A Whole New Ball Game

So far I have seen practically every level of footy there is: everything from the pee-wees up to the big dogs in the AFL. I would say it’s comparable to playing YMCA soccer back in the states. The little guys are just learning the rules, while the upper levels are going hard at the ball. This post will be all about the differences in the levels of footy, because believe it or not there actually are some major differences.

Let’s start off with the little guys. Usually they play during the breaks of the bigger games, so their matches only last about 15 minutes. They have basically the same rules as the other levels, just more basic. But man can those little kids tackle! They are still allowed to hit each other just like the big guys do, and they sure take that to heart. Some of the marks these kids take are pretty incredible too for their age. It’s mostly just adorable to watch them all scramble around for the ball.

Next up is the amateur leagues. These are the community teams that lead up to the WAFL teams. They have all levels like the WAFL: Colts, Reserves, and League, and some also have a team called the Thirds (what I like to call the “beer league” team. Mostly older guys just coming out to get a kick on goal). These games aren’t nearly as serious as others I’ve seen. The coach doesn’t yell so much, and the players are definitely more relaxed. They care if they win of course, but they don’t make a huge fuss about it if they don’t. The boys who do exceptionally well in their amateur league get recruited by the bigger WAFL teams and go from there.

The hits in amateur footy aren’t that big, so not very many injuries thankfully. I worked with an amateur team out in Ballajura for two weekends. Their kicks aren’t super accurate, nor are their handballs. But they mostly are there to have fun so nothing else really matters.

This past week I worked a little bit with a country team for country week. A lot of the surrounding suburbs have footy teams that fall under each WAFL league; West Perth’s area is the Eastern Districts. They needed help with trainers, I needed the hours. Boom problem solved. I would say these teams are a tad bit more serious than the amateur teams. The ages range from 18 to 35 or sometimes older, but you definitely have to know what you’re doing.

What I noticed about the country boys was their kicks were more accurate, but still not amazing, and the hits were a little harder. We even had a guy blow out his ACL, LCL, lateral meniscus, and fracture the head of his fibula off of a hit. One of the more gnarly injuries I’ve seen. Again the coach doesn’t yell much, but it definitely is taken more seriously than the amateur teams as some of those players get recruited to WAFL teams as well.

Finally my favorites. My WAFL boys. There is such a huge difference between this level and the others. The Western Australia Football League (WAFL) is comprised of three levels: Colts, Reserves, and Leagues. The Colts feed into the Reserves, and Reserves into League. From League some of the players get picked up by AFL teams (Colts players can get picked up too if they’re really really good. West Perth actually had two I think in the past couple years get taken up). More on that in a bit.

This is the level that everything starts getting very serious. The coaches and players yell. The players also fight. People get hurt (concussion anyone?). The hits are big. There’s danger of being put out for an entire season from one mark gone wrong. If your jersey isn’t grass stained with dots of blood by the end of the game, you didn’t play hard enough.

As brutal as I just tried to make that sound, it is an incredible thing to watch. It’s a very fun game to watch, especially when a team works really well together. The kicks and handballs are far more accurate than any other level below WAFL. Training is far more serious. But the injuries are also more serious. This past weekend alone we had a strained hamstring, two blown shoulders, a broken nose, multiple corks, and a partially torn bicep. And on top of all that, all of those injured players will insist on playing in the next game (Jess will kill them before they try though).

The final level a footy player can reach is the AFL. The difference between this level and WAFL is that not only do these players get paid, they play teams from all over Australia, not just in Western Australia. These are the stars that all little Aussie kids look up to. They become fans from before they can walk and know the words to the chants by heart.

The two teams here in WA are the Freo Dockers and the West Coast Eagles. We got to go to the Dockers v. Sydney Giants game yesterday. That stadium is huge!!! It’s comparable to one of our NFL stadiums, and every seat was sold out. At this level, every kick could possibly lead to a goal, and every hit is vital. The players have reached the peak, the best of the best, but they still strive to prove their worth. They still play together as a team instead of just looking out for their own interests.

That’s one thing I appreciate about the players here compared to the US: in our professional sports, the players don’t really have anything to play for anymore besides money. All they care about is getting a championship ring to get the money, and they are willing to leave a team in the dust to get there. The players here seem to have a little more heart than that. You can tell from the way they play that they know how to work as a team, and aren’t just trying to up their personal goal tally. It’s just an intriguing difference to me.

So that’s footy just about summed up! I know it’s not the most interesting in the world to you guys back home, but footy has become my life down here (literally every Saturday is devoted to footy in some way or another). I definitely need to find a way to watch it back home or I might die of footy deprivation. Going back to watching football just won’t be the same after this summer.


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