spend a few minutes of each session making sure all the participants have a basic understanding of the game. After the introduction, players move to a warm up game such as “sharks and minnows” or “scarecrow tag”. These games help the players learn evasive techniques and handballing accuracy. After a warmup, the U9 players move on to a skills game. The perennial favorite is “rob the nest” which allows players to work on their spatial awareness and can be modified to work on handball and kicking skills.
The session ends with a modified game. For a couple of the sessions this year, the players were further broken up by age for the game. Parents and coaches generally participate in these games in order to keep the game flowing and making sure everyone gets a kick. The modified games are played on a small field, with no tackling. Players are generally given a few steps and a few seconds before they must hand pass or kick the ball.
In 2013 the U9 sessions were run by Eagle Alum, Adam Clark. Adam was ably assisted by experienced parents including Joao Veiga Malta and Matt Byrne. The coaches did a great job of getting parents involved in helping out and playing the games.
As hinted at above, the U15 program includes a number of players that have been part of Saturday Morning Footy for many years now. A couple of these homegrown players show real talent and may one day make contributions to both Eagles and possibly the US Revolution. While the U15 program follows the basic format of the U9 program, the coaching staff works to make the drills similar to what one would see at a standard training session for an adult club in the US or a junior football club in Australia. In general about half of the session is spent on drills and half of the session is a game. As with the U9s, the U15s were broken down again by age for the first two sessions. In some cases, more experienced players were moved between the different age groups to get a better match of skills in each of the games.
The issues that the program has had with retaining and training coaches seemed to get solved in 2013. Over the last few years a number of parents have taken an interest in coaching in the program and are stepping up to taken on more and more responsibility. As coordinator, I plan out each of the sessions for each of the age groups providing the coaching volunteers and parents with guidance. That said, the program relies on a number of key people to make sure that the kids are having fun, that the activities are safe and that the parents are involved.
Unfortunately, there do not exists many resources that can help fledgling junior coaches with some of the basics. It would be great to have more online tools for coaches. It would also be great to have a USAFL Coaching Association and coaching accreditation program.
Financial (September 2012 to September 2013)
Revenue Subtotal $665.00
Backpack Mail $635.00
Website Hosting $145.00
Cost Subtotal $1,934.00
Net Income -$1,269.00
The above number are based on a “cash accounting” system. Note that it includes payment of money that was owed to Arlington County for the use of fields in 2012.
The 2013 revenue was about half than of the revenue earned in 2012. The revenue was about $8 per player which was about half of what was earned in 2012. Part of the difference was due to fewer sessions and part of the difference was the fact that last year the program made about a third of its revenue from a very successful raffle where Washington punter and former AFL star, Sav Rocca, donated some valuable items.
The 2013 costs were about $600 more than in 2012. Part of the increase in costs was actually payment for fields used during the 2012 season. However, about half the costs was due to an increase in the amount spent on flyers. Unfortunately, the increase in advertising associated with flyers didn’t translate into greater participation because of the rain outs.
The rain outs reduced some of the expense as it was possible to cancel use of the fields that had been closed. However, most of the expenses were unaffected by the rain outs, while the revenue side was certainly impacted.
While net income was not good this year, the revenue collected suggests that it would not be unreasonable to expect about $10 per player in revenue from donations, memberships and a raffle. At this amount, our target of 100 players will allow the program to cover most of the major expenses - insurance, fields and web hosting without the need to charge fees.
The program is well established and growing steadily. The future success of the program will require improved administrative structure. This includes developing an committee or executive to oversee the program and to move the program under the umbrella of a 501c3 not-for-profit organization.
Thanks to Brenda Meade for the excellent photos.