I want to announce a couple of very important initiatives being introduced by the Panthers this season to support our vast Penrith District Junior Rugby League.

Two of the biggest issues I see in junior sport are the antisocial behaviour from people on the sidelines attending junior league  games and the level of coaching given to kids at various stages of their development. Giving support to the coaches and players of junior teams with an emphasis on fun, learning and enjoying the rugby league experience is vitally important to the future.

With most junior competitions set to kick off in the coming weeks, junior rugby league is anticipating its biggest year yet with close to 100,000 players, from under-6s to under-18s, across 8800 teams and 1300 clubs already registered for the 2015 season in Australia.

All NRL clubs will be celebrating the junior game this weekend at their home matches: junior games will be held pre-match and during half-time, while junior players will form guards of honour.

The Penrith District Junior Rugby League covers a huge geographical area, from Blacktown in the east to Katoomba in the west, from the Hawkesbury in the north down to Wallacia in the south. This year we anticipate as many as 9000players registering.

If I had my way, all our junior league clubs would also be offering a tag football option for men, women and children of all ages. I am a great believer in tag football as a recreational sport, as well as being a genuine participation and skills pathway for the game of rugby league. Let's talk more about tag football another time. I am determined to make this happen.

 

Needless to say at Panthers we take our responsibility to junior league football very seriously. First and foremost our priority is to provide a safe and friendly environment for all parents, kids, supporters, game-day officials, referees and, most of all, our wonderful volunteers who give up so much of their time to support our game. Without volunteers there is no rugby league.

No.1: Tackling antisocial behaviour at junior games 

One of the biggest issues I see in junior sport is antisocial and abusive behaviour on the sidelines at games. This is not a problem exclusive to the Penrith district, nor is it a problem exclusive to rugby league. I see examples of this in all sports.

I would like to see this become a game-wide initiative from the NRL. In fact, I have spoken to a number of politicians in the past couple of years about making this a government initiative for all sports throughout the country.

Our view at Panthers is that kids just want to have fun. We want to provide a safe and friendly environment for all those who play and attend matches.

People on the sidelines screaming instructions at the kids or abuse at the referees controlling the games simply spoil the whole experience for the children who are simply there with their friends to enjoy the sport. We also don't want to discourage volunteers from working for their club or youngsters taking up roles as referees simply because of the abuse they receive from people who can't understand that it's only a game and junior sport is about participation, not winning.

During the past couple of years in the Penrith District Junior Rugby League we made the decision to have our junior grades non-competitive to take the emphasis away from the result of the match. Our under-6s and under-7s are now non-competitive, with no final series at the end of the year. If I get my way in years to come, we will extend this through to older age groups up to the age of 10. We will then review how this has affected behaviour at junior league games to monitor whether or not this initiative needs to be extended.

This year Panthers is taking a stand against antisocial behaviour at our football grounds throughout the district. We are going to support our volunteers by paying for trained security officials to patrol junior league grounds every Saturday and Sunday throughout the season. Security guards will be stationed at selected grounds each weekend. The security firm will also provide a mobile unit that will travel to all venues throughout the course of the weekend. This mobile unit will also be on call should there be a need arise at any particular ground.

We will be posting signs at every junior league venue informing all those who attend that security guards will be patrolling the area and that any antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated. You may well have seen versions of the signs on social media from other sports around the globe. We unhesitatingly admit we are copying the concept, simply because we see this is a great way to explain to the people attending junior league matches that kids just want to have fun.

The security firm we will be using is highly experienced in crowd control. They are not there to intimidate or take away from the fun to be had at junior league sporting contests. They will be there to communicate with the parents, kids, officials and supporters. They are aware that we want this to be a fun environment. If the people attending the matches do the right thing there will be no problems at all.

I don't want to see our great volunteers having to deal with unruly or abusive supporters at games. We will support our volunteers and officials through the instigation of experienced security officers.

No.2: Providing support for coaches and kids 

This year Panthers, in collaboration with former Olympic swimmer Graham Windeatt, will be launching an online coaching support system for junior league coaches and players. Graham has worked extremely hard in recent years to develop the technology to make this all possible. His Complete League Coach website and mobile apps represent one of the greatest initiatives I have seen in all my time in rugby league.

Panthers NRL club, through the Penrith District Junior Rugby League, has joined with Graham to form the Panthers complete coach system. Recognising the energy, devotion and commitment of all grassroots footy volunteers, these resources are a gift to our coaches, players and parents. You can log on to the website, completepanthers.com, to view the wonderful technology and support system on offer. You can also search the App Store through your mobile device and download the Panthers Complete League Coach app for free. Simply register with a username and password and you are ready to go.

Throughout the summer months we have recorded a video library to assist coaches and players with skills and drills in all parts of the game. Passing, vision and tempo, line running, tackle techniques, patterns of play, skill games, kicking and communication drills. The skills and drills are provided in sections for the mini, mod and international levels of rugby league.

The technology also allows for coaches to communicate with their players and for players to communicate with each other through the app. There are sections for goal setting, keeping a journal and even for constructing training sessions.

We understand that most junior league coaches may well be time poor when it comes to preparing for the weekly training session. By logging into the app or onto the website they can quickly select a number of videos to give them ideas on skills and drills to provide a fun and informative learning experience. Kids can keep a record of their own performances and training sessions for review. 

These records can be kept year after year and will be an instant source of information for our senior club to assist us with the recruitment and development of kids with potential to play at higher levels of professional rugby league.

The Panthers NRL coaching staff and NRL players will also be in communication with our junior league coaches and players through this technology. From time to time they will put out videos with important messages around leadership, education, teamwork, behaviour, nutrition and of course skills of the game.

The videos could include anything from a message from Panthers head coach Ivan Cleary, a kicking lesson with Jamie Soward, or a talk on leadership, teamwork and respect from Elijah Taylor.

Of course, you don't have to be a Panthers junior league coach or player to take advantage of this initiative. We are here to assist all levels of rugby league wherever they are played around the world. This technology allows us to communicate with people of all ages and talent levels.

In addition to this I can announce that work has commenced on the new Panthers rugby league academy. This time next year I hope to be coming back to you to announce news of new academy programs for junior league players and even those kids who simply want a rugby league involvement. I also want to provide a Saturday morning clinic every weekend for kids who can't or may not want to play competitive tackle football, but are simply looking for a safe and enjoyable rugby league experience. This will also involve kids with special needs.

Rugby league is a wonderful game. We want the rugby league experience to be an enjoyable one for all concerned. So parents, in the coming weeks sign your kids up to join a junior rugby league club and enjoy all the benefits of being part of a team and involved in a safe and friendly sporting environment. Rugby League can be a major contributor to a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Enjoy your footy everyone.

Phil Gould