When Shaun Burgoyne arrived into the AFL system as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, he had Indigenous role-models like Gavin Wanganeen and older brother Peter teaching him the caper at Port Adelaide.
But other Indigenous players may not be as lucky.
So at an AFL Players’ Indigenous Camp held in Alice Springs in 2013, the Indigenous Advisory Board members developed a concept to help their fellow players’ transition into an AFL club and ensure they stay there.
Thus, the Many Stories, One Goal – Supporting Indigenous Footballers Best Practice Guidelines were formed with an updated version launched on Wednesday.
The guidelines provide information on the cultural challenges and backgrounds of the league’s Indigenous players which are unique to every day players, according to Chair of the AFL Players’ Indigenous Advisory Board Shaun Burgoyne.
“It’s important for the clubs to have these guidelines because indigenous footballers face a number of obstacles compared to the other players on the list – unfortunately that’s just the reality of it,” Burgoyne told Aflplayers.com.au.
“Not all Indigenous players come from rural Australia but some do and have to relocate to the city which often means going to a place with a lot greater population. We’ve even had some players come into the system in the last few years where English isn’t their first language which would obviously be a massive communication barrier and some Indigenous players have children a lot younger as well compared to the majority of other players.
“So if a young player comes into the game with young children, they not only have to deal with playing a professional sport but have to raise their little ones as well.”
The guidelines are a document shared between the AFL Players’ Indigenous Advisory Board and the AFL Players’ Association as a resource for the league’s 18 clubs.
The artwork featured throughout the document was designed by Hawthorn youngster Jermaine Miller-Lewis – a talented Indigenous artist in his own right.
Broken into four categories, Induction, Our Culture, Personal and Professional Support and Club Requirements, the guidelines provide information so clubs can create a supportive environment for all Indigenous players.
“This document will help clubs build that relationship with Indigenous players. If they have a certain question, they can go to the Best Practice Guidelines, have a read and go to that player with a bit of knowledge,” Burgoyne said.
“There’s also the added benefit of an Indigenous player potentially bringing the document to the club if he feels he is struggling and can’t articulate it as well as the guidelines can.
“The document just helps the club have a bit more of an understanding because all Indigenous players come from different backgrounds and, even though we’re all Indigenous, we have different problems that we’re going to face like relocating and family which players go through when they’re transitioning but it’s good to have this information available at clubs.”
Burgoyne believes Many Stories, One Goal would’ve benefitted a lot of Indigenous footballers in the past and will prolong the careers of more players in the future.
“Most Indigenous players when they come into the league are fairly shy and quiet, not all of them but a large number are, and you’re not quite comfortable speaking about talking up and that was the same as me.
“Eventually things will build up especially with things like family stuff that can take the attention away from football, so if we had a document like this when I was coming through the system, it would’ve made things a lot easier.
“When you come into an AFL club, you’re trying to put your head down, work hard and earn the respect of your teammates but during that process you’re going through a lot of changes in your life, so knowing your club has taken an interest in things about you other than football can really help you settle in.
“There just needs to be that better understanding that these are the types of things Indigenous footballers might be facing. The guidelines are not the answer to everything but if they can help the clubs than it’s doing something right.”