a place to belong

The power and positive impacts of playing team
sports are endless, and the benefits reach wider than
what is visible to the eye. The opportunity to experience
the magnitude of benefits that sport and being part
of a team have to offer have not always been easily
accessible to people with a disability. In partnership
with some key organisations and individuals, Leisure
Networks has played a vital role in creating programs
that not only provide people with a disability the
opportunity to play the game but to also develop
powerful off field experiences too. Just one example
being the Geelong Dragons.
The Geelong Dragons was established in 2018 with
a total of 39 participants with one team playing in the
Western Country Conference of the Football Integration
Development Association (FIDA) League. In 2019, the
Geelong Dragons playing group increased to 67 and a
second team was added to play within the Division 2 of
the Metro Conference FIDA Competition. The increase of
player numbers is a testament to not just the need for the
program but also the quality of delivery of the program.
The growth of the Geelong Dragons and the impact
on the Geelong community and surroundings will
only continue to increase going into 2020.

Matt Dawson – Coach, Geelong Dragons
Western Country Conference Team

“Being a coach, mentor and role model within the Bell
Park “Geelong Dragons” Football Club is an incredibly
humbling and grounding experience. At the “Geelong
Dragons” we promote community, friendship and skill
development and teach all of our players what it takes
to build and create a culture that is inclusive for all.
As a primary school teacher within the special
education community I have seen first-hand the impact
the FIDA program has had on many of our students and
the future impact it will have on younger kids and their
families. I often have students come to me at school
telling me they can’t wait to play on the weekend and
asking me where they are lining up on Sunday which
speaks volumes about the impact the Geelong Dragons
and Australian Rules Football has on the players.
I would encourage anyone with or without a disability
to come down, get involved and experience something

A Host Club Perspective
Glenn Brown, Bell Park Football and Netball Club

“In response to a request from AFL Barwon, The Bell
Park Sport and Recreation Club offered to partner with
Leisure Networks and host an All Abilities football team
for the 2018 season.
Adopting an All Abilities component to the club has
been an exciting and richly rewarding initiative. There
is a fresh vibrancy emanating from having new members
playing football for the pure enjoyment of sport and
embracing the concept of belonging to a team in
a supportive club environment.
The core benefit for our club however, is the knowledge
that we are helping to give over sixty previously
disadvantaged footballers the opportunity to play the
sport they love and feel valued as team and club members”.
The outstanding success experienced in growth of
numbers, individual accolades, a grand final appearance
and a local carnival win in just two years, evidences the
effectiveness of the organisation. Without doubt, the
most significant achievement of this project, is easily
identified in the increasing levels of self-confidence,
physical skills and independence of the very eager
Although wary of stretching already limited financial
and social capital, the club was happy to provide
training facilities, a home ground and a generous
share of equipment.
Constant active support took the form of undertaking
roles at training/match days, ensuring access to a safe
playing surface and clean rooms, the availability of a
trainer, extended canteen hours and a willingness to
be flexible with scheduling.
Club members also provided regular barbecues for
players and supporters, and were proactive in seeking
out sponsorship and grant opportunities.
The club input was manageable because of the
enormous organisational workload undertaken by
Tim Downes and Tegan Curwood. Their role ensured that
communication and expectations were always clear
and that there was ready access to whatever support,
reassurance and encouragement was needed.
The association with ‘The Geelong Dragon’ brand has
lifted the club profile through regular exposure in the
Geelong Advertiser and the ‘Be Dragons’ documentary,
screened nationwide is a six-part Foxtel series. Bell Park’s
hard-earned reputation for social justice activity over a
sixty year history, has been strongly enhanced through
the Leisure Networks partnership.

Leisure Networks respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and waters of Australia. We are committed to inclusive communities.