Disability services & support organisation, Leisure Networks, transforms lives through sport

Sport is a big part of all our lives and for Tyler, who lives with a disability, it’s been transformative.  Supported by disability services provider Leisure Networks, Tyler started playing with the Geelong Dragons six years ago. He went on to play state footy and now participates in the Kardinia Park All Abilities FNL.

“Because of footy,” said Tyler, “I’ve met teammates and then gone on to play state footy and met team mates outside of my own footy. Even though we don’t see each other every day or even for most of the year, we’ve got that connection for life.”

“I started Auskick about nine or ten, then had a bit of a gap when I was 12/13. It was sort of hard, because after Auskick there weren’t any clubs around for people with disabilities – I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I tried a mainstream team, but I just knew from the start that it wasn’t the right fit for me. In a mainstream club there’s so much expectations, I mean in an all abilities league you still want to play footy obviously and have that competitive nature to it, but I think peer pressure is the word – there’s less of that I think.”

“Tyler’s experience is common among young people living with disability,” explained David Meade, CEO Leisure Networks. “It’s something Leisure Networks has identified across multiple sporting codes. Lots of younger people living with disability are involved in junior sports, up until about 12, toward the end of primary school and as they become teenagers. And then it becomes hard because there’s nothing out there for them. We have been actively working to curb this trend through different programs and supporting local sporting clubs to build capacity for inclusion of all abilities teams. As the Official Inclusion Partner to AFL Barwon, the Kardinia Park All Abilities FNL is just one of the ways we support this.”

For Tyler, and his mum Christine, footy has meant so much more than just playing sport.

“It does improve your confidence with communicating in everyday life, I think.” said Tyler. “It’s certainly helped just going out with mates. I know my parents are still around, and they’re still there to help, but I’m more confident just to hang out, outside home.”

“I can see the progress,” Tyler’s mum Christine went on to say. “He has the strategies there and he keeps building on it. So, he’s happier to give things a go and take a bit more responsibility. I feel that now he’s got the skill set, and I know he’s a bit more confident, that even if something did come up, I’m more confident that he will know how to deal with that and know what he needs to do. Just from being more involved around the club with teammates.”

Tyler has also spent time volunteering with Newcomb FNL Auskick, and completed a coaching course as part of Leisure Networks School Leaver Employment Supports program.

“I did the coaching course because I wanted to help out people like myself in sports,” explained Tyler, “particularly footy but just even in life, I think. Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate life at first but once you sort of find your purpose, I think it makes it a whole lot easier.”

Tyler will be putting on his Geelong West Giants guernsey when he takes to the field in Kardinia Park All Abilities FNL Round 1 at GMHBA Stadium. He had this to say: “It’s exciting and we’ll hopefully play in front of a decent crowd. But I’m just looking forward to playing with my team mates again. I think that will be the best part. To have that bonding is a great thing and to experience success together, like on field and off the field as well. You cherish those moments for the rest of your life.”

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