THE CLUB COMMUNITY
SEVEN days a week the Martin family lived and breathed basketball. That all stopped cold.
They have been feeling the social, economic, culture and community impacts of this from all angles since coronavirus restrictions shut down their game three months ago.
Like everyone worldwide, the family has found a way to pivot in their passion and adapt in how they keep fit, keep up with friends, keep clubmates engaged in the game and keep their club Exies Acmy afloat.
Father Lincoln Martin said the not knowing had been tough.
As club vice-president, boys' program coordinator and an under-12 squad coach, Mr Martin is one of the go-to people for basketball in Ballarat. Only now, most questions people have he cannot answer - overwhelming, this has been a want to know when basketball will return in some form.
When the lockdowns first hit, Mr Martin said the best thing he could do was take a three-week break from sports administration for his mental health. There was nothing he could do but wait for more information or direction.
"It's been fairly frustrating," Mr Martin said. "Just before it happened, Basketball Victoria had brought in PlayHQ new software. I was getting questions I could not answer without liaising with (Basketball Ballarat's) Matt Newton.
"At a club level, we'd been putting teams together for the season. Now potentially football might not happen and we might have to rejig the teams to give those guys a game. It's hard to know."
Exies Acmy is one of the city's smaller basketball clubs. They are working with families and players on club fees but the response has been to stay paid up for this year, and if no season, then be paid-up for the next.
The club had already made an outlay for new winter jumpers and jackets, just left in boxes. Mr Martin said while the club was positive these would sell next year, there was that 12-month delay in earning money back.
Time away from the court has left a major game for many club families. The Martin family has taken up skills and coaching clinics via Basketball Ballarat's Home-Stay-Play program.
They have increasingly turned back the clock to old-school hoops fun.
"Luckily Santa brought the kids a brand new basketball ring for Christmas. When the restrictions lifted a little, a fair few kids from the court have come over to play and we set it up in the court with chalk lines," Mr Martin said.
"We try and do everything we can to keep each other fit. We did the beep test to help make us as fit as we can."
The Queen's Birthday weekend is one of the biggest annual events on the Basketball Ballarat calendar. More than 250 teams from across the state and 5000 visitors pack courts across the city with hundreds of thousands of dollars in economic flow-on effects for a traditionally quiet tourism period in Ballarat.
This year was to be the first time the tournament could bring the new Ballarat Sports and Events Centre into play. BSEC remains empty, void of all indoor sports. Basketball Ballarat operations manager Mark Valentine this week put out a plea for clubs to consider entering for next year.
The biggest thing for my boys has been missing their mates. It's amazing how many others have said that too.Lincoln Martin
"Economically for the town it's huge but there are lots of different economic aspects to the way no sport has impacted. For example, my boys who referee are missing their pocket money," Mr Martin said.
"The biggest thing for my boys has been missing their mates. It's amazing how many others have said that too."
THE NEW COMMUNITY CLUB
For the region's newest football club, Woady Yallock Warriors, this season was to have been the start of many friendships in a growing community.
AFL Goldfields this week axed Ballarat Football Netball League's under-nine season in which the Warriors were to debut.
The Warriors, based in Haddon, were to embrace booming family areas in nearby Smythesdale, Ross Creek, Scarsdale, Haddon, Delacombe and Winterfield.
Building on an existing Auskick program and adding in learner Net Set Go netball, the under-nines were to be the start of filling a community sporting gap.
The community-driven program aims to complement the area's athletics and badminton programs. But there has been no real close football or netball for the community to support after Smythesdale Football Netball Club's demise.
Warriors president Adam Liversage told The Courier it was disappointing, particularly after so much promotional work to launch the programs for the community.
The bigger picture is that we're all safe. Football is always going to be there and I think everyone will bounce back.Adam Liversage, Woady Yallock president
"You've got to look after your community's health and well-being," Mr Liversage said.
"... The bigger picture is that we're all safe. Football is always going to be there and I think everyone will bounce back."
THE SMALL-TOWN COMMUNITY
The football netball club is big in Clunes, but the bowls club is also at the heart of the community.
Clunes Bowling Club drew the attention of Sport England's chief two years ago for its diverse programs, including Jack Attack, to get more people moving. The club's members are predominantly retirees, but the age diversity ranges from 30s through to mid-80s.
Clunes outgoing president Barry Laws - he still holds the role while the club's annual general meeting remains in limbo - said the club offered more than summer sport. Winter is when carpet bowls comes out but there were always fundraisers, social events and bingo on the cards. Weather had not been much conducive lately to even a social bowl.
Mr Laws said living in a small community had really helped hold the club together during lockdowns.
We keep in touch with each other and have lots of networks for calling on each other. But we can't open the bar.Barry Laws, Clunes Bowling Club president
"We keep in touch with each other and have lots of networks for calling on each other," Mr Laws said.
"But we can't open the bar and we can't have any number of people in the clubhouse, the greens have gone to bed.
"It'll be interesting to see what can happen when the next round of restrictions are lifted, whether or not bowls can kick off."
Mr Laws said there was a lot of uncertainty on how or if the sport could resume, given the high-risk demographic of bowlers to COVID-19. Like most grassroots clubs, Clunes was left in waiting and relying on what move health authorities and sport governing bodies made next.
HOW DO WE MEASURE SPORT'S TRUE COMMUNITY BENEFITS?
NEVER before have Australians been forced to stop all organised sport and training in a way researchers could measure sport's clear role in community physical, social and mental health.
Federation University sports participation researcher Rochelle Eime said not only did this break, all at once, allow a chance to measure how much grassroots clubs were the lifeblood in communities but also how sports chose to re-start could create a whole new playing field.
Professor Eime is leading research, in partnership with Victoria and Flinders universities, comparing children and adults involved in sports pre-coronavirus and once back in the game post-coronavirus.
She said early indications were most people, especially children, were just keen to see their friends again. Footy training, albeit under restrictions, had highlighted this. Parents and volunteers were predominantly itching to get back in the game.
"People's main motivation for sport is the social reason, to have fun," Professor Eime said. "When you go on the pitch no-one tries to lose. It's all about connecting with others.
"...Hopefully community sport will come back quickly but there will likely be some struggles. The big thing for clubs is determining what is our core value of the club, how do we drive that and how do we minimise cost leaders."
People's main motivation for sport is the social reason, to have fun. When you go on the pitch no-one tries to lose. It's all about connecting with others.Professor Rochelle Eime, Federation University sports participation researcher
Professor Eime said this suggested clubs that returned to the core of community sport- playing, socialising and connecting - would thrive and outperform clubs focused on performance, premierships and player payments.
She said reflections started serving up questions about the message in player payments, which were predominantly for senior males at clubs, and equipment, like the need for home and away shorts.
Re-evaluation could open opportunities, too. Professor Eime said clubs might take a closer look at how they deliver the game, for example, initiatives in sharing or passing down junior football boots to improve access to play.
Hopefully sport can demonstrate the role it has, not just for individuals but for community health.Professor Rochelle Eime, Federation University sports participation researcher
The study is following about 6000 participants in a wide cross-section of community sports. Data is showing a significant proportion of respondents were reporting general physical and mental health was worse than this time last year.
"Hopefully sport can demonstrate the role it has, not just for individuals but for community health," Professor Eime said.
CHALLENGES FOR SPORTS ADMINISTRATORS IN FACING TOTALLY DIFFERENT PLAYING FIELD
INNOVATION and a willingess to explore new ideas amid pandemic restrictions were setting grassroots clubs in good future stead, the region's leading sports development expert says.
Sport Central executive officer Michael Flynn said the move to virtual training and meeting platforms had opened up new opportunities for clubs to connect with members in ways he expected to stay in some form post-pandemic.
"Sport's a really interesting time for sports administration," Mr Flynn said. "There have been some really innovative ways people have stepped back from normal, traditional structure for sport. We've seen this in the willingness to get teams back and a willingness to explore and try new things."
There have been some really innovative ways people have stepped back from normal, traditional structure for sport.Michael Flynn, Sport Central executive officer
The Central Highlands' sport advocate and development body's work had predominantly shifted to supporting clubs and organisations in navigating restrictions and how to best conduct meetings.
Mr Flynn said the biggest concerns from those normally in-season clubs were financial, most notably how to raise money and evolve a sustainable business model, particularly when relying so much on volunteers.
"It is very much at the forefront of everyone's mind, the expectations of volunteers - if they are expected to implement processes for a return to play and whether volunteers have the capacity to make this happen," Mr Flynn said.
Uncertainty in the pandemic state of play, he said, was also pulling on players between the need to catch up with mates and concerns on risks for young families or older relatives.
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