Spartan Saturdays - an innovation to help bring more football to more children
Brunswick City have introduced Spartan Saturdays which aim to give kids a chance to experience football without the heavy fees24 July 2018 | Matthew Galea
The inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick is one that seamlessly blends the contemporary with the traditional.
And if there ever was a club that reflected the social profile of its surrounds, then it would surely be Brunswick City FC.
The Spartan helmet on the club badge, the blue and white kits and the thick smell of lamb on the spit which cuts through the air on a Saturday at Dunstan Reserve give away the club's proud Greek roots. Even at 10.00am on Saturday, there are volunteers sweeping the rooms, preparing the food in anticipation of the day of football ahead.
But this is a club with eyes firmly on the future.
For Brunswick City General Manager of Football and NPL Technical Director, Riccardo Marchioli, Saturdays at Dunstan Reserve are about so much more than just senior National Premier Leagues Victoria football.
Welcome to Spartan Saturdays.
"Spartan Saturdays is born of the idea that the NPL is too expensive for some kids to play in. In fact, some kids don't even bother with trialling or even enquiring about the opportunity to play NPL," Marchioli told Football Today.
"So we wanted to give young kids the opportunity to train under qualified coaches for free.
"There's no obligations, no charges and no reason for kids not to come and try if they want to try the NPL experience."
The program is open to kids between ages five and 15 and runs from 10.00am ahead of every senior home fixture for the Spartans.
Marchioli oversees the session delivered by two or three of the club's qualified coaches, who help to deliver the club's Miniroos, skill acquisition based training sessions to those attending.
"Our Miniroos coaches are rostered on a rotating basis and they run an identical session to what they run during the week for the younger age groups," he said.
"They are skill acquisition sessions, so it's easy for the players to understand. It makes it easy for beginners or trained players to come together and participate."
In delivering the Spartan Saturday program, Marchioli hopes City can provide another avenue for football-mad local kids to engage with the game he loves, not just as players but as supporters too.
"The way we started it was so that it only runs on senior home game days," he explained.
"We wanted to test it out and see how it runs and create a community atmosphere where kids, even from outside the club, can come down to train. Lots of our own internal players do it too as an extra session, but kids from outside the club have come in as well.
"The players get to have a good session and they can stick around for the senior home game and experience the atmosphere that Brunswick City offers.
"Next year, we hope to run the program every Saturday regardless of the senior team."
The program has been attended by both Brunswick City juniors as well as other local kids who play for other NPL clubs, as well as kids who play for local community clubs from neighbouring suburbs like Flemington and Essendon.
Marchioli said an early challenge for the program was finding a balance between structured learning and free play.
"There's probably two main difference we've seen between kids playing NPL and not.
"Technically those who are in an organised program from a younger age seem to have a better command of the ball and second they have greater focus and ability to participate in an organised session.
"They know how it works, when to focus, when they can play and when they need to stop. Sometimes kids from a community environment where it's a bit more relaxed sometimes struggle with the more structured organised environments, so we offer both.
"The first hour of the session is a structured, organised skill acquisition session, then the second hour they get to play freely, based on what they've learned that day."
With plans to extend the program next year, Marchioli is working towards having the program recognised by local primary schools in a bid to engage more youngsters as early as possible.
"Now that we have a genuine idea of how it runs and works, we can really start to promote it properly and we're especially going to target primary schools in the area.
"We know there are a lot of kids around here that would love to do organised sports or want to play NPL but can't afford it. Or there are kids who can afford it but can't afford the time, or maybe they've just never been exposed to football.
"Spartan Saturdays can be a taster for those kids, or it could be a program that keeps someone who plays other sports but wants to try football an avenue to do so. It can also be for players who ant extra additional training sessions."
Marchioli hopes the free programs encourage more locals to come and sample NPL football and hopes to provide greater access to qualified coaching to locals without the burden of cost.
But it also serves as part of his larger mission to create a footballing hub at Dunstan Reserve.
"The most important thing I wanted to achieve when I took the role on was to try and make Brunswick a central pillar of football in Victoria," he said.
"I wanted this to be a central hub for football. I wanted this to be a place where all coaching courses can be held, where coaching knowledge is available to all and people can come and watch our sessions because we have the highest quality coaches around.
"I want Brunswick to be a place where people can gather and share knowledge about the game and experience the highest quality outside of the A-League."
It's a lofty ambition, but one Marchioli and the Spartans are making in-roads towards.
Recently, the club has hosted a number of coaching courses, making it easier for their own coaches to attend and gain accreditation as they look to further their own coaching careers, but also bringing a number of other local coaches to the club.
All Spartans Miniroos coaches must have a Skill Training Certificate as the bare minimum, although most at the club carry at least a Youth C License.
As a young coach himself, Marchioli knows the importance of investing in coaches.
"One of the big things we did this year was we overhauled the Miniroos coaching program. I work with the club's Miniroos TD is Nick Kyriopoulos and we constantly assess the quality of coaching in the Miniroos program," he said.
"We bought in some great young coaches, coaches who are willing to do the licences and apply what they learn on the courses with the kids and hopefully that leads to even more robust Miniroos program.
"That's our base and that's where the talent is going to come from."
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