The saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” may very well be the most over-used saying in sport, but the essence of that saying perfectly reflects the motivation behind the Reclink Australia Football Program.
Since 1989 the Reclink Football program has provided an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities who have experienced disadvantage and isolation to participate in a structured team sport, helping them to reconnect with the community and help them on their way to rebuild their lives.
In addition to the enjoyment on the faces of the participants, what is equally rewarding is the stories they share about the Reclink Football Series and the wider effect it has on their lives:
‘This football league was born out of a concern for people struggling with boredom and loneliness, people who wouldn’t get a game at regular club or who might find social interaction difficult at a club. This sort of football isn’t about winning grand finals, it’s about getting the right people on the ground. Football has the power, the attraction and the appeal to attract people away from destruction. In football you can’t play your own game and be successful. ‘
My best experience was playing football with Sacred Heart when I was at the hostel. Footy was my major focus, I stayed the hostel long because of football. I liked the whole concept of it. Even if I wasn’t good at it, I would’ve had to play the game. I learnt at the hostel I wasn’t the only one with problems, and I also learnt about fellowship.
When people like Stan Alves, who are that successful and want to impart their knowledge to you, it’s great for your self-esteem. Football is a real motivator to help you overcome the demons in your head.
Commitment was a big word for me especially, it was good to follow through and finish the season. In my life I’d started things but hadn’t finished them. When we had the football training session and learning about the mental toughness required, the interesting thing I found was that the answer came from the group. The ideas were almost limitless, we fed off each other. What a great idea this thing of helping each other is. This is for the common good. We’d become a stronger nation if we all helped each other.
And while the football matches have an emphasis on recreation, fun and community spirit, the joy and sense of achievement at winning is something to behold:
When I started playing football, it was like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It may not be the big time, but you believe it is. I remember as clear as a bell the time I got a chocolate as a trophy, the game felt so well organised. We won and we had a lot of supporters. I was so happy that day, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I had tears in my eyes, I felt like I was someone. It was one of those days when your wildest dreams come true, I felt like I’d actually achieved something.
The best experience I’ve ever had in St Kilda was when the Hearts won the grand final. Everybody in the street knew about it, it went through the neighbourhood like a hurricane. For people who are constantly abusing themselves, winning is a very big thing.
Many years ago I thought the game was stupid, football brings back bitter memories. Many Hearts players hadn’t played since they left school. Sport is good for the mind. With team sport you learn to get on with people.
The Reclink Australia Football Program may involve over 650 participants, 280 quarters of football and 10 weeks of competition, but the best measurement of its success is in the friendships made, the communities it strengthens and the lives it turns around.
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