Jaxon’s football journey finds an unexpected shortcut

The pathway to Indigenous and multicultural representative teams may have been postponed due to COVID-19, but that isn’t stopping AFL NSW/ACT providing opportunities for football development to players like Jaxon Mawson Gulliford.

Although there’s no opportunity to play or train as a team talented players with multicultural or Indigenous backgrounds like Jaxon are taking part in a series of online workshops for Youth Leadership Program participants.

For Jaxon, not having to travel to be part of the program is an unexpected bonus considering the distance he travels each year to play the game he loves.

Jaxon and his family live in Taree but with no local footy club to be part of Jaxon travels to Port Macquarie where he plays and trains with the Magpies Senior club. This means that Jaxon and mum Karen do a round trip of 160kms every time he heads to the home ground at Wayne Richards Park for training or matches. This season has included away trips to both Lismore and Casino where the duo travelled over 840km each time.

The workshops’ themes include mental health and wellbeing, cultural awareness, goal setting, AFL skill development, umpiring development, and education and employment opportunities.

On Monday night, Jaxon and more than 40 fellow participants from around NSW and the ACT were glued to their screens as they heard from rugby league and boxing champion, Joe Williams, who spoke about mental health awareness, and Phil Jerrard from Transport for NSW who spread valuable road safety messages.

The boys were grateful to hear from AFL NSW/ACT Indigenous ambassador Jeremy Finlayson from the GIANTS who met some players at Indigenous Youth Leadership Camp earlier this year.

“These are just a great group of boys,” said Mark Leavy, AFL NSW/ACT’s Diversity Partner. “They have come such a long way as young leaders in their communities. This week’s seminar and the three others we’re hosting are about ensuring their journey continues and they develop further as people.

“Indigenous and multicultural players are selected for AFL NSW/ACT’s Youth Leadership Programs based on their athletic talent, but we aim to foster so much more than just football ability. I want every player to see their path to becoming the best they can be, and I want us to equip them with the tools to get the most out of themselves.”

Players who attended the online workshops came from across eastern NSW, with boys from Taree, Albury, Wagga Wagga and Sydney all dialling in.

AFL NSW/ACT also runs Youth Leadership Programs for girls with Indigenous and multicultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, 2021 talent identification testing days across the state and territory were postponed due to COVID and the program, scheduled to begin in September, will run its first online workshop in November.