Cambridge Park Junior League coach Matt Skelton has spent enough time in the game to know that when footy is fun, it’s The Greatest Game Of All.
The challenges facing coaches at the grassroots level can be significant, but Skelton is one of many volunteers demonstrating how to keep junior players coming back for more. He was the recipient of the June “Make Footy Fun” Coach of the Month Award, a NSWRL initiative designed to encourage coaches to go above and beyond in improving their players’ experience.
The monthly competition, which asks for parents and players to submit a short video of their coach ‘making footy fun,’ culminated in Skelton’s under-9s division 3 team being awarded an exclusive training session with Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler. Coinciding with the team’s Origin III preparations, the players were invited to meet and train with the entire NSW team, following the completion of their opposed session at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Skelton, like his players, couldn’t hide his excitement about the opportunity.
“Someone submitted a video from our team, just about myself and the boys about making footy fun again,” Skelton tells NSWRL.com.au. “We’ve had a tough year on the field but everyones loving it, everyone loves turning up to training and when you get an experience like this, it’s unbelievable.
“We made a day of it today, to come up here to Allianz, and all they’ve been talking about all week is how good it’s going to be.”
Cambridge Park, too, has a unique link to Fittler, who spent some of his junior playing days at the club. Having someone like the NSW coach to look up to is not underestimated.
“He’s a big role model for the club,” Skelton adds. “The boys think Freddy’s the greatest coach in the world, so thats all that matters.
“They know the history of the club and it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can end up where he is.”
While the Junior League season is in full swing, it is never too late to encourage participation - and Skelton knows that coaches can have a big impact in that area.
“Just make it as fun as possible,” Skelton says. “It doesn’t matter what happens every single weekend - as long as you make it fun and make the kids enjoy it, they’ll keep coming back.”
Entries for the July ‘Make Footy Fun’ Coach of the Month are now open, with videos to be submitted either via the “My League Moment” tool on the MyLeague App or firstname.lastname@example.org. Final submissions are due by 31 August.